Tag Archives: traveling

in the capital of Canada

At the end of July, I headed to Ottawa for a work trip, my first time in the Canadian capital. The work part of the trip went smoothly and the after-hours part allowed for a peek at the city. A few things I enjoyed about Ottawa:

1. The Scone Witch. I ate breakfast twice at this small café tucked among the government buildings and skyscrapers of downtown Ottawa. Delicious, organic homemade scones served with a dollop of cream. They even had a Portland love sticker. Sold.
2. The weather. When I left Amsterdam, it was 17°C/62°F and rainy. Ottawa, on the other hand, was gloriously warm with a consistently blue sky.
3. The swimming pool in my hotel. Swimming laps under a glass ceiling is a perfect conclusion to a long day.
4. The Rideau Canal. I probably have a thing for canals, living in Amsterdam, but I loved the combination of a festival celebrating the Unesco heritage site, the sun, and the sound of water.

Brugge and Lille

Last week, I went to Belgium for a five-day work trip with two colleagues. My days were spent curating a photo exhibition, holding a press conference, and delivering a speech at the exhibition opening. All things that I don’t usually do, but which I really enjoyed. In our free moments, my colleagues and I explored the seaside town of Knokke-Heist, where we were staying, and beyond.

One of the highlights was spending an evening in Brugge. I have been to Belgium numerous times and visited almost every major city, with the exception of Brugge. Our first stop was a waffle house and then a chocolate shop.

Not long after we headed into the side streets in search of a place with music for the evening. We ended up instead at Café De Republiek to sample a few Belgian beers as we talked about our favorite literature. After a further wander, we headed for a delicious dinner at Bistro Refter.

The day before the official exhibition opening, we had some extra time. I grabbed my speech to practice and we hopped in the car for a drive along the Belgian coastline, a late lunch in Dunkerque, and an evening in Lille. Just across the Belgian border, Lille is the fourth largest city in France.

We browsed through an open air book market, which had a fascinating collection of caricatures and advertisements from the ’60s.

After a further walk through the city and a sampling of macarons, we went to a simple, rustic restaurant for dinner. Throughout the week, we had great conversations over the dinner table, from hilarious accounts of awkward travel moments to serious questions about life and death. On our way back to Knokke-Heist, we told ghost stories as we drove across the darkened Belgian countryside.

Italy part III: the Amalfi Coast

After Rome, we drove to the beautiful, dramatic Amalfi Coast for the remainder of our honeymoon. It’s a bit touristy and requires taking a downright terrifying road to get there, but it’s difficult not to love any place with views like this.

We were lucky to have a room with a balcony overlooking the sea in the not-so-touristy town of Praiano. Situated between the towns of Amalfi and Positano, it was calm and quiet with a gelateria, a café, and a handful of restaurants.

We spent our days here hiking through the hills, wandering down to the beach, drinking copious amounts of limoncello, and eating, eating, eating. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, with lemon groves tucked into the hillsides.

Our second day in Praiano was a bit cloudy, but we spent most of the day outside and even wandered down to the seaside where Marcus put his feet in the water. It took about 30 minutes to climb down the thousand small steps to get there, but we were the only ones on the path. We smelled the flowers, watched millipedes crawl past, and touched the numerous lemons hanging from the trees.

After we hiked back up from the seaside, we treated ourselves to an espresso and limoncello at the local café.

On our third day, we went to the town of Amalfi and toured the Cathedral and an old paper mill. We meandered through the backstreets and found a café in a cave, but left soon afterwards to see what Positano had to offer.

Gelato, clear skies, and blue water in Positano. Just down the coast from Amalfi, but somehow the skies parted during the 30-minute drive. We walked through the town, enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch on a terrace overlooking the sea, soaked up the sun’s warmth, and walked to the waterside with gelato in hand. We left the next day, driving the rest of the coast towards Sorrento and through Naples, back to Rome for one last meal of cacio e pepe.

Italy part II: when in Rome

Rome is just fantastic. We arrived on the evening after the wedding, whipped past the ruins in a taxi en route to the hotel, and promptly called it a night. We woke fresh in the morning and headed to the first sight of the day: the Vatican. Standing in Piazza San Pietro is a beautiful experience, but the long lines deterred us from visiting the basilica or museum. Instead, we set out on a meandering walk to Trastevere, where we spent the rest of the morning.

The early afternoon was dedicated to the ruins: the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, and numerous other sights that one simply stumbles upon when you round a corner.

After getting far enough away from the tourist spots, we turned down an alleyway and headed for the first restaurant that served cacio e pepe and carciofi (roasted artichokes). Cacio e pepe is basically fresh pasta with sheep’s cheese and pepper. Simple and delicious. Throw in some wine, bread, and sparkling water, and we had one amazing meal.

We returned to the hotel for an afternoon siesta, before setting out for the evening. First to the Pantheon and then to Piazza Navona. We headed into the side streets again for dinner, stopping first by a fantastic café for an aperitivo.

The night ended with a stroll by the Trevi Fountain, a magnificent sight day or night. For me, it was a great return to Rome and I was able to show Marcus most of the major sights in just one day. He loved the city and we could have happily spent more time there, but we had a date with the Amalfi Coast.

Italy part I: a return to Trastevere

The first highlight of our honeymoon to Italy has to be our stroll through the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere, where I lived and studied the summer of 2004. I couldn’t wait to show Marcus the streets I traversed, in the area I loved so much. We walked to Trastevere on a quiet Monday morning, enjoying the view of the city and then walking down into the neighborhood. There is something about the colorful buildings, the laundry hanging to dry, and the windowsills covered in flowers that just seems so Italian. We made our way to Piazza Santa Maria, where we had the obligatory cappuccino and glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The church was more beautiful than I remembered and a quite decent band filled the square with music.

a visit to Ghent

After a very peaceful Christmas, I went on a short trip to Ghent with my cousin Vanessa who was visiting for the holidays. Ghent is a small town in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, which I visited earlier in autumn while on a work trip. The city looked so quaint that I thought it would be the perfect post-Christmas destination. Vanessa and I ate waffles, drank a sufficient amount of Belgian beer, dined at a cozy restaurant, discovered a fantastic club with a live electronic band, climbed to the top of a small castle, and spent a lot of time just wandering and looking.

three buildings in Barcelona

Three scenes from my recent trip to Barcelona: a row of apartments, a museum, and an ancient church.

street art in Barcelona

A few years ago, a random chain of events led to me standing in front of a group of German students answering questions about ‘America’. One student asked if there was much graffiti in the States. Unless you live in a city, the answer is not really. Outside of the cities, instead of being seen as an art form, it falls into more of the ‘act of vandalism’ category. Living in Europe for the past years, I have become a fan of street art that is part of the city. Rather than defacing a structure, it enhances it.

When I had the chance to go to Barcelona for a few days, I knew I would be on the lookout for some of the street art for which the city is famous. While I didn’t have enough time to seek out great works, I did happen to come across these interesting pieces in the neighborhood of my hotel.

Ouderkerk aan de Amstel

A Saturday afternoon bike ride along the Amstel River to the sleepy town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Wandering the streets, a peek at the village church, a visit to the local bakery, and a stop in a cafe for a bite to eat, a bokbier, and a bit of reading before the bike ride back.


Antalya. The final stop in our trip through Turkey. We left Kekova in the jeep, winding our way north along the coast, then through the pine forests, and finally arriving in Antalya where three-lane roads become six-lane roads. Marcus did a heroic job driving.

That afternoon we befriended a bookstore owner who kept his books in dusty, teetering piles and asked “What are you reading?” instead of “How are you doing?” He was pleased with the answers that Marcus and I provided and we were invited to sit and share fresh watermelon and figs as he told us what to do and see in the Old City neighborhood.

We spent the rest of the day wandering the cobbled streets to find Hadrian’s Gate and Kesik Minare (the broken minaret) and enjoyed a fantastic evening meal at Vanilla. The next day, we didn’t have to go to the airport until 19.00 so we started walking around the neighborhood and then to the park. As we came upon the rocky shoreline, we realized that the only thing we wanted to do on our last day was swim. We returned to the hotel, unpacked our swimsuits, snorkeling gear, towels, and books and returned to a restaurant perched precariously on the rocks with a small ladder down to the water. We swam and read and slept in the sun until the moment came to pick our backpacks and head to the airport.

A view of the Kesik Minare from the hotel.

Access to the waters.

Hadrian’s Gate.

Üçağız and Kekova

Üçağız, the gateway to Kekova, is a small fishing village of about 400 residents. Tourist boats from nearby Kaş passed in the distance to see the sunken city of Simena, but this Hemingway-esque retreat was full of peace. Pictured above, the pier of our pension out to the water.

Across the peninsula and over a hill strewn with sarcophagi, was Kekova and a small collection of houses, restaurants, and pensions that sat across the water from the sunken ruins.

A fisherman returning to the harbor.

Three boats in the bay.

In Üçağız, Marcus and I discovered gözleme, a Turkish style crêpe, filled with cheese, onions, and potato. The elderly couple who owned the small restaurant were so friendly and we ate there multiple times. Marcus befriended the  man and spoke about politics in a strange mix of Turkish, German, and English. His wife was full of smiles for me and serious remarks towards her husband’s political comments. In addition to delicious gözleme and Ayran (a Turkish yoghurt drink), they would bring out watermelon, pears, or apples for dessert and sit down with us and share the fruit.

Visiting the sunken city was only possible with a group, either on a boat or by kayak. Marcus and I chose to paddle across the bay on a four-hour tour for an up-close view. The sunken city is a collection of ancient Lycian ruins, destroyed by earthquake, attacks over the centuries, and time. We would have loved to spend more time there, but swimming and snorkeling is prohibited. So we looked, admired, and then paddled to Kekova for lunch.

Kekova is only accessible by boat. Or by foot if you’re willing to make the sweaty hike over the hilly peninsula, through the necropolis, and past the grazing goats. As we did on the second day there.

The hike was tiring, but we rewarded ourselves with homemade ice cream from one of the pensions in Kekova, then hiked further towards a secluded bay to swim and snorkel.

When we arrived in Üçağız, we realized that they didn’t have any cash machines and had to go to a bank in the nearby town of Demre for extra lira. The landscape was again astounding. On our return trip, we picked up a hitch-hiking granny who ended up being the cousin of the man at whose pension we were staying. Marcus was mysteriously able to hold a conversation with her and we were laughing as we bounced across the dusty road, the woman waving to all her friends as we passed.


After Selçuk, we headed further south to Fethiye, with its abundance of yachts and beaches. We spent most of our time there swimming in the warm waters and lazing in the shade of an umbrella. The sun and heat were intense, but we wanted to see more than just the beach, so on the third day we rented a jeep and drove around the peninsula, finding small beaches along the way.

Tombs carved into the rock face by the ancient Lycians.

Marcus windsurfing on a not-so-windy day.

Sunset at the surf beach.

On our day exploring with the jeep, we crossed the peninsula to see the town of Kayaköy, with its hillside ruins, a town destroyed by earthquake. Deemed a historical site, building is prohibited and the town is made of mostly farmers and a few family restaurants.

Sunday afternoon lunch in Kayaköy. We stopped at an outdoor restaurant, filled with platforms of carpets and pillows, and had my favorite meal of the trip. Marcus ate roasted lamb, while I enjoyed a vegetable stew ripe with flavor. The two figs were given to us, freshly picked from a tree by the restaurant owner.

I was impressed by the landscape around Fethiye: dry land, stone walls, and green trees and plants. We passed farms and orchards as we drove across the dusty roads.

The harbor in Kalkan, a small town southeast of Fethiye, where we stopped on our way to the next town. The jeep was so much fun that we decided to take it to our next destination: Kekova.

Selçuk and Ephesus

A flight to Izmir and a train south led us to Selçuk, a small town on the doorstep of the magnificent ruins of Ephesus. We realized quickly that Selçuk was perceptibly warmer than Istanbul, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the city: a mixture of teahouses, ruins, carpet shops, markets, and parks. We extended our stay to see more and enjoy the concerts and festivals for a public holiday that no one could explain.

Ephesus, the whole reason we were there, was fantastic, but one of my favorite moments of the whole trip happened on our last night in Selçuk. After buying fruit for the bus ride to Fethiye the next morning, Marcus and I were wandering around, looking at the night market and listening to a group of musicians play when a boy of about 12 came and asked for help with his homework. He had to pair famous authors with the books they wrote. He spoke only a little English, but we played a fun guessing game in which ‘bad, trouble, police’ led us to discern ‘Crime and Punishment’ and match it with Dostoevsky. I only wish I had been able to help him with the Turkish authors.

Pictured above, the Library of Celsus at Ephesus.

Ephesus was a sweaty affair. Armed with water bottles and a keen eye for spotting shadows, we headed out in the early morning to take in the ancient ruins.

Shoes outside a mosque in Selçuk.

Four chairs and a hookah wait for an afternoon break.

Looking out towards the İsa Bey Mosque.

Mosaic of an ancient basilica. The first afternoon we found ourselves atop a hillside among the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. The saint was believed to have lived in Selçuk late in his life.

A view of the ruins of St. John’s Basilica. Upon inspecting a sarcophagus against the wall, Marcus and I came upon a mother dog guarding her new puppies. It was probably a hilarious sight. Two tourists, solemnly discussing the carved stone when suddenly a dog jumps out to attack and sent them running and screaming around the crumbing walls. Ha.


The trip to Turkey began with a few days in Istanbul. We arrived in the city on a Saturday evening, greeted by traffic, heat, and crowds. The city was buzzing and we jumped into the flow as we made our way to a hotel in Taksim. The next day we rose early for a day of sightseeing. Walking through the city towards the Old City, Hagia Sophia, the many mosques, the Spice Market, and the Bosphorus. Sadly, the Grand Bazaar was closed, but we enjoyed slowly wandering and stopping for fresh pressed orange juice, pastries, and tea along the way. The following day we headed to the ferries for a day trip to the Princes Islands.

The Rüstem Paşa mosque.

The Spice Market.

Fisherman on a bridge across the Bosphorus.

A view towards the Asian side of Istanbul from a rooftop bar near Taksim.

The port on Büyükada, the largest of the four Princes Islands.

Antique stores and bicycle shops on Büyükada.

While the tourists queued in line for a horse and cart tour around the island, Marcus and I rented bicycles and headed in the other direction, stumbling upon a fantastic beach all for us.

Relaxing in the sun.

Seafood lunch in town.

The first of many fruit purchases.

On the ferry ride back to Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

Visiting Hagia Sophia was one of the main reasons we included Istanbul in our trip to Turkey. I couldn’t miss the chance to see this historical treasure that I have been fascinated with since my first art history course. A cathedral turned mosque turned museum, Hagia Sofia (Ayasofa in Turkish) is a symbol of Byzantine architecture and the strength of the Ottoman Empire. And it is breathtaking.

A blend of the high ceilings of the Orthodox dome with Islamic artwork.

The Virgin and Child mosaic in the apse, now the museum exit, was one of the highlights.

The view from the balcony.

Details on the arched ceilings.

A mosaic tucked away in the corner of Hagia Sophia.

It’s incredible that this far-flung place I read about in my youth is now a place that I have seen with my own eyes.

travels in Türkiye

Two weeks, 1071 kilometers (665 miles), and 11 cities. Our trip down the west coast of Turkey, starting in Istanbul and ending in Antalya, was simply wonderful. We explored the metropolis of Istanbul, roamed the island of Büyükada, visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus, swam in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, kayaked above the sunken city of Simena, and climbed a hill to walk among the sarcophagi of a necropolis.

We became experts at finding secluded beaches and never let the heat, which averaged around 35° C/95° F, deter us from exploring. I came to admire Marcus’ exceptional navigational skills and his ability to be invited to sit down and share a meal with a stranger. I consumed my fill of fruit for the next year and passed as being Turkish, thanks to my great pronunciation of merhaba (hello) and my universally accepted curly, black hair and dark skin.

While I am still sorting through all the photos and typing out my journal, here is a taste of what I saw and ate during my travels. Above, colorful flowers hang above an empty street in the 400-inhabitant village of Kekova.

Exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus.

Driving along the coast and stopping to admire the turquoise waters of Fethiye.

We started each morning with a Turkish breakfast. Freshly-squeezed orange juice, Turkish coffee, cheese, olives, vegetables, bread and jam, pine honey, and always a plate of fruit.

Turkish coffee in Istanbul. Strong and delicious.

I ate dozens of figs during our trip. Some we bought at outdoor markets and others were given to us, freshly plucked from the tree. When we arrived in Kekova, I was standing on the street and looking at the scene when a man walked by with a crate full of figs. As I stared in wonder, he stopped and asked if I would like one. Yes, please.

We traveled on planes, trains, boats, buses, but our favorite form of transportation was an open-top Jeep. The wind was great and it gave us the freedom to explore on rough roads and pick up hitchhiking grannies. I was always in the sun and had to wear a scarf around me to protect my skin.

The call to prayer coming from the minarets was always striking. Waking up to it at 4am was actually quite beautiful. A song in the night and then back to sleep.

In lieu of many vegetarian options, I ate a lot of fish.

The sleepy village of Kayaköy, which we visited on a Sunday afternoon. One delicious meal and a hike up a hill to see the ruined city. Exploring the Turkish countryside let us really appreciate the mountainous, dry landscape of the southern coast and its abundance of farm animals wandering around.


For those travelers always itching for the next adventure, a short video about movement across 11 countries (via MB)

on the water

Between two weekends in Berlin, an escape to the lakes in the south. Sailing, waking to the sunrise, hanging my feet off the front of our houseboat and into the green waters. All quietness.

postcard from bali

Captivating video of Bali, Indonesia made by Stephan Kot with music by Helios (via wearethedigitalkids).

travels in siberia

In Russian, the word–Sibir’–is pure onomatopoeia. A shiver begins with the first letter and concludes with the palatalized r at the end, which, combined with the bi preceding it, amounts to brrr. Only a cosmic Dickens of place-naming would have chosen a name with such a chilly and mysterious sound. And yet Sibir’, so resonant in Russian, is not of Russian provenance, but whispers of deepest Asia.

Currently reading Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, the stories of travelers past and Frazier’s own experience exploring the vast region (image via).