Showing posts with label hiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hiking. Show all posts

Sunday, November 4, 2012

"Been There, Done That," only in present tense

At Topkapı Palace
with a trusty audioguide
around my neck
Wow! How exciting. I'm part of a trend documented with a three-page travel story in the New York Times. What is it? Solo travel. According to the article, Google reports that solo travel searches are up 50 to 60% and becoming larger all the time. Women make up 70% of solo travel, although men do more solo adventure travel like mountain climbing. The article also explains the difference between solo travel and single travel.

 Where does the article recommend a solo person go if they want to explore a new city? Istanbul! I'm here, I'm doing that! Click here to read the entire article.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Expat Friends through Internations Expat Social Network

Friends having fun!
That's how we spell it: Y-M-C-A
How was anyone an expat before the Internet? That was when people really left home and immersed themselves completely in another country. No TV shows from home, no news from home, only snail mail, and a new culture where English was not the global language it is today.  That was expat commitment on a whole other level.
Enjoying new Internations friends in Turkey
Gratefully, these days, the Internet provides us not only the comforts of our familiar media, but also tools to help us make the most of our new overseas city as quickly as possible. Before I left to go overseas, I made my first Prague friends through blogging. I started a blog and connected with expats in Prague that were also already blogging. That seems quite a slow, laborious way to make friends now that I think about it. At the time, in 2008, I thought I was high tech!
The Turkish gesture for sincerity:
A hand over the heart
What do all the people who are too busy or lazy to write a blog do? There are new, quicker ways to make friends before arrival in a new city. I first discovered couchsurfing as a way to meet locals as I travelled, and as a way to experience amazing events with fellow expats.  Couchsurfing participants skew fairly young demographically. What has been a wonderful resource for me in Istanbul is the expatriate professional's social network called Internations. It's designed to connect global minds in over 250 communities worldwide.

To use Internations, you first need an invitation from an expat who is already a member. That's easy enough to secure. They can send you an email invitation and then you too are a basic member. I've enjoyed my free basic membership for a couple of years now. Through that basic membership, I have access to all kinds of relevant information like city and relocation guides and an expat magazine. Those resources are highly valuable if first starting out or daydreaming about "hmmm, where should I go next?" I've occasionally used the forum feature in the Istanbul section of Internations where people post their job openings or 'positions wanted' listings, their moving sales, and their color commentary. I find that valuable. I've mostly used it to source books.
Sampling Turkish wine together
There is also an Internations paid membership, called the Albatross membership, which has a small monthly cost. It allows people to send unlimited messages to others in the network. I could imagine that would be useful to someone who organizes lots of activities or does business with other professionals. The Albatross membership would be useful for anyone who does business with expats because there is an advanced search feature that allows people to search by nationality, organization, or interests. Albatross membership also provides people free entry into the monthly megaparty held in each city. I find those parties to be meat-market-like and skippable even though they are often in beautiful and interesting locations. It's hard to have an in-depth conversation with anyone at one of those events.

The feature on Internations that has been a Godsend to me is the local events section.  Nice people all over the city organize outings and/or actual groups that meet on an ongoing basis. My hike to the Belgrad Forest was an event advertised on Internations by my friend Yasemin. I've also joined two different groups on Internations that have been so fun and so full of terrific, delightful people that I keep coming back to them again and again. I will write about my Internations book group and travel group both in later posts. I also appreciate that the basic Internations membership allows me to organize my connections with new friends in a different place than Facebook. That's useful if I'm not ready to make someone a Facebook friend.
Chilled Out in a Cappadochian Cave
I'm always surprised when sheer visits to a site don't translate into enough traffic to generate revenue. For example, I thought reader's consistent daily visits to the New York Times were enough for them to go out and sell advertising based on high viewership. I thought my consistent return to Internations was too.  Apparently not though, because both organizations have demanded a new monthly fee for a specific level of service beyond the minimum. I hate it when that happens! Aren't my eyeballs enough?
Dinner at Meze by Lemon Tree,
Frequently rated #1 restaurant in Istanbul
on Tripadvisor
Reluctantly, due to the new fees, my groups on Internations have concluded that we will go elsewhere for our organization and communication. My book group had set up an entire alternative communication method as we were limited to only five messages a month each on Internations (imagine how frequently we'd have visited if we could have done all of our communication with each other through the site - that limit made us create backup plans) and my travel group has already migrated to Facebook. Will Internations stay interesting if access becomes so restricted that people move their energy elsewhere?

Have you become a member of Internations? What's been your experience? What have you valued the most?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Birthday Hike in the Belgrad Forest

 The entrance to the
Belgrad Forest
Back in Istanbul, after a week in France, I was excited to see that a Turkish friend was organizing a hike in the Belgrad Forest.  It was scheduled to be on my birthday.  As nature can often seem far, far away in Istanbul, I loved the idea of spending my birthday meeting new people by going on a hike.

Aren't you grateful for friends that take the time to organize things? They always deserve a little extra appreciation, don't they? Yasemin, my Turkish friend who put this together, hadn't hiked here before, but she did all the work of finding out what bus to take, where it leaves from, how often it leaves, etc. When someone has done all of that work, it makes it so easy for the rest of us to go out and discover new places and opportunities, doesn't it? If you're one of those people who are always connecting others by organizing events, thank you!

To give you an idea of what a commitment it is to get to an event in Istanbul, I took a bus to Taksim Square (50 minutes), and then got on the 42T bus to go to the Belgrad Forest (another 50 minutes).  That second bus has a route all along the Bosporus, so it often seems like I'm getting a sightseeing tour at a municipal bus price! The scenery was fantastic, and since another hiker from France and I guessed we were each going to the same hike and started talking, so was the company.  The 50 minutes flew by. We got to the end of the line of the 42T and there was the forest!  After paying a 2.25 TL entrance fee ($1.27) we were in.
 It's not every forest
that has a cafe
with checkered tablecloths
 Or horses and bicycles to rent
Paths were wide enough
for all kinds of traffic:
foot, hoof, or wheeled
 Yasemin, our organizer,
is the tall woman in green
in the middle.
Fun folks I met:
Jackie, a fashion designer from Ireland
and Ibrahim, an importer/exporter from Turkey
Beautiful, isn't it?
We were surprised the park was so deserted.
It was the middle of Ramadan though.
Anyone fasting couldn't even
take so much as a drop of water.
Not good conditions for locals to go hiking.
Another view of the beautiful lake
in the middle of the park.
The forest paths were so beautifully maintained
it was as if we were the first people to use them.
It turns out we were.
We came across a maintenance crew laying down
rubber backing (like under carpet)
and then covering it with this natural material.
If you are a runner,
this would be a very healthy place to run.
The path was springy and easy on the joints. 
 The majority of our group
headed back to Istanbul.
I finished our hike around the lake
with Misty and Kristin,
two fun American women
I was meeting
for the first time.
A last calming view of natural beauty.
What a terrific resource this forest
is for the urban dwellers of Istanbul!
The view as the municipal bus starts back to Istanbul.
 This is an Ottoman-era grove of trees. 
In France and in Turkey, I kept coming across these
magnificent tree groves planted under
authoritarianism forms of government.
I kept wondering if democracies
could create such gorgeous groves
for future generations.
  Are there any where you live?
Planting groves like this
requires a long-term view,
doesn't it?
 In my country,
people often don't seem to want to invest tax money
for those living alongside them,
let alone those who aren't even born yet.
On the bus back,
Kirstin and Misty talked up Mehmet's,
their favorite kebabci in the
Istanbul neighborhood of Ortaköy
with such gastronomic fervor
I had to try it for myself, no?
We ate fabulous Turkish comfort food
(mine was chicken shish kebab).
They introduced me to "ezme,"
which they described as a Turkish version of salsa.
On the hike,
these two hip, happening, can-do women
mentioned that they were organizing
a trip to Bulgaria...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Things My Mother Taught Me

Me and my Mom
on a Rocky Mountain Hike in 2008
I'm lucky to have one amazing mother and to be the mother of two amazing daughters.  I love my Mom and all that she gave to me growing up, most especially, a fun, exciting and secure childhood. Today I was thinking of lessons my mother taught me. There are thousands.  I'll just mention one.

I grew up in a university town.  My mom always used to tell me, "remember, all people are equal. Both the janitor and the university President should be the same in your eyes because each one of them has something to teach you if you just listen.  Just make sure you are listening to both.  You always want to be the kind of person who can relate to everybody, not just people at one end of the occupational or earning spectrum."

I have always lived and loved that advice.  It would be so damn boring and limiting to only enjoy people who are just like me.  Now as an expat, I'm living that advice in even more extended ways: learning from people who have a different geography, nationality, and faith.  They have so much to teach me too.

Mom, here is a gorgeous bit of prose I learned from people in Turkey.  I think it describes a mother's love exactly:
"Even after all this time the sun never says to the Earth, 'you owe me!'
Look what happens with a love like that.  It lights up the whole sky."
        ~Hafiz, Islamic Sufi poet

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Couchsurfing Hike to Český ráj

 Striking rock formations
dominate the forest
Who can resist an invitation to Český ráj (Czech paradise)? Not me. Just the name alone says "visit!" Last Sunday, the Bohemian hiking group on got out town for a day in paradise.
Jan Hus was a Protestant reformer
who lived 100 years before Martin Luther.
He was burned at the stake.
Memorials to him appear everywhere
in the Czech Republic.
Even deep in the forest.
Liability lawyers have not yet
discovered the Czech Republic.
Sssh...keep the secret.
Enrico from Ecuador
enjoys the climb.

A beautiful young woman from Nepal.

Chillin' at the top
of some beautiful rocks. 
Czech Paradise indeed.
The view from the forest.

Cameron, our hike organizer and leader
He's an Eagle Scout: "always prepared."

 Look who else was on the trail:
a German knight.

Coming out of the forest, we crossed this gorgeous field.
I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz' poppy fields.
It was that magical.
The bright yellow crop is rapeseed.
It gets processed and renamed: canola oil.

Me, amidst the rapeseed.

Ana from Mexico playing.

I think I did a great job
on this photo of Natalia.
She took the majority of these photos,
except for this one.

Our goal - 14th century castle ruins

One view from the top of the tower

Half our group:
we had 22 people from all over the world.

Waiting for the bus to take us to the train
to take us back to Prague 2.5 hours away.
Our round trip tickets costs $7.50 each.
Add in a hearty Czech dinner and beer .
An entire day of hiking for $12.50.
Yep, Paradise!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hiking the Sázava River in Central Bohemia

I had used several times as I started my empty nest vagabonding adventure for accommodations, but it was while I was back in America, I discovered I wasn't utilizing all of the wonderful parts of the site. So  I joined several groups related to where I was living and took part in the events that people organized. What a wonderful way to meet fabulous people immediately in a new location. Each person had an adventure tale to share!

Now back in the Czech Republic, I joined the group on Couchsurfing dedicated to hiking Bohemia and signed up for a hiking adventure organized by a lovely young Muscovite studying for her Ph.D. in the Czech Republic. Natalie, or Tashka to use her Russian diminutive, had gone kayaking along the Sázava River in Central Bohemia the week before and wanted to hike the Posázavská stezka (trail along the Sázava River) this week.

We took a train about an hour south from Prague (24 km) to Kamenný Přívoz; Tashka knew all the tricks for booking at the lowest cost such as group discounts and buying the ticket from the last station out of Prague rather than from the center (a Prague metro pass covers everything in the city).  For our tickets, we spent 51 kc each (about $2.50 for a round trip) and the price would have gone down to 30 kc if were five.  Amazing value! Regular readers of the my blog know how in love I am with Czech trains.

The train followed the Vltava and the tributary we were heading to, the Sázava River, the whole way allowing us to enjoy the gorgeous, sparkling view from the window.  The one cultural difference I discovered on the train is that Czech dads don't make silly fake-scary sounds whenever the train went through dark tunnels thereby fake-embarrassing their families.  Pity.

my hiking companion

Just off the train in Kamenný Přívoz at the start of our hike
Our first view of the river is below.

We started our hike the way Czechs start their hikes:
with beer.  This Czech brew was new to me: Svijany.

We laughed: This house sign translates as
"Such a normal family" 

A relaxing view of the river rafters
from one of the many beautiful little cottages

One of the railway bridges our train used
to drop us off at Kamenný Přívoz

It was highly entertaining to watch the rafters and kayakers
decide what was the best way down the river

One of the many beautiful cottages along the river.
I love the humbleness of these cottages.
It's all about relaxing, not impressing the neighbors.

Most of these cottages had their own privy.

This cabin was under construction so you could
see their future river view through the back window.

Magificent, isn't it?
And the sound of the river was so refreshing.

This area was known for the cherished Czech tradition
known as "tramping." During Communist times, people would
come out to the forest for the weekend.  They could do and say
what they wished.  They built makeshift camps or slept on the ground.

Is your stress lessening just a little?
Any I had, melted away.

The view looking away from the river.
Peaceful, towering forest on the mountain of Melnik.

This cottage owner created his greeting for the rafters.
"Ahoj" is Czech for hello!

A sleeping platform or treehouse close to the water.

The trampers were in love with Wild West themes from America.
Often the camps were "cowboy" or "Indian."
We saw cabins with names like Oregon and Ogden.

Tramping is dying out with each ensuing year of capitalism.
I don't think the land is owned by the State anymore either.

A Czech cottage owner
getting his place ready for the season.

The sign says something like:
"Be patient hikers, in 280 steps you will find a restaurant."
 I liked Taska's subtitle for this photo best:
"It's impossible to die in the Czech forest."

Don't look now but we have an unexpected guest.
She maybe here for an old Czech tradition.
I don't know. I hope she's here just to delight us.

The wind catches her skirt.
Can't get enough of her, can you?
Ok, one more picture.
Look, she's drinking and flying.

How would you like to carry your groceries
up these steps?

"Drinkable water" was available at this spring
along the trail.

War memorials are everywhere in the Czech Republic.
On our 10 km hike we saw about eight different ones.
Notice that the little village we finished our hike in, Pikovice,
had lost what looks like three members of the same family
in the first World War.

This is the map Tashka used to plan our trip.
It shows all of the hiking and biking trails within that
white square of territory in the Czech Republic.

All of the trails are marked by volunteers
so you never have to worry about getting lost.

A last look at the Sázava River
as we cross over to the Pikovice train station.
This is where many of the kayakers
and rafters end their journey too.

Our train was perfect for this route.
Older and not the fanciest carriage in the fleet,
it welcomed wet kayakers, rafters, dogs,
tired and aching hikers, and bicyclists
who were in that back compartment
beyond the seats with their bikes.

On the trip back to Prague, we watched people
rollerblading along the river stoking ideas
of new adventures to be had.
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