Captivating Cappadocia, Turkey

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A Short hop, skip and a jump from Istanbul is a fascinating place called Cappadocia that is well known for it’s hot air balloon rides over amazing rock formations but actually had many other hidden gems lying underneath the surface literally…

Behind a rock door lies an Underground city which sheltered thousands of Turks from numerous invaders over centuries due to its important location as the crossroads of trade and power between Europe and Asia.

Travel tip: If you have handicap or have difficulty bending down and moving this is not for you. Best to only go to the first floors/rooms and then go out if at all (ask the local guides)

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We visited the amazing Fairy chimneys which were formed by a combination of separate layers of rock formed over millions of years. My husband wasn’t able to use his drone for this but he said to take a look at this amazing drone video

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He did however take this amazing shot of our Museum Hotel that had amazing views of the surrounding landscape and is right behind a Fortress which looked like a life size sand castle. I will review the hotel more in a future post but for now I will say it was a truly unique romantic experience I will never forget.

We lifted off early in the morning (5am to be exact) to catch the morning sunrise. We were 5 to a basket so it was a bit tight so best to go as a group of 5 so you are more comfortable and can swap locations with each other.

Once airborne you can marvel on the amazing landscape that stretches before you amidst the hundreds of hot air Balloons that dot the sky. I would have wanted to take them from the ground as well but will have to wait for another trip.

We ended the tour with Champagne (non-alcoholic so probably more like sparkling grape juice) and watched them slowly deflate the balloon on to a waiting truck bed. They are so efficient that we were back in the hotel for breakfast at around 8am.

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We ended the little side trip with a short stop before the airport to feed some pigeons and take a last shot of this amazing place. We will be back one day to see more of it! I would highly recommend it for a short stay or part of a around turkey tour which we plan to do soon.

Travel tip: Turkish airlines is very centrally located especially for those traveling from Asia to Europe so it is a great stop over area (they allow you free stopover) to break up those dreadful long haul flights!

 

Eastern Danube Odyssey Budapest to Bucharest

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Early in the morning the Amawaterways Amacerto slowly glided out of the dock on the “Pest” side of Budapest and then the engine roared to life shaking my headboard with vibration to wake me up. Instead of being annoyed though a tingle of anticipation went down my spine as I knew the cruise had begun. I awoke to a beautiful tranquil sunrise from my balcony. So began my 7 day family river cruise from Budapest to Bucharest. These are the tours we chose and places we visited.

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Day 1: MOHACS, Hungary

PECS Excursion – Our first tour took us to the UNESCO World heritage site “Early Christian Necropolis of Pecs” which was composed of a early mausoleum. We also visited a church with it’s four corner tower which was quite unique and looked more like a fortress than a catherdral.

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Day 2: Vukovar, Croatia

Croatian Wine Tasting Tour – introduced us to the Traminac white wine which apparently supplies the British Royal family for special occasions (Yes that includes the upcoming wedding of Meghan Markel and Prince William). The most interesting story was of how during the soviet occupation, the wine maker used to stash bottles of the rarest wines behind a wall which he then covered up.

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Day 3: Novi Sad, Serbia

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Frusk Gora National Parl Hike – took us up a mountain with a monument to serbian resistance fighters. It was very peaceful as we walked through the trails and up a watch tower in the middle of the forest. I would say that the hike wasn’t as long and scenic as I thought it would be and perhaps the bike tour of the town may have been a better choice.

Petrovardin Fortress Evening Walk – was well worth the late night departure time which made it too dark to take any meaningful pictures amidst the twisting tunnels and walls. The history is fascinating though as it was the most secure fort in the Austrian Empire where the Royal Treasures were kept during the invasions of the Turks. Our guide said that to this day some gold diggers search for it within it’s labyrinth of tunnels and constantly try to drill into the walls in search of a hidden passage or vault.

Day 4: Belgrade, Serbia

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Belgrade City Tour – A relatively mundane city pretty much like all the rest of Eastern European cities but given the recent difficult times they endured this is understandable. The highlight was seeing the reconstruction of the Serbian Orthodox church of Saint Sava which they need more funds to build the ceiling mosaics. They have finished the first dome as seen above.

Day 5: Belgrade, Serbia

Cruising The Iron Gates

On this day we spent it on the Cruise ship as it traversed a three docks of hydroelectric dams to get to the next part of the Danube.

We admired going through the Iron Gates which had several highlights like a stone face carved into the hillside (no one knows who made it) and an old Roman monument that used to mark the way for invading armies.

Day 6: Vidin, Bulgaria

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Belogradchik Fortress hike –  The first thing they may need to do is change the impossible to spell name! Perhaps it is better known as the Kaleto Fortress. Seriously though this could have been the fortress used for the Eyrie, the principal stronghold of House Arryn in the Game of Thrones. My husband could almost imagine the archers lining the battlements  as  the Lords of the Vale marching up the walkway to ascend to meet Lord Arryn… yes he was in his fantasy world once again.

Travel Tip: The climb up is worth the view. Just be careful since there are steep ladders on the way up.

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This is definitely one of the best spots on the tour….. We call these moments “HIGHLIGHT!” (My husband kept call it “FANTASTIC!” like his uncle so told him to get a new term)

Day 7:  Rousse, Bulgaria

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Arbanasi Village was the first stop on the way to our final destination. It was surprisingly quite popular with tourists with little guest houses and sports cars parked on the road perhaps due to the upcoming music festival. We stopped by the Nativity church which had beautifully painted black backdrops for the murals which was quite unique. Many were also set below ground as churches could not be taller than the mosques after the Turkish occupation.

 

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Veliko Tarnovo Excursion after a total of 2 hours from the ship we (yes it is worth it you HAVE TO TAKE this tour) we finally arrived at the Fortress walls of the Tsaverets which was the capital of the second Bulgarian Empire. A terrible story was told on our way there about Basil the Bulgar-Slayer who was a Byzantine Emperor that once captured 30,000 Hungarians and blinded everyone but 99 out of every 100 solider to return home. This so shocked their leader Samuel that he fell stricken and died two years later and thus the second empire came to be. Truly fear and horror in this side of the world back then!

The Tsarevets fortress was built on a imposing mountain surrounded by a natural river and seemingly impregnable…. nevertheless apparently a guard was bribed to open the gate and thus the fortress fell after three months to the invading Ottomans. They are still uncovering many remains of the former palace as most of what was there was burned down.

The church at the top was rebuilt but they could not replicate the art so they decided to install their own modern interpretation which came out quite different and dramatic in my opinion.

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As we finished the last of the land tours we got on the cruise to sail to Bucharest. This part onwards we did on our own with the family on a separate tour. I will write a review of the Amawaterways on the next post. In the meantime I am off to catch the flight home! Cheers!

Mystic Morocco

Many people only think of the famous movie Casablanca when they hear of Morocco but there is so much more to see. 

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In a fishing village off the coast of Morocco lies a tower that came out in our favorite game of thrones is shot More info here

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Hundreds of boats littered the “seascape” in what seemed like absolute chaos but when seen up close a pattern emerges that tell of the hard working fishermen who say they get less and less fish each year perhaps due to over fishing.

Atlas Mountains

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Dotting the hills are traditional clay houses where people still live today.

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One of the most interesting things to see on road trips are goats that regularly climb the famous Argan trees but farmers have since discouraged it as it damages the trees.

Marrakesh

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The tallest building is the Koutoubia mosque which is in the midst of renovating.

Berber Rugs

There is no tour that does not lead you into one of these “tourist traps” but you do have to appreciate the beautiful hand woven rugs. Travel Tip: Buying these rugs can be intimidating at first make sure to practice your bargaining skills beforehand. This was a large one with many selections which even had antique doors at the top floor. 

Travel Tips

There is actually no real Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca but it was recreated in 2004. If you wish to see Marrakesh it is far better to fly into the new International Airport in Marrakesh Menara Airport then drive to Casablanca and stay a few nights. Our cousin’s luggage was delayed almost 4 days by Air Morocco (Worst Airline ever!) which had horrible customer service but perhaps would have been easier in the new airport. 

 

 

Aurora Nature’s Firework Display Iceland

Two nights. Two Freezing hours outside. Two vans searching the night sky.  Finally One perfect Aurora! It has to be a combination of a clear night and high rating in solar activity so best to check the Aurora App

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Snowmobile on the Langjokull glacier is a great adventure for a group but no racing allowed sadly (Don’t forget to turn off the heaters on the grips as they get really hot)

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Ice Caving always changes every season so you never get bored of it. Iceland is amazing as it always seems to have more things to see each time you go back.