iPhone Photoessay: St. Hilarian Castle in Cyprus

Did you know I went to Cyprus? And I barely even told you about it, shame on me. Almost a year later, I’m going to make this up to you. While I was in Cyprus, I wandered through the ancient ruins of Salamis (I just probably put those pictures up, too…) and spent lots of time with some family friends that live on the island. They introduced my mom and I to a gorgeous castle on a mountainside: St. Hilarian Kalesi. I can’t help but say the word “hilarious!” immediately following mention of the castle’s name. I dare you to try it and not do it ten times in a row.

Some history (thanks Wikipedia): the castle began as a hermitage site and then a church during the 10th century, and finally it became a castle. Once it was a castle, you know how castles with excellent lookout points go… people fight over them, over and over. Some 500 years later, people starting taking it apart to reduce the upkeep of the building. I presume the ceiling was about to fall in and they figured it was easier to just pull out the ceiling and give everyone winter coats than build a new one. Jerks.

In order to get to the castle (located in Northern, Turkish Cyprus), you need to drive there and past several military installations and soldiers. If they’re doing training in the mountains, you may have to choose another day to head up to the castle. If they’re not, you’ll probably have the entire place to yourself, except for the random Brit that seems to show up at all those deserted European sights, alone. Uncanny.

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When you get there, they’ll probably be a castle-residing stray dog that’s both super friendly and desperately in need of a bath.
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Looking up, it’s amazing to see arches that (hopefully) won’t fall on your head as you walk through.
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No, no, I’m not climbing rock formations at the top of a really tall and sheer cliff.
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But at the top of unsafe climbing await breathtaking views of the island.
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Oh boy, these people even had interior design skills. Look at those stripes!
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If you get stuck at the bottom with fear, or only climb half, you can still enjoy the view of that top section instead of actually going there.
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Or you can climb, don’t worry, there are safety railings!
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Sheering cliffs, coastline and a panoramic view? Yes, please and thank you.
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A gorgeous old watchtower that was just a little out of reach for my hiking skills.
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The building blending in with the mountain makes it simultaneously beautiful and confusing. Am I on the mountain now or still in the castle? Hmm…
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It’s best to climb immediately next to “danger” signs and live voltage.
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Because it’s prettier at the top of those rocks.
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The view is definitely breathtaking.
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I feel like a princess with really long, braided hair is missing from this photo.
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Goodbye, it’s been terrifying and fun!

Looking back, I really wish I would have bought a DSLR camera already, my iPhone does zero justice. I guess I’ll have to return! And to anyone thinking of visiting the Turkish side of Cyprus, it’s highly recommended and although Wikipedia describes it as “illegal and internationally-unrecognised”, I can assure you it’s also quite safe.

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Snapshots of Istanbul

Last January, 2013, my mom and I headed to Istanbul from our respective corners of the globe. We had planned a short, joint vacation of only 11 days. When I came back, I was overwhelmed with all that I’d seen and done and managed to publish very little about our time there. The city was beautiful, fascinating, busy with quiet corners and full of surprises. I didn’t do it justice. This is my attempt to remedy that situation.

Because it’s been more than 10 months since that trip, my memories are a little… unfresh, shall we say? But that’s what pictures are for. Instead of piecing together fragments of memories and filling the holes with untruths, I’ve put together a series of pictures that best captures what the vacation was like for us. Below the photographs, I’ve written little descriptions and context. While it’s not a linear story per say, hopefully these snapshots of our vacation can still paint a picture, sporadic as it may be.

What better way to begin than with the famous Blue Mosque? One of the more spectacular mosques in Istanbul, it’s also on the top of every visitor’s list, day 1, first thing. But it’s only one of many; mosques are everywhere and many of them are unbelievably beautiful, even the buildings meant simply for the neighborhood. The call to prayer rings out several times a day, throughout the city, and became more of a lullaby for me than anything else.

[Related Post: Featured Photograph: One More Mosque]

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Anytime I visit a country, I make it top priority to find an outdoor market, if possible. Markets are busy and loud, so it’s difficult to speak to whoever you’re with and you find yourself in a strange, singular bubble of quiet inside the chaos. The things they sell are endlessly fascinating and are a real snapshot into the soul of the country. Olives are a big deal in Turkey, the climate is ideal for variety and quality. (Yes, I was coerced into tasting an olive, because maybe I just don’t like “bad” olives, but it turns out that I’m just not a fan. Sad day.) Fishing is also a predictable staple, considering the heart of Istanbul are the rivers that surround the three distinct “continents”.

[Thanks to Salih from My Local Guide Istanbul for bringing my mom and me through this particular market.]


The outdoor food markets are wonderful, but the outdoor goods markets, or bazaars are even more wonderful. If I was much of a “shopper”, I would have emptied my wallet right about here. The little avenues with lines of shops are all over the main parts of the city; I’m not sure about more residential areas, time was unfortunately short.

[Related Post: Master Pottery]

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You also can’t talk about Istanbul or bazaars without talking about THE Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar her royal self. ‘Nuff said. Also, my iPhone photos from this particular visit were total crap, apologies.

[Unrelated Post: An Accidental Visit to the Prince’s Islands]

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I love stepping outside of the big city and flashing lights to see what everyday life is all about in a country. (Or “off the beaten path”, SEO BOOST!) Our tour guide, Salih, took us to these winding roads in a neighborhood several miles outside of the city center, Eyüp. It was one of the best parts of the trip, because the neighborhood is especially rife with contrasts, one of my favorite things. Crumbling homes stood directly next to recently remodeled places, painted bright colors and returned to glory. The neighborhood was originally home to wealthy Jewish families who were punished by a population exchange with Greece in the 1920s and had to abandon their homes. Hence, the Greek people who moved in created this all-in-Greek-curriculum school, which holds elementary, middle and high school students in one building. As one would expect, after so many years, enrollment has dwindled.

[Related Post: iPhone Photoessay: The Cats of Istanbul]

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Baklava. Once again, need I say more? No? Great.

I also need to say sorry for never taking a decent picture of the classic Turkish tea. I have a picture of my mom drinking tea, but I’m pretty sure I would be murdered if it made its way onto this blog. Tea is everywhere, delicious, and you can’t eat baklava without it or you are breaking rules and the higher order will punish you in due time.

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Last but not least, here’s a crooked photograph of me giving my mom a noogie in front of a historical monument, the Hippodrome of Constantinople built in AD 203 by the Emperor Septimius Severus.

Teşekkür ederim for the memories, Istanbul.

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Photoessay: Lübeck, Germany

A couple years ago, my mom introduced me our neighbor’s new German au pair. His name was Aljoscha (eye-yo-sha). I invited him to my impromptu, three person birthday party at the bar, introduced him to Pabst Blue Ribbon and we’ve been friends ever since. So when I planned my trip to Germany, I knew that seeing Aljoscha was a no-brainer.

We spent the first day walking around the big city of Hamburg, which has plenty of beautiful sights but requires a lot of leg work to see them all. The next day, he took me to his home city: Lübeck. The city of Lübeck is smaller than Hamburg, but definitely packs a punch in terms of gorgeousness per square foot. It feels a little more cozy and friendly, and didn’t give my feet too much of a reason to complain. Aljoscha and I wandered, sat by the water and went searching for tiny alleyways to duck into. The photographs will do this gorgeous little city considerably more justice than my rambling words, though, so let’s begin!

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The unknown is scary, until you realize that your entire life has been unknown.

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What To Do in Korea: Sally’s List

I recently met up with two bloggers on a world trip who’d just arrived in Korea and hadn’t jumped into seeing everything yet. I was bubbling with suggestions of things to do. I then saw another Internet friend tweet that she wanted suggestions for her Korea bucket list. That’s when I decided this had to be a post. Then I sat down and made the list and it turned out to be 50% food suggestions. That’s when I decided this had to be two posts. Here’s the second list: What to Eat in Korea.

Keep in mind two things. First, I live in the countryside and don’t know Seoul as well as some. There are probably some other cool attractions in Seoul that I’m missing, so forgive me and comment with your own suggestions. Secondly, I don’t know much about clubbing or nightlife, so this list doesn’t include any specifics in that area. Once again, if you are an expert, then comment please!

Suggestions are in groups of five, the top groups more essential than the bottom groups. However, there is nothing in this list that I wouldn’t recommend doing. If my family would ever visit me (hurry up, Mom!), I would drag them on every single one of these endeavors, provided I had the time.

Without further ado, here is my list! Enjoy South Korea!

  • Go see one of the “great gates” of ancient Korea
  • Overnight at a temple (temple stay), preferably outside of Seoul
  • Overnight in a jjimjilbang (찜질방), or Korean spa
  • Go to a Noraebang (노래방), or karaoke  room
  • Climb to the top of Namsan Tower
Temple stays give you the chance to relax and learn about Korean Buddhist culture.
Temple stays give you the chance to relax and learn about Korean Buddhist culture.
  • Walk through one of the large outdoor markets, like Namdaemun or Dongdaemun
  • Visit one of the old, royal Seoul palaces located inside the city
  • See Hongdae at night or go out in Hongdae
  • Take the subway across the river (and don’t forget to look out the window!)
  • Visit a dog or cat cafe
Dogs and coffee can happen at the same time in Seoul.
Dogs and coffee can happen at the same time in Seoul.
  • Visit the Korean countryside
  • Visit a city outside of Seoul (Gyeongju, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, etc.)
  • Walk through a Shinsegae department store
  • Visit Insadong
  • Attend any festival going on in Seoul at the time
You won't find this is Seoul
You won’t find this is Seoul
  • Go shopping for socks or smart phone cases
  • Walk through Gangnam (while listening to PSY)
  • If you have the guts, go to a service in one of Seoul’s megachurches
  • Climb Mt. Ansan for a killer view of Seoul
  • See Cheonan’s Independence Hall of Korea
This museum is both beautiful and educational.
This museum is both beautiful and educational.
  • Do the Samcheok Ocean Railbike on the Eastern coast
  • Drive down the 30 minute stretch of road between 고래불해변 and 축산리, staying close to the shoreline to see seafood hanging out to dry for long stretches (summer only)
  • Visit the Mr. Toilet Museum
  • Walk into a traditional Hanbok shop
  • Have coffee in a themed cafe in Seoul

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Upcoming: 2 Weeks in Germany

Here's a picture of me at 17, in Austria, falling in love with the German language. (No, really, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I was doing in this picture. Trust me.)
Here’s a picture of me at 17, in Austria, falling in love with the German language. (No, really, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what I was doing in this picture. Trust me.)

Wonderful things are on the horizon! Yes, I’m talking about my upcoming vacation time, the majority of which will be spent in Deutschland.

Why Germany? To explain it properly, I’ll have to tell you a little secret.

Continue reading Upcoming: 2 Weeks in Germany

Gyeongju

Gyeungju. so pretty. so historically rich. so ancient.

more photographs from a city who’s greatest days are indisputably behind it. if there’s any place that makes me wish I could go back in time, this is it.

except that they probably wouldn’t have those cookies

write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 3)

this is the 3rd and final part of a series about my recent day-trip to the DMZ. if you need to catch up: my photo highlights, part 1 & part 2.

stop #4: Dora Observatory

Dora Observatory is an outpost next to the DMZ which sits on higher ground, lending the location a nice view of the DMZ itself and also a little bit of North Korea. it’s also across from one of the few villages near the border, as well as a South Korean factory. a few years ago, there were numerous South Korean factories in North Korea because of the cheap labor… but once again, change of government means a change in policy. the factory near the Dora Observatory is the last one that is currently still allowed to run. Continue reading write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 3)

write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 2)

this is part 2 of a series about my recent day-trip to the DMZ. read the first part here and you can also refer to my photo highlights of the trip here.

stop #2: lunch in Tongilchon (통일촌) or Unification Village

our guide explained to us along the way that the village we were entering is one of two that rests inside the civilian control zone (CCZ), next to the demilitarized zone (DMZ). from what I understand, nothing enters the DMZ, pretty much ever. (as a result, it’s wildlife has flourished, an interesting twist.) the two kilometers outside of it (at least on the southern border) are called the CCZ, where entry and exit of all persons is severely monitored. we were granted tourism entry permits and stopped here for lunch… and yet another souvenir shop. Continue reading write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 2)

write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 1)

a picture is worth a thousand words… sometimes. in the case of my visit to the DMZ, my photo highlights just don’t cut it. a write-up is definitely in order. because there is so much to talk about, I’ll be splitting it up into a few different posts. so, here we go!

I signed up with a tour group through Adventure Korea along with three of my friends. they do a bunch of trips and tours for generally just English-speaking foreigners. the meeting point was Seoul… we all piled onto two of those big tour buses and off we went! a gang of foreigners: life as usual. Continue reading write up: a trip to the DMZ (part 1)

Photo Highlights: DMZ

1: a military outpost overlooks the DMZ surrounding Freedom Bridge, where POWs from the Korean war were released. they look tough, but I got the soldiers to smile and wave back.

2: the barbed wire fence surrounds a huge wildlife area. nature has flourished, while a nation remains divided.

3: all of the different DMZ sites feature at least one tourist shop, where you can buy different North Korean “products”, NK themed souvenirs or even currency.

4: people wrote their sentiments of reunification on these cloth strips, then tied them together on one portion of the DMZ fence.

5: the Korean train system was once built over the border and operations were supposed to begin, linking the two countries for the first time in years. unfortunately, diplomatic relations shorted out and the service was stopped here, Dorasan station, the farthest north the train may run. the train station is regularly empty and now sees soldiers and tour groups.