Everyone dreams, some of us of fancy cars and others of simply a day off. I dreamed of pizza last night, but that’s not the kind of dream I’m talking about. I mean the dreams of the heart, the mental bucket list. My fantasies are actually filled with solitary retreats and books or alternatively, spectacular jaunts abroad in fascinating locations. That probably comes as no surprise to readers, considering my recent Reading Roundup Series and the topic of this blog.
So, while thinking about all the places I’d like to visit, I decided to put them together in a definitive list. Why not? I found it too hard to rank them, though, so I’ve put them in alphabetical order. Enjoy this little trip across the world, though only in thought this time. One day.
Note: I’ve not included any photographs, since I didn’t want to steal and I don’t have of my own. I’d recommend doing a Google image search, if you’re curious about what these countries look like.
This first one needs a provision: I want to visit Egypt, but as a man. I’m really put off by the sheer number of stories of sexual harassment coming out of such a gorgeous country. So if I could be a man for a month or so, I’d love to spend that month traveling around Egypt and seeing all the beautiful, super super old sights. The Pyramids, the Red Sea, desert landscapes and access to an ocean; the sheer variety sends my head reeling. And the food, oh the food! Legumes and vegetables? Right up my alley. An image search of “Egyptian Food” sets my saliva production into overdrive. As much as I’d love to do all of these things, I’m fairly sure that dealing with sexual harassment for the entirety of my trip would kind of ruin it. So I’d like to be a man, or I’ll just have to wait 10 years for the social climate to improve. Shame.
These days, the only things we see in the news about Iran are things like “nuclear weapons!”, “negotiations”, and “WWIII?” But the Iranian government is a far cry from representative of the people, fortunately (and unfortunately). I took a semester of Farsi, the language in Iran, and it sparked my interest in the country. My teacher was a strong, fierce woman with a palatable love for her culture and people; it must have rubbed off on me. I want to see the landscape, the rock sculptures and old ruins, but I more than anything want to try the food. Once again, that image search just blows my taste buds away. Warning, don’t look if you’ve not eaten lunch/dinner/breakfast yet, you’re only asking for it.
I’m not sure why, but I’m really fascinated with extreme northern climates, particularly the Arctic circle, these days. Norway seems like such a beautiful country, with Oslo down “south” and then extreme, gorgeous landscapes farther north. I may or may not have spent at least an hour or two recently pulling that little figure on Google Maps around and looking at the street views all over northern Norway. I’m also fascinated by the concept of 24 hour nights in the winter and the opposite, constant sunlight in the summer. Though in reality, I’m pretty horrible at enduring cold weather, so I fantasize about testing myself and getting through an Arctic Circle winter. Maybe I need to stop reading books about Siberia…
There are a lot of random reasons why I’d love to spend some time in Tunisia. First is the landscape; it straddles desert regions and the Mediterranean Sea, which means extreme land transitions. Rad. It’s also in Northern Africa, which means a fascinating coming together of Middle Eastern and African influences. That’s a culture I’d be ecstatic to learn more about. Then, the official language, Arabic, is one I’d like to tackle one day. And the cherry on top, the food looks pretty lip-smacking. If I had to rank these five places, I’d be tempted to put Tunisia right at the top of that list.
I had never heard of Vanuatu until this week, when I was reading about seven volcanic eruptions that happened at the same time. It’s a tiny island, east of Australia, formed by several volcanoes, some that are still active. One of my life-list items is to see lava, so I was immediately interested in this tiny country. It also has a lot of cool indigenous cultures, which are known to be friendly and picture-happy, and it’s an island. Beaches! And one more big plus, one of the official languages is English, which means travel there is infinitely easier. Lastly, a quick Google search of the food there reveals some dishes that look straight up crazy; I’m in. Send me!
I could go on for several pages with places I want to visit, but these five are absolutely at the tippy top of my wanderlist. And now that I’ve written myself into a hunger and wanderlust frenzy, I’m going to try and deal with the half of that problem I can remedy at the moment: feeding myself. If only it was delicious Persian food!
Have you been to any of these countries? What places are on your wanderlist? Did you also dream about pizza last night?
When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.
And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.
1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore
So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.
2// Riversides Galore
Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.
3// Market Square & PPG Plaza
Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!
4// It’s Bikeable
There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)
Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.
6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback
So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.
7// The T
If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.
8// It’s Kind Of Hipster
Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.
9// Primanti Brothers
Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.
10// The Southside
The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.
[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]
11// The View From Mount Washington
If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.
12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares
Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.
13// Green Things
Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?
Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?
Germany is one of those countries with its ducks all in a row when it comes to transportation. Public transportation is everywhere, convenient and cheap. Cars are small, sometimes battery powered and gas is expensive, which prohibits people from driving for dumb reasons. Scooters and motorcycles are more common than uncommon. Walking for long stretches is considered usual, and when you can’t walk, then the answer is to bike.
Biking is everywhere. Bikers have their own lanes, either part of the road or the sidewalk, and if you’re walking in the bike lane someone will yell at you and possibly just fly past you at high speeds, scaring you poopless. Most people have mastered one handed biking, biking with heavy bags, biking around sharp corners without wiping out. It’s amazing.
So, yeah, I took a lot of pictures of bicycles while I was in Germany. Why not?
Today is quite a busy day and I’ve little time for writing, so I thought it would be perfect for a little photoessay blast from the past. I’m not going to claim that I ate all the correct, culture-y foods in Istanbul, because I definitely didn’t. But my pallet still had a field day, rebounding off all of those Korean rice dishes and becoming wowed with interesting flavors and… bread. Oh, bread.
Before we get started, I’d like to apologize to my mother for putting one embarrassing photograph on the internet of her. I tried to make up for it by putting an embarrassing one up of me as well! That evens it out, right? Right?
This obviously MUST be the first picture in a photoessay about food from Istanbul. Baklava is delicious, and we did our best to eat as much as possible and then a little extra. And that there is even more than one kind of baklava to try was mind-blowing to me. YUM!
This photo is awkward, but there are two important aspects to it. One, I was drinking Turkish tea. Second, it’s inside the Grand Bazaar!
This photograph, as far as photography goes, is a terrible picture and deserves to become corrupted and die. But it is a photo of two of my favorite food/drink things from Istanbul, and the lighting really was red, so I’ll allow it to see the face of the internet. This was out first evening in Istanbul, we were tired from flights but dragged ourselves out for food and, as you can see, dessert.
The hotel breakfast was incredible, and it wasn’t even that incredible. Cheese, deli meat, bread, cheese, figs?! Apricot? CHEESE? BREAD?!!
Straight out of the pomegranate, pomegranate juice. No sweeteners, no nothing. Super healthy, kind of (okay, realllllly) bitter, and for integrity’s sake we finished it anyways.
During our first tour with Salih, he took us to this authentic Southern Turkish cuisine restaurant. We pointed to giant cauldrons and pots filled with food and they dished us out a large portion. The food was so strange, interesting and oddly, kind of healthy.
The full spread. Look at all those colors! And weird shapes! And… BREAD.
Street bagel/pretzel combos are a big thing in Istanbul, and if you want, they’ll even smear it with cream cheese or nutella.
I’m so sorry, Mom, but this sandwich doner was too important to leave out of the photoessay. It was our first taste of the infamous Turkish food that’s now made its way to Germany (and then morphed a little). Junk food, but delicious junk food and I’m so glad I tried it.
BREAD! This was on our second tour with Salih, and he took us to this family bakery in a neighborhood outside of the center. The bread was fresh baked and we got to check out the oven, too. Later we shared some bread and I can assure you it was better than the picture. It was also dirt cheap, my eyes bugged out at the (lack of) price.
This juice was some kind of pickled radish/carrot situation and that face, right there, is exactly how it tasted. (Feeling better now, Mom?)
I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I don’t use that word lightly. As a child, I’d stay up way past bedtime with a book and flashlight under the covers, so I could finish whatever Boxcar Children story I was reading. In middle school, my dad bribed me and my siblings (yes, with real money!) to read the Lord of the Rings series before watching the movies, and I breezed through it in less than a month while my brothers never did finish the books. Slackers.
During my time living abroad in Argentina, Austria or now South Korea, I looked for used books, English book stores or other means for getting physical books. When my stints were just half a year and I wasn’t particularly successful, it wasn’t as much of a big deal. I’d get home, go on a reading binge and all was well again. Living, really living in South Korea for over a year now has been a bit harder. I took books from a local book exchange that a friend maintains, but little of it was really my style. I bought some books from the English bookstore in Seoul, but to do that regularly? My wallet says ouch. I did manage to finish an epic 15 book series, reading it all on my iPhone, but that’s just eyeball suicide in the long run. I needed a better solution.
So this October, I finally “caved” and got an e-reader. I put caved in quotations, because what I really mean is I stopped being a nostalgic-for-paper-for-no-good-reason idiot. Yeah, I said it, people! If you’re living or traveling abroad, you love to read and you don’t have an e-reader… you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.Go buy one. Combined with my not-so-local-anymore library back home and a library card number, I’ve been able to access books I’ve been wanting to read for months on end, finally, and for free. Success.
So, I’ve decided to begin a series. This is both to share my literary endeavors with you and hopefully inspire you to pick up one of these books, as well as a way to keep myself reading consistently. If you’re not into books, first I begyou to reconsider, and if you’re still not interested in what I have to say about books, then ignore this post and its sequels. On the other hand, if you love you some words and books and stories, then boy, do I have some good content for you! Let’s go!
This book isn’t life changing by any means, but it was well written, interesting and based off a cool story concept. If you like fiction and want to breeze through something that will make you smile at the end, then you’ll enjoy this one.
If you’re pro-life (no exceptions) or staunchly Christian, then I’m going to be upfront and tell you that you’re not going to like this book. But regardless of your beliefs, if you have an open mind and want to take a dive into some feminism, then this is a good, interesting book about the concept of virginity and its negative effect on young women.
I’m going to save you the trouble of reading this mini-book. (Yes, it’s a mini book and it’s not even worth the read.) Summary: successful people consistently get up very early in the morning (6am and earlier), and most of them exercise. You’re welcome!
The story is original, captivating and interesting, and it will make you cry big, ugly tears right before you’re supposed to go on a date. I didn’t get any memorable life lessons out of this book, but after some of my nonfiction pursuits, that wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, either.
Have recommendations for me? I would love to hear them. Pass them on!
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think people are fascinating. Anytime I have a chance to stare, unhindered and undiscovered for more than a minute, I rejoice in it. I don’t like to judge people for what they’re doing necessarily, and I don’t only stare at weirdos (though that’s always interesting). I just find humans, in general, to be so fascinating. The way someone drinks their coffee, carries their bag, avoids or hops over a big crack in the sidewalk.
So obviously, if you give me a camera, I’m gonna take some creepy photographs of people around me. It’s just inevitable. I had a great time photographing people in Germany during my last vacation, of course often without their knowledge. Occasionally I got caught. It was cool, no one paid mind really. And at the end of the day, I’m happy with my creeping (creepy?) results. What do you think?
I have a fascination with a few common day objects, one of which is street signs. Wherever I go, I find myself photographing them. It could be the contrast between the sign and the background, the static words and the life behind them, or maybe just the awesome bokeh they produce, but signs get me every time. Before I know it, *snap*, a hundredth picture of yet another street sign. At least I can make a photoessay out of them, right?
I spent most of my time in Berlin, which means I wandered through a lot of Berlin’s streets, sometimes with Claudia and sometimes alone. I’ve included some signs that don’t quite qualify as street signs, but they have words and I liked the photograph. Words, ya know? They work. Enjoy these eighteen snapshots from the streets of Berlin, 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!