Of all the gorgeous places in Turkey – Pammukale, Cappadocia, Kekova, Istanbul – it’d be pretty easy to skip right over Nemrut Dağı. After all, it’s tucked away in the southeastern corner of the country, only a few hundred miles from the Syrian border, far off of the well-traveled circuit of Istanbul, Pammukale, and Antalya.
And it’s a world totally different. Where the Mediterranean areas of Turkey are resplendent with brilliant greens and blues, the southeastern parts of the country feature a far more muted palette, one filled with dusty greens, beiges, and greys. Drive through the southeastern part of Turkey and you’ll have no doubt that you’re properly in the Middle East. The desert heat radiates from the sandy ground, and the horizon is hidden in a muddled, heat-rippled haze. That’s not to say that the area still isn’t beautiful; it’s just a totally different kind of beauty compared to the glittering wares of the Grand Bazaar, the stark white of Pammukale, and the brilliant blues of Kekova.
At seven thousand feet, Nemrut Dağı, which is part of the Taurus Mountains Ragne, is the major destination of the area around Kahta, the nearest town. Getting there involves winding your way along steep roads that cling to the sides of the hills. There’s a reason that nearly everyone who goes to Nemrut Dağı does so with a driver from the area: trying to drive those roads if you’re not familiar with them would be like saying, “I wouldn’t mind plummeting to my death today.”
In August, Istanbul is an oven. The temperatures hover right around ninety degrees, but the swampy humidity and sweaty crowds that mob the sun-drenched city make it seem far hotter. Any place that provides the tiniest bit of shade or breeze becomes a refuge from the heat, be that a marble mosque, a rooftop terrace of a café in Sultanahment, the shady avenues of Gülhane Park, or the air conditioned hallways of a museum. Istanbul’s best place, though, to beat the heat can’t be found in any of those places; it’s underneath them.
When it comes to buildings, age is something to brag about. Structures like Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Coliseum are beautiful in their own right, but so much of our candid admiration of those places comes from their age. We marvel, not only at their beauty, but that they were built thousands of years ago, in times when modern machinery wasn’t even a glimmer in the greatest genius’ minds. To be impressive, to truly take our breath away, we assume that a building has to be old.
There’s something about a monument that was built, brick by brick and as a product of the sweat of manual labor, that makes us so much more appreciative of it. If the Taj Mahal had been built three years ago, rather than 350, it would still look just as majestic, but it would lose that romantic air that comes from being built without the hulking help of cranes and backhoes.
As much as I love my day-to-day life, sometimes escaping is the only thing on my mind. Sometimes daydreams of far off beaches, exotic foods, and foreign horizons take center stage in my brain.
And when summer vacation is just lurking around the corner, that feeling has only become exacerbated. Sometimes it’s just me feeling antsy. Sometimes it gets a bit more severe. (Case in point: for the past few months, I’ve flirted with the idea of dyeing my hair blue and just heading to South America for a solid year or so when I’ve finished my time on the JET Programme.) And despite the fact that I’ve been grounded in Japan for almost three years now, some people might think that even that venture was an escape from “real life.”
But aside from traveling, the other form of escape I so often utilize is far more accessible on a day-to-day basis: books and movies. I’m a bibliophile and cinephile in equal parts. In my college days, one of my favorite classes was one on film theory, a love that I later parlayed into writing frequent reviews for the campus newspaper. And my love of books? Well, that’s been running rampant through my veins for the better part of two decades now.
What I really get a kick out of, though, is when those two loves bleed into each other. It’s why I loved seeing Pont de Bir-Hakeim , featured in Inception, in Paris. It’s why I loved visiting the Hobbiton set outside of Auckland in New Zealand. And most recently, it’s why I loved seeing the Chand Baori stepwell in India this past winter.
I’ve driven along some pretty terrifying roads the past few years. My heart rate has gone through the roof while whizzing through late night weekend traffic in Athens. I’ve woven through potholes on a motorbike in the rural hills of Lombok in Indonesia. And I’ve sucked in my breath and willed both myself and the car I’m in thinner when winter descends upon Aomori and the roads shrink down to bare single lanes, flanked by snowdrifts that are at least a meter tall. And then there’s the mountain road between Pokhara and Kathmandu. It definitely does not seem wide enough to accommodate two cars, especially with the huge tour buses and trucks that alternately trundle and race their way along the road. Three feet to the left, and we’d have plunged to a fiery death on the rocks and fields below.
Seeing as the demon residing in my nasal cavities is still putting up quite a fight, despite me throwing hefty doses of Nyquil, Dayquil, and cursing its way, this Throwback Thursday post is technically just one long photoessay. Such is what the laziness of being sick brings.
In a city that belongs to architect Antoni Gaudí, Parc Güell is probably the most expansive of his accomplishments. Half garden, half architectural playground, Parc Güell is an essential part of any visit to Barcelona. (And it’s free, too!) However, it’s definitely not a “get in, walk around for five minutes, get out” sort of place. No, you need the better part of an entire day to get through the whole thing.
My first love may be the mountains, but I’ll never turn down a bit of sea air when I’ve got the chance…especially if I can breathe it in Saint-Malo, the small walled city that I tacked on as a short day trip after visiting Mont Saint Michel. In the past, Saint-Malo was the base of corsairs, and its walls were constructed against the threat of British attacks. Nowadays, Saint-Malo is a beautiful seaside locale…the perfect place to work up an appetite by walking along the beach and then eat a dozen (or two) fresh oysters, still briny from the sea, washed down with a glass (or two) of cider.
As exciting as my days within Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra were, I was more than happy to escape the frenetic energy of the city for far quieter surroundings. Enter Orchha, a tiny town in Madhya Pradesh with a population of only ten thousand. Compared to the Golden Triangle, Orchha was a completely different world that seemed like it was still enshrined in the past and unspoiled by modernity. For the first time since entering the Subcontinent, my ears weren’t ringing from the constant beeping of horns and I could cross the street without fearing for my life. It was an entirely different world.
Some destinations are so hyped up, so seemingly magical and otherworldly, so commonly listed on bucket lists that they sometimes can lose their luster when you finally come face-to-face with them. So high are your expectations that the reality cannot possibly measure up with the image that you’ve built in your mind.
The Taj Mahal is not one of those places.
No, the Taj Mahal fulfilled every bit of my sky-high expectations and then some. I was expecting it to be easily one of the highlights of my week in India, and I wasn’t disappointed. Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces” in Arabic, and it’s a fitting name. It’s the crown architectural jewel of Agra, of Uttar Pradesh, of Rajasthan, maybe even of the entirety of India. You can’t argue with the fact that the shining white marble mausoleum, with its bulbous dome and the spindly towers that flank it, is one of the most impressive and iconic buildings in the entire world. Continue reading Taj-struck in Agra→
I’m not usually a huge fan of pink, but for Jaipur, also known as “the Pink City,” I made an exception. Jaipur was our second stop in India, and despite the fact that it has only six million people – compared with Delhi’s sixteen million – it still seemed just as chaotic, if not more so. I think any extended time spent dealing with traffic in India would either give me a serious case of road rage or make me the most patient person ever. I’d rather not find out which one of those extremes would apply.
In 1876, Prince Albert and Queen Elizabeth II of Britain visited Jaipur, and the Indian ruler decided that all of the buildings in Jaipur should be adorned in pink in their honor. It was supposed to mimic the red sandstone shades of other Mughal buildings, like Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. Ever since then, “Pink City” stuck as its nickname, even though most of that rosy hue has faded away over the years. Continue reading Shades of Pink and Amber in Jaipur→