Category Archives: things to do

Istanbul Tulip Festival 2017

It’s not officially spring in Turkey until the tulips start to bloom… and of course, in Istanbul, this means the beginning of the annual Tulip Festival. Many people associate tulips with the Dutch, but they were actually exported there from Turkey during the time of the Ottoman Empire. You can see tulips on pottery and textile design going back centuries and you may even recognize the shape from the many tulip-shaped glasses of cay (tea) you’ll consume when you visit Turkey. Each year in Istanbul, millions of bulbs in over 160 varieties of tulips are planted in parks around the city to celebrate the beginning of spring. The most famous of these is in Emirgan Park, up the Bosphorus:

Tiptoeing through the #tulips in #Emirgan Park. ???#Istanbul #istanbulmoments #laleler #tulipfestival2017

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Istanbul Tulip Festival 2017
April 1-30, 2017

More information on the city’s Tulip Festival Website – if you can’t read the Turkish, you can simply admire the beautiful photos!

To get to Emirgan Park, you can easily catch a bus along the sea road from Besiktas or Taksim, or take the metro to 4. Levent and catch a bus from there. There’s also a ferry to and from Istinye, within walking distance of the park. If the times fit with your schedule, you can use this to avoid getting stuck in Istanbul traffic and to get a mini Bosphorus cruise at the same time!

The event is free and open to the public. I’d recommend packing along a little snack or purchasing one from vendors near the park and enjoying a picnic with a view of the grounds and the Bosphorus. If you’re there at sunset, there are also beautiful views of the bridges lit up near the water.

If Emirgan is too far (though it’s worth the trip!) you can also check out the tulips in parks like Gulhane Park just outside of Topkapi Palace. For the past few years, they’ve also put up the world’s largest carpet of tulips in Sultanahmet just outside the entrance to the Hagia Sofia. There’s a viewing platform for getting your best photos and admiring the beautiful design:

Behold, the largest carpet of #tulips in the world! ??? #laleler #istanbulmoments #sultanahmet #spring #ilkbahar

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>> You can see other photos from my visit to Emirgan Park here.
>> For more information on visiting Istanbul, check out my Turkey Destination Guide.

Day Trip from Washington DC: Fall Foliage in Shenandoah Valley

Washington DC is full of historic sites, museums, parks and is one of the top dining destinations in the country. You could easily spend weeks here and never tire of the bountiful options for things to do! But if you’re the type who loves a good road trip and beautiful fall foliage, a trip to Shenandoah Valley for its famous Skyline Drive is a must. I was lucky enough to spend two and a half months in Washington DC in the fall of 2016 and one of the things that was at the top of my to-do list was to plan a road trip out to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley during the peak viewing times for fall foliage.

There are four entrances to Skyline Drive at Shenandoah National Park. This page will tell you the major highways that lead to each of Shenandoah’s entrances. I’d recommend either exiting or entering at Thornton Gap (in the middle, near the best viewing for folliage) if you’re not planning to drive the whole thing. For a short (2 mile) and easy hike, drive 14 miles south to the Upper Hawksbill trailhead, one of the highest points in the park.

It takes about 3 hours to drive the entire 105 miles of Skyline Drive without stops, but there are numerous lookouts to pull over and places to stop for hike or picnics if you’d like to take a break. Hikes range from beginner to advanced with rewards like panoramic views, wildlife, and waterfalls. You can request free hiking maps from any of the ranger stations when you enter or preview them here. It generally takes about 90 min to 2 hours to get to Shenandoah from Washington DC, depending on which park entrance you use.

Come enjoy #SkylineDrive with us, yet again! ?❤️??? #Shenandoah #RoadTrip @shenandoahnps

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If you’re spending more than a week in Washington, DC, particularly in the fall, definitely be sure to check out Shenandoah National Park’s Fall Color Reports for tips and a weekly update from park rangers. In 2016, the peak weekend was October 23-23 and I visited both that weekend and the week after, which was still quite beautiful, in my opinion. Note that your entrance fee ($20 per car when I visited) is good for a full week, so you could space out your visits for two chances at peak foliage views and complete different sections of the drive each time.

A few resources for autumn leaf peeping:

If you don’t have time for a day trip out to Shenandoah, there are tons of beautiful sites around the city of DC as well. Rock Creek Park is beautiful for a run, walk or drive and the trees along the Mall and tidal basin are quite colorful too. Arlington Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Seneca Park and the National Arboretum are all great options not too far from the downtown DC area.

>> Check out my Washington DC Destination Guide
>> Check out photos from my galleries on Virginia and Washington DC

On Being Vulnerable

I felt a chill, sitting in my little box of a room – tiny, with oddly-placed windows that allow nearly no natural light to shine through. Wrapped up in a pile of heavy blankets and my newly purchased yak wool scarf, trying my best to stay insulated from both the physical cold and the social gatherings outside by these four walls and my ipod headphones. It’s the typical way I put up my defenses and retreat into my shell when I am faced with a difficult situation, with the first signs of depression.

My first instinct is to pull myself within, to hide from those who love me or who are concerned, to make myself as small as possible, a stranger to the world outside, to slip through unnnoticed. Call it a defense mechanism, but it’s the way I cope and has been for years. I can’t say that it’s been successful but after many major bouts of clinical depression in my adult life, it’s the only way I know how to survive until I’m ready to push through that darkness.

But India seems bent on teaching me that there is nowhere to hide. The love out there is so big, so colorful, so full of richness, so full of light and flavors that it will literally burst through the door, whether I want it to or not. Tonight it came via a stainless steel tray, loaded first with the simplest of flavors – a spiced vegetable curry with tender, sweet carrots, creamy chunks of village potatoes and crisp green bell peppers. On the side, a simple chapati flatbread and a steel cup of cold water. My first thought (in my wounded state of mind) was that it reminded me of humble prison rations, and I found none of my usual joy or anticipation in bringing the first spoon to my mouth.

Yet bite by bite, each spoonful brought me nourishment to my body and revived my spirit. Because I couldn’t refuse in Hindi, another plate soon appeared – rajma made of red kidney beans, not as spicy as the fiery version I’d tried in Amritsar, but obviously made with love and care. Next, a container of rice. As I’d watched others do, I spooned the rajma over the rice and watched as the flavors mixed and deepened with each new taste. I tried to slow down to appreciate the texture and flavor in each bite, to receive the blessing and well wishes being sent to me by the kind woman who prepared them and delivered them to my sick room even as I tried to say no. I loved her then, for ignoring my attempts to shut her out, and to lock myself inside.
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Cooking Classes in Chile: Uncorked Cooking Workshop

Disclosure: My cooking class was provided courtesy of Uncorked Cooking Workshop, however I was not otherwise compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugCeviche. Oh, my love for ceviche knows no bounds.

It’s one of the dishes that I’ve tried up and down the continent of South America and have pretty much loved in all its variations – although some more than others. After having an ungodly amount of ceviche in Lima, I gave it a rest for a bit as I headed back up into the mountains of Peru and Bolivia.

So I was thrilled when I saw that ceviche was one of the dishes we would be making in my class with Uncorked Cooking Workshop! Just reading the menu made me salivate for the sour-citrusy seafood goodness. (Say that ten times fast!)
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Cooking Classes in Peru: Cusco Culinary

Disclosure: My cooking class was provided courtesy of Cusco Culinary, however I was not otherwise compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.

In Cusco, there is no shortage of touristic sights to keep you busy – in fact, most visitors to Cusco opt to purchase the Boleto Turistico which gives you access to 16 sites over a 10 day period, many of them including Inca or pre-Inca ruins. And then, of course, visitors to Cusco are usually using it as a stopping off point before a visit to Machu Picchu. I’ve actually heard more than one person say they were “ruined out”, that is to say that all of the sites were starting to blend together. A shame to feel this way, of course, but I could relate after a few days spent touring the city and nearby historic sites.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugIn search of something different, I began looking into food tours and cooking classes and came across fantastic reviews on Trip Advisor for Cusco Culinary, so I reached out to see if they’d let me drop in on a class to share the experience with you. Despite it being Christmas Eve, I got a response within a few hours that there was a spot open for the dinner class the following evening, which sounded like a perfect way to spend Christmas night!

I’ve taken cooking classes all over the world and I can honestly say this was one of the best. Peru has arguably the most popular cuisine in South America, and the people behind Cusco Culinary have really put thought into the experience so that you leave with a real appreciation for the food as well as the culture of the country. The price tag of $59.99 may seem a bit steep to some, but if you’re a food lover, I would strongly suggest you consider it as an option when you’re planning your budget for day trips, tours and things to do in Cusco.

Dinner Experience with Cusco Culinary

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugThe cooking class with Cusco Culinary generally begins with a tour of Mercado San Pedro, but due to the holiday we skipped this and headed straight into the class itself. To begin, we were ushered into a room downstairs set up to give us a taste of life in the Andes. We began with a chilled glass of chicha morada (a drink made from purple corn and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and fruit) while our host, Sofia, described the various types of chicha and customs related to the beverage, including how it’s made, who’s doing the drinking and how to tell when a local chicheria has the mildly alcoholic version of the beverage available.

The rest of the room introduced other aspects of local life, including elements of an Andean kitchen – the stove and cooking utensils, various talismans placed around the home for good luck, and items found in the pantry. We got to see examples of various grains and flours, herbs, spices, dried peppers and potatoes of all shapes, sizes and colors. One that is important to Peruvian cooking is called chuño, which is a bit of an acquired taste and texture. It’s a potato preserved by a freeze-drying process, then ground into a flour or used in soups and sauces or sometimes just eaten with spicy aji sauce. With this method, indigenous people preserve the potatoes for years at a time! Continue reading