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Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

From the early days of planning our RTW trip, we knew that we wanted to visit Istanbul, however we didn’t know much about other destinations in Turkey. After reading an article in the New York Times, we became very interested in a region called Cappadocia.

Spring blooms in Cappadocia

While we were able to find tons of info on organized tours of Cappadocia, there was not much out there for the independent traveler. What we could find about exploring on your own suggested that the only feasible option was to rent a car. Tours are not our style, and renting a car was out of our budget; what were we to do? We caught a break when Amy’s mom sent us a link to a fantastic blog named Captivating Cappadocia. We contacted the author, and he kindly provided useful suggestions about a car-less approach to Cappadocia. Thanks Duke! Based on his advice, we decided to stay in Göreme, which proved the perfect home base for exploring the region.

Since we found it a bit difficult to plan our trip within a short time frame and on a budget, we have outlined our 4-day itinerary below so that other backpackers may use it as a reference. Keep in mind that this is one of a million different possibilities, and nearly everything can be planned after you arrive, so don’t worry!

Taking in the spectacular view from the Göreme Panorama

Before You Leave

Lodging: Do some research online before you leave and narrow it down to 2-3 places that fit your needs. Then negotiate via email for the best deal. We found that many hotels are willing to lower their rates in exchange for cash payment or multiple night stays. Also, we suggest staying in a “cave hotel” because it is fun and unique to Cappadocia; although more expensive than a hostel, it is still doable on a budget.

Our cave room!

Bus ticket: While a bus is not the fastest method of transportation, overnight buses are the most affordable way to get from Istanbul to Cappadocia. A ticket runs about 50-60TL and may be purchased from almost every travel agency in Istanbul. You should try to reserve a few days in advance as buses often fill up.

Day 1

Most overnight buses arrive in Göreme between 7:00-10:00am. Go drop off your stuff, grab a quick breakfast, and head straight to the Göreme Open Air Museum. It’s a short 1km walk from the town center and will quickly have you enchanted by the ancient cave dwellings and well-preserved rock churches.

The Göreme Open Air Museum is an ancient Christian city that consists of multiple churches, chapels and cave dwellings.

Amazingly well-preserved frescos in the Elmalı (Apple) Church

The Chapel of St. Barbara – a columned rock church

After exploring the museum, head back into town for lunch (there are tons of delicious and affordable places to choose from). Then, hike north to Çavusin. Here you will find dwellings that have been carved into the cliffs which are open to explore on your own for free.

We could have spent all afternoon exploring the caves of Çavusin.

On your way back to Göreme, detour off of the main road through Love Valley. The rock formations in this valley were some of our absolute favorites!

Pyramid-shaped fairy chimneys in Love Valley

“Fill-in-the-blank”-shaped fairy chimneys in Love Valley

As you come to the end of the Love Valley, you will arrive at the Göreme Panorama where you can catch great 360 views of the surrounding area.

Göreme Panorama – we cannot imagine what people back in the day thought when they first arrived to this incredible place.

Finish your day of hiking with a short trek back to Göreme through the fairy chimneys which sit just below the panorama.

Mike exploring one of the many fairy chimneys near Göreme

Based on this itinerary, we estimate that your legs will do about 13km of walking. So wear good shoes, and bring plenty of water. If that distance seems a bit too intense, there are plenty of bicycles, ATVs and motorbikes for rent in the area.

Day 2

Eat a big breakfast and pack some snacks before setting off on another day of hiking. This time in the Rose and Red valleys, which sit to the north-east of Göreme. Here you will find spectacularly colored rocks, high cliffs walls, and of course, more dwellings and churches carved into the tufta stone.

Pigeon coops carved into the rock cliffs of the Rose Valley

If the snacks you brought along aren’t enough, you will undoubtedly stumble upon some small outdoor cafes set up along the trail by entrepreneurial Turks.

Beautiful place for a cafe, huh?

After hiking, return to Göreme for a late lunch; then, rest with a nap in your cave hotel. When you feel rejuvenated, head to the mini-market and grab some beer or wine to enjoy while scoping the view from Sunset Hill. This viewpoint is located just a few minutes from the center of town and offers fantastic views of Göreme and the nearby valleys.

Day 3

Spend your morning exploring one of the many underground cities of Cappadocia. We suggest the town of Kaymaklı. To get there, take the bus to Nevşehir, which departs every half hour from the Göreme bus station. After arriving in Nevşehir, hop on a dolmus (mini-bus) direct to Kaymaklı. There are tour guides available, but we suggest just reading about the city before you visit and navigating the tunnels on your own. You’ll be able to explore at your own pace this way. Don’t worry, you won’t get lost and stuck inside like the Turkish guides may claim after you decline their services.

Mike ducking through a tiny passageway.

Bring a headlamp and/or flashlight with you – it will allow you to navigate through the ultra-secret parts of the underground city!

Those with claustrophobia or breathing conditions should be advised that the underground city contains many small passage ways and is quite dusty.

Visiting Kaymaklı should only take a half-day. After lunch you have more time for…you guessed it, more hiking! The Pigeon valley hike is about 4km and runs between Göreme and the nearby town of Uçhisar. It is a great way to spend the afternoon after being confined to the small spaces of the underground city.

The mushroom top cliffs of the Pigeon Valley

Day 4

After three days of hiking, we felt deserving of some relaxation. Sleep in and have a late breakfast. Most hotels will allow you to store your luggage while you enjoy your last day in Göreme. We suggest spending some time at a tea house and chatting with the owner or planning your next travel move, and then ending your visit with one final hike through the Zemi Valley.

More interestingly shaped fairy chimneys

Taking one last hike in Cappadocia through the Zemi Valley

If you are too beat to even think about hiking, there is a Hamam (Turkish bath) located right by the bus station where you can enjoy a spa day before taking another night bus out of Göreme.

This 4-day budget itinerary is definitely centered on hiking the valleys because we love hiking, hiking is free, and hiking is the best way to appreciate the natural beauty of Cappadocia. However, if your budget is a bit more flexible, the same basic plan could be modified to include an all-day tour (90-140TL) and/or hot-air balloon ride (300-450TL). Both activities come highly recommended by many people in the area. The good news is that pretty much whatever you do in Cappadocia, you are sure to have a good time.

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When we woke up the morning after our hectic first night in Dubrovnik, we were ready to turn a new page and enjoy ourselves.

View of Dubrovnik’s old town from Fort Lovrijenac.

We started off by having lunch at a great vegetarian restaurant in the old town called Nishta. In central and eastern Europe, there is no lack of meat and potatoes, so stumbling upon a creative vegetarian restaurant was very refreshing. We loved this place so much that we ended up eating there three times during our short stay in Dubrovnik. By the way, we received no compensation for writing this, we just loved it that much. After a satisfying lunch, we were off to explore the town.

One of the many tasty dishes we enjoyed at Nishta Vegetarian Restaurant.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most picturesque old towns in Croatia, Dubrovnik has become a tourist hotspot. Even though we were there in the off-season, the town was still crawling with visitors; not our ideal way to travel, but worth it, considering the sheer magnificence of this place.

Even though the wall walk is only 2km, it took us nearly 3 hours! We were stopping constantly to snap photos and enjoy the view.

Many European cities that we have visited claim to have amazing castle districts; however, Dubrovnik is truly the definition of a town within a castle. The wall completely encircles the old town, with only four gates with which to enter and exit. The best way to soak up the spectacular views is to take the “wall walk.” Tickets cost 70 KN (about 12 USD) and allow you to walk along the entire exterior wall of the city and visit the nearby fort. The walk is about 2km long and provides a 360 degree perspective on the city, sea and nearby islands.

View from the wall towards Lokrum Island.

One of the things that amazed us was the massive amount of stone and man power that went into constructing not only the wall, but all of the streets and buildings located inside of the city wall. Everything is made of stone.

During the 1991-92 Siege of Dubrovnik, the castle walls proved to be more resistant against modern weaponry than newly constructed buildings.

Another feature to note is that most of the city’s buildings are situated on steep hills, so exploring the town is quite literally breathtaking. After our first day we were exhausted, so we headed back to our hostel for a home cooked meal. The kitchen was located on the ground floor, and we couldn’t help but chuckle as we heard other tourists panting and gasping “I need a break” as they walked by our door.

The end of the 60+ stairs leading up to our guesthouse.

On one of our days in Dubrovnik, we decided to take a ferry to the nearby island of Lokrum. Being only a 15 minute ride makes Lokrum easily accessible as a half-day or full-day trip from Dubrovnik.

Heading out for a day of hiking on Lokrum Island.

Lokrum is a great place to take in views of Dubrovnik and sunbathe as well if the weather is right. We brought lunch with us and hiked around the edge of the island to find the perfect picnic spot. This proved a little more difficult than we had imagined due to the infestation of peacocks on the island. Peacocks were introduced from the Canary Islands and the population has since spread out of control. These birds will not leave you alone once they figure out that you have food in your pack.

They look beautiful, but they are really just over-sized pigeons.

It rained on and off on our last day; for Amy, as a native Oregonian, rain is always a welcome sound and smell. In between the clouds, we stopped for a glass of bubbly at a bar that is situated on the rocks which form part of the castle wall. Definitely a splurge from our usual backpacker budget, but champagne always tastes better with a view.

The view that justified the cost.

The only sign we could find for this place read “Cold Drinks” – we think that name sums it up pretty well.

Excluding our hostel mishap that we shared in Part II of this series, we absolutely loved the Dalmatian Coast. While Croatia has been growing in popularity among tourists in recent years, it still seems to be somewhat under the radar, but surely won’t be for long. The islands, beaches and cliffs that make up the Dalmatian Coast are a sight to see, and the Croatian people are so welcoming that you immediately feel at home in their country. We will definitely be back.

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Lagos was a pleasant surprise. There is no train service between Sevilla and Portugal and a direct bus ride to Lisboa or Porto is quite long, so we decided to enter the country via its southern region, known as the Algarve. Our first stop in Portugal was the small town of Lagos. Initially, we intended on staying only one night as a way to break up the long trip. Just minutes after arriving in Lagos and walking through its peaceful cobbled streets, we knew that we needed to stay longer, so we did.

One of Lagos’ many squares

Octopus made of black, white and red cobbles in Lagos. We have found this style of cobble art to be typical of Portuguese sidewalks and pedestrian streets.

Being situated at the most southwestern corner of Portugal, Lagos is home to some of the most beautiful beaches and stunning seaside cliffs we’ve ever seen.

Cliffs and rocks jutting out of the ocean in Lagos

We spent our entire first day walking the trail from the city center to the Ponta da Piedade, a panoramic viewpoint at the west end of town. We strolled up and down the many staircases, which lead from the cliff tops to the sandy beaches below.

Stairs leading down to a beach in Lagos

Crystal clear (and cold!) water off of a beach in Lagos

Enjoying our hike around Lagos

After arriving, we learned that Lagos was recently featured in the #1 spot on TripAdvisor’s list of “15 destinations on the rise” and we could not agree more. From walking around the town, we could tell that the vibe in the high season is likely much different as there are a number of highly visible clubs and bars throughout the town. We, however, really enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with traveling during the off season. Each local we spoke with was welcoming, friendly and eager to talk.

The truth is that we wish we had more time to spend in Lagos, but the road was calling and we had to keep on moving north to check out the more well know cities of Porto and Lisboa.

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The past nine days of our RTW trip were spent cruising on the Norwegian Jade. We know that cruising isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of budget backpacking, but while researching destinations in Spain during the planning phase of our adventure, we came across an incredible deal on this cruise.

Our ship, the Norwegian Jade

The Canary Islands were of particular interest, not only for their relative obscurity and year round temperate weather, but also because much of Mike’s family lineage prior to arrival in the Americas comes from this small group of islands.

We set sail from Barcelona just after sunset on Sunday, January 22 and headed out to sea for two days before making our first port.  It was a real treat to sail through the Straight of Gibraltar and catch our first glimpse of Africa, lit up on the midnight horizon.

Funchal, Madeira – Madeira Islands (Portugal)

Our first stop was in Funchal, the capital city of Portugal’s Madeira Islands.  Despite being located in the North Atlantic, the island felt very tropical with an amazing variety of flowers and birds.  We caught city bus #21 first thing in the morning which took us up a narrow and curvy (to say the least) road leading to the mountain top village of Monte.  From here, the famous Funchal toboggan drivers set up shop.  The toboggan rides, which originated as a way to rapidly transport ice to the shore from the mountain top ice houses, have turned into a major tourist skeptical. While we did not indulge in a ride, we had a blast watching shrieking passengers skid down the mountainside.

Toboggan Ride

While most tourists take the toboggans down, we took the scenic walking route, which allowed for some incredible views of the Atlantic with Funchal in the foreground. If you’re interested in the particular route that we took, Google search “walking monte to funchal” and you’ll find step by step directions.

View of Funchal

The steep scenic route did a number on our legs but also allowed us to check out the local architecture.  We were inspired by the walled courtyards with beautiful tile work, all perfectly framed by pink and orange tropical flowers.

Tiled courtyard with colorful flowers

By the time we reached the city center, we were ready to relax. The islands of Madeira are known for producing their own variety of Port wine, so naturally, we had to try some. We picked up a bottle and headed for a nearby park to enjoy our last few hours in this island paradise.

Blandy’s Madeira Wine

Santa Cruz, Tenerife – Canary Islands (Spain)

On our second day at port we were blessed with particularly great weather, so headed for one of Tenerife’s few sandy beaches, La Playa de Las Teresitas. We heard that the beach was only a 20 minute bus ride from town and ambitiously attempted to walk instead. While walking, we discovered the Canary’s ubiquitous outdoor public gyms, but after over an hour, the sidewalk became an onramp to the interstate, and we were forced to take the bus.

Outdoor gym in the Canary Islands

When we finally made it to la playa, we were stoked to say the least! We think the picture says it all.

La Playa de Las Teresitas

After Amy’s pale skin couldn’t handle the sun any longer, we hoped the bus back to the city center to check out the city’s music hall, El Auditorio de Tenerife.

The beautifully tiled Auditorio de Tenerife

Arrecife, Lanzarote – Canary Islands (Spain)

The island of Lanzarote is best known for its picturesque and rugged volcanic landscapes, but we were drained of energy from our previous day in the sun and chose to stay in the small town of Arrecife.  While this city is noticeably smaller and less energetic than our first two ports of call, we did enjoy its captivating blue waters and small fishing town feel.

Fishing harbor in Arrecife

Málaga, Spain

Our final stop on the way back to Barcelona was the port city of Málaga, situated on Spain’s southern coast near Granada. Prior to our arrival, we knew very little about Málaga, but were pleasantly surprised. The city is very modern and well kept, but is still host to some amazing ancient structures.  To get a better view, we headed to an old roman theater known as el Alcazaba and hiked up a fantastic nearby trail. From the top we were able to view many of the city’s main attractions including the Plaza de Toros and Catedral del Obispo.

View of Málaga

On the Ship

Most of our days at sea were spent relaxing by the pool, reading, playing cards, and enjoying the Jade’s fantastic live music and entertainment. Because of Mike’s background in the hospitality industry, we were both interested in the operational aspects of running a floating hotel. After speaking with the Hotel Director, we had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour of the ship, including the kitchen, galley and provisions areas, bridge control room, laundry facilities, waste disposal center, and theater. We were amazed at what goes into making a cruise happen smoothly and seamlessly.

Tour of the Jade’s laundry facilities

Tour of the Jade’s massive walk-in produce cooler

The Jade’s Staff Captain explains the radar system during the tour of the Bridge

We had a fantastic time at sea and it was a great opportunity to rest up, eat three (or more) good meals per day, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming month of hostel living and a relatively unknown itinerary. We are now in Valencia and looking forward to exploring the home of paella!

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Last Week in Denver

It’s our last week in Denver. We’re done with work. We’re moving out of our apartment. And we’re enjoying lots of going-away parties.  With all the excitement and anticipation of leaving, we’re beginning to realize how much we’re going to miss this place. People often ask us if we’ll be returning to Colorado after our RTW trip, and the honest answer is we don’t know. A major goal of our trip is to live in the moment, which means making as few future plans as possible.

That being said, Colorado is an awesome place! For those who have never been, get here! For those who live here, appreciate it!  As we get all reminiscent and sappy about our years here, we wanted to share some of our favorites for locals and tourists alike…

While we still have a lot of the world to experience, Colorado has to be one of the coolest places out there.

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