Discover Annaba and Constantine

…and there we were: in Algeria! I love the thrill of being in a country of which you know nothing, you have no idea what to expect and you’ve never met anyone who has ever been there. For me, this was the case with Algeria. For more info on the border crossing, read my other blog on Algeria.

Algeria is stunning. The landscapes are beautiful, the weather was great (late April and about 25-30C) and people were friendly and the streets were clean.

Annaba

Annaba (pronounce as Annaaaabaa) is about 3 hours from the Tunisian border. It’s a sea town that has a cooling sea breeze and therefore quite relaxed. My travel book described it as a ‘laid back’ city. Not sure I would describe it like this, but it’s for sure a city that has village-vibes. We stayed in the stunning hotel El Mountazah. This hotel is built in Seraidi, a small village in the hills above Annaba. If you have a chance, stay here! You’ll have beautiful sunsets over the bay, the hills and Annaba. Though at the time we were here (April 2017), they were about to close the hotel for renovations.

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There’s a funicular going up from Annaba. From the funicular in Seraidi it’s about a 10 minute walk to the hotel. In those 10 minutes you’ll have seen the entire village.

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When we arrived in the hotel, we were exhausted after a long day of travelling, and the hassle at the border. All we needed was a shower and food. But the receptionist thought differently about this. Even though she was super friendly and tried to make it as comfortable as possible for us, there was no way an unmarried couple can stay in the same room. ‘But madam, we are married’. Well, not without a marriage certificate (does anyone ever take that on holidays?) We could’ve known this in such a conservative country, and for our next trip I’ll fake a beautiful marriage certificate in a language that no one can read. There was no way to get around this, no matter how beautiful we made the story (married for 1,5 years in a beautiful castle far far away and if it helps the story, we’ll fake being pregnant as well. Good excuse for eating a lot). Apparently it’s the law in Algeria, though we didn’t hear about this in the next hotel. So the solution was that we paid for 2 rooms and the consequence was that we only stayed in this beautiful hotel for 1 night.

 

Anyway, after the shower I’d longed for all day, some chill-time at our balcony watching the sunset, it was time for food! For a vegetarian, the Northern-African countries (frankly, most countries) are a bit of a challenge. It’s all meat! So, eventually we found a lovely pizzeria at the town’s square. The owner, ready in his purple sweatpants and on Nikes, prepared us a delicious pizza (no other customers so it was ready in no time) which we finished in the blink of an eye. All we needed now was sleep!

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The next morning we went to the Basilica of Saint Augustine. What a gem! Ok, to be honest, we didn’t go in the basilica. It’s on a hilltop so we had a pretty good looks from the Ruins of Hippone; the ‘old’ basilica. The Basilica of Saint Augustine was in my book described as the modern version of the Sacre Coeur in Paris. We’d visited that a few months ago, and if you close your eyes you might see the comparison ;). Even though I didn’t see it, it’s still stunning!

We left our bags with the security at the entrance and took our time to explore the ruins, which are surprisingly well preserved. The security guard knew a lot about this place! And showed us around, just because he liked it, not to earn some extra money.

After our private tour, we went to the taxi station (within walking distance from the ruins) and took a shared taxi to Constantine, which was about 3 hours.

Constantine

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Look at this picture: fascinating how they built an entire city on a cliff, high above the Rhumel gorge, isn’t it? In Constantine they did, which results in spectacular views and sunsets. It’s also referred to as ‘city of bridges’.

Constantine is the perfect city for a stroll (when it’s not burning hot). IMG_7034Walk around the city center and you’ll always have spectacular views. Ok, I have to admit; it took us quite a while to understand the city. All these bridges can be quite confusing as well. We took as a reference point the Sidi M’Cid Bridge. Especially at night it’s quite easy to recognize this bridge, since it turns into a disco-bridge.

When you cross the Sidi M’Cid bridge, you’ll reach another lovely district of the city. This is also the area with the hospital. Really interesting to see all these ambulances having to cross the bridge (and being heavily slowed down). Go left and climb up towards the Monument of the Dead for breathtaking views. A monument that was built by the French to remember the people that died in WWI. My guide book warned me that it might be dangerous (ok, to be honest I only read that after visiting) but I guess this got a lot better over the years. There’s a lot of police around, but seems quite safe.

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When you walk down and a bit past the bridge, you will find the funicular that can take you down to the medina again. Always nice to do! The only downside is that the altitude is quite high, and so we were exhausted all the time. We therefore spend a lot of time near the bridge, but didn’t explore the entire city thoroughly (though I have the feeling that we have quite a good impression now).

Just 1 must do in this city: watch sunset over the Sidi M’Cid bridge. Stunning! We spent quite a while here, but hardly anyone seemed to do it. Bring some food and just sit and absorb the spectacular views.

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Speaking of which: for food in Constantine there’s only one recommendation; go to Tiddis. Haha, almost every restaurant carries this name! There are a few good ones at the end of the Av. Achour Rachmani. I would recommend trying the ‘briks’.

After you’ve filled your belly, you might want to go for a drink. Well, not in Algeria. Constantine is a young town, with a large university. But this isn’t reflected in nightlife. Not much is happening here after 9pm. Though the times that we were out on the streets in the dark, we didn’t feel unsafe. If you’re craving for a drink, you can go to the hotels on the Place de la Pyramide, though it won’t be cheap. Note that you the market is here as well; right under the Place de la Pyramide. Always good to buy some fruits (and to be honest, I love markets).

In Constantine, we stayed at Hotel des princes; a really nice hotel in the city center. Not the cheapest, but worth the money.

 

For us, this was our trip to Algeria for now. We took a taxi back to Tunis after a few days. You can read more about the border crossing in my other blogs.

 

 

 

The border crossing Tunisia – Algeria

 

I had no idea how to picture Algeria. I’d been to Morocco and Tunisia, so figured it was something like that?! For some parts it was, but other parts were completely different. As not many travelers go here nowadays, I could hardly find any travel blogs and was armed with a 10-year old travel guide and some youtube videos in the back of my head. So here are my experiences; I hope others can benefit from it and be a bit better prepared.

Algeria is a big country and traveling around costs time. Think well before booking your tickets. We only wanted to go to the eastern parts (for now), which meant that it was easier to fly to Tunis and cross the border from there.

Early in the morning, we took a bus from Tunis to Annaba, which surprisingly left on time. The bus ride was approximately 9 hours (including crossing the border). That in itself was an adventure though.

You cannot get a visa for most Western passports on arrival at the border, so I’d already applied for it back home. Once at the border, we first had to leave the Tunisian side. Meaning: everyone out of the bus, going to a desk for stamps and stuff. With a lot of hassle, that worked. This border was the typical: ‘if I don’t like your face, I’m not going to let you pass’-border. I’d crossed a few borders like that before, so I thought it would be fine. I underestimated this! When they threatened to send us back (after so many hours in a warm bus and no taxis around!), I started to get slightly nervous. Luckily after a lot of hassle, high officers, etc., we received our stamps.

Then we had to get our luggage checked. We’d considered taking a bottle of wine, but I’m truly thankful we never did. Men and women were separated, the bags were opened and searched thoroughly (read: every single coin, panties, and sock passed them). We were already intimidated by how hard it was to get the right stamps, so when they, rather unfriendly, asked whether we had any cash money on it, we instantly felt it was better to ‘change’ the truth a little bit. My friend told the officer that I had all the money. But we couldn’t really communicate since he was on the men’s-section. I guessed that no one spoke English well enough and tried to overwhelm them with a friendly waterfall of quick English. Our approach worked and about 1,5 hours later (at least 1 hour delay was on us, apologies to all the bus passengers) we were on the move again: to the Algerian side. This was a lot friendlier, yet still took forever. Where it was my friend who got all the questions on the Tunisian side, it was my turn now. They wanted to know in detail where I was from and what my plans were in Algeria. That was quite easy. But the difficult part was to describe my job. Something with recruitment, refugees and helping less fortunate was too difficult. Eventually I ended up being self-employed somehow.

What made it a lot better was the light in the officer’s eyes when I understood 2 words in Arabic. Eventually after a lot of delays we were all loaded in the bus again and were really in Algeria.

Once back in the bus, a young man came in the bus to change money. Suddenly everyone had lots of money with them that the officers had never seen! Apparently me and my friend weren’t the only people performing a nice show at the checkpoint. This man offered a really good conversion rate for which you can’t change in banks nor in dodgy corners of the town’s square. So bring some cash, hide it well, and change here. Ok, I need to add that this is obviously not allowed, but happens right under everyone’s eyes so is apparently tolerated.

It seems like a lot of hassle, crossing the border in northern Tunisia, but it’s still a lot easier than flying to Algiers and then travel all the way through the country. And to be honest, when you get the occasional view like this from the bus, it’s all worth it.

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Back from Algeria to Tunisia

On the way back from Constantine to Tunis, we took a shared taxi, which was a lot quicker than the bus. Shared taxis leave from Annaba and Constantine and just leave when the car is full. Please note that this is officially illegal (again, sorry). We were stopped on the way by a tough-looking police officer. It was quite obvious that he’d stopped us to earn a little extra money. But when he, super unfriendly, said: ‘Hulanda, how much did you pay the driver for this trip?’ I was slightly uncomfortable. Luckily he didn’t speak much English and left me alone. We were stopped a few times and every time they had to check our luggage. There’s a lot of smuggling between Algeria and Tunisia, so I understood it. But after the fourth time of opening my bag, I wished I’d put some interesting underwear on top, just to make them really uncomfortable and let us go (I dare you to do this! I’m sure you’ll have an interesting trip ;)).

Our taxi driver seemed to have invested in contacts at the border crossing, because this went a lot quicker than the first time. On the Algerian-side my passport had to pass a few hands of high officers, but this seemed to be more of a formality. On the Tunisian side we were met by friendly officers who gave me the list of old soccer players that you always hear when you’re travelling and then welcomed me to Tunisia. We were only stopped once on the way, but in Tunisia it helps to show your blonde hair. So I always make sure they’ve seen me, and off you go again!

Considering to cross like this?

I’ve never flown into Algeria, so I have no comparison. But if you just keep in mind from the start of the trip that you’ll spend most of the day travelling, it’s not that bad. It’s part of the experience. Though make sure you have your visa sorted!

I’ve heard they recently opened a railway connection between Algiers and Tunis. It’s supposed to only take 8 hours. I don’t know how comfortable it is and whether it’s really only 8 hours, but it sounds interesting. Next time….

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Algeria?!

I had lovely reactions when I told people that I was going on holidays to Algeria. From ‘let me check google maps in which part of the world that is’ to ‘did you search the country that scores the worst on the list of your Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ and ‘why do you only travel the weird countries?’. I have to admit that I always choose countries that hardly anyone goes to. Just because I don’t find much adventure in going to a holiday destination where I can speak Dutch and find half of the Netherlands.

Safety

But I’m not ignorant either. We knew it was a risk to go to Algeria. It was a week before their elections, there were violent protests and a few high terrorist leaders had been caught a few days before we arrived. Information you don’t tell your parents before your trip, huh. I wouldn’t recommend taking your security information from blogs like this. Make sure you inform yourself well before you go!

For Algeria, we found it quite hard to be informed. Not much is published on these matters in Algeria. Not on official news sites (for example, there were only 10 foreign journalists allowed in the country to report the elections). There’s a little bit of information on Facebook, but you’ll have to speak French or Arabic to understand it. And even that was limited. At the time we were there, the south was definitely a no-go area. The mountainous part between the eastern border (with Tunisia) wasn’t great either, but we took that risk (though never wandered around or hiked, which is too bad, because it looks amazing).

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So yes, it was a risk. But to be honest; I never felt unsafe during our trip. We used public transportation all the time (you’re not allowed to take a car across the border that’s not yours). I received a lot of looks from people because of my blonde hair. But no one that approached me or treated me badly (though my friend was always next to me. I’m pretty sure that makes a big difference). And you need to be sensitive. Don’t go out late on the streets.

Would I recommend going to Algeria? Yes, definitely! I would love to go back and discover the Western part. But be informed and alert about what you do and where you go.

Clothing

It took 3 hours in the bus from the border to Annaba. During those hours, I kept hoping women would be less conservatively dressed when we would approach a major town. But that wasn’t really the case. The most important question for every woman who’s packing her bag; what to wear?!

Well, I was kind of prepared with somewhat conservative outfits, but I hoped I could wear a t-shirt. I think you can, but you’ll be the only one and therefore you won’t show much respect. Just cover your arms. You don’t want to be that disrespectful. I didn’t cover my head, but the majority of the Algerian women does. Though I never had the feeling that that was expected from me.

Also, when you have a choice; I wouldn’t recommend going here mid-summer, unless you love melting. But don’t let this put you off, because you’re be missing out if you’re not visiting Algeria for a reason like this.

Accommodation

Hmm, accommodation is quite a thing in Algeria. There are hotels, but rather expensive and difficult to find on internet. There are also places on Airbnb of course and a few couchsurfers, but since we weren’t sure on the security situation, we stayed in hotels. Please note that if you’re not married and travelling together, you need a marriage certificate. Not in every hotel, but you better have something.

The hotels that we stayed at though, were definitely worth the money!

Read my other blogs on Annaba and Constantine and on how to cross the border with Tunisia.

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Itinerary, tips and tricks for Morocco

I received so many question about what to do in Morocco, that I figured I might as well write it all down.

 

Morocco has become a real tourist-destination with Ryanair flights from Europe for about €50. I went to Morocco alone, as a female solo backpacker, and to be honest, it´s certainly do-able, but not ideal. You’ll attract a lot of attention from men, which costs much energy. I guess whether you like Morocco depends on how well you can deal with this attention. It sounds negative, but I certainly enjoyed Morocco. So no worries, as soon as you know how to deal with all the attention, Morocco is very much worth a visit! So, what to do?

 

Most people start either in Fes (north) or in Marrakech (south), but everyone makes kind of the same loop. I started in Marrakech, slightly hesitant with many warnings from others in the back of my head. I’d heard many negative stories about this city, but to be honest, I loved it! The bustle, street vendors, snake charmers… I only had a few days in the city, but could easily have spent a week here. 140

 

In Marrakech you can organise a trip to the desert. I generally don’t like doing tours, but for the desert in Morocco, it’s much cheaper to organise it in Marrakech. It’s quite a way to get to the villages bordering the desert, so everyone knows that if you show up there, you want to get into the desert, and will therefore charge you much more. 279I went to Merzouga. I can’t recall the name of the company, but you can easily organise this in your hostel in Marrakech, they all offer kind of the same trip.

 

After the desert and crowded city, I felt like I needed some relaxation. The ultimate place to do this, is Essaouira. If you have more than 3 weeks in Morocco, you could consider going all the way down to Agadir, but if you don’t have that much time, don’t go further south than Essaouira.

Essaouira is a super relaxed town where you just stroll down the beach,

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No matter where you are in Essaouira, as soon as the sun starts to set, you should climb up a high building and watch a spectacular sunset.

go (kite)surfing, eat fish and go for a drink (one of the few places in Morocco where this is ok). Just relax, catch some breath and surf! As with every surfer town, there are surfer-wannabees, looking for western girls. Be aware of this and don’t fall for their tricks! If a guy lets you pay for all the drinks, you should know that something’s wrong.

 

 

With pain in my heart I left Essaouira for a horrible, yet actually really funny bus ride to Fes. The only way to get here (at that time, low season) was by taking a night bus. The trip was supposed to take about 8 hours, but in reality took 13 hours. With someone emptying her stomach for the first 8 hours, I wasn’t very happy in this bus. Yet the guy sitting next to me was really nice. It almost resulted in a love story that would be worth a movie, almost.

Fes…. I didn’t like Fes. To be honest, this was probably because I felt ill and my hostel wasn’t great, because I met many people who absolutely loved Fes. Fes is a bit similar to Marrakech, as it’s one of the ‘imperial cities’ (Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Rabat).

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The walls surrounding the medina in Fes. 

 

I spent 2 days in Fes to recover, yet as soon as I felt better, I went to Meknes. This is the city that most tourists skip, but that’s a mistake. I would even call it the often forgotten imperial city. It has the same old structure as the other cities, with city walls, an old medina and a palace, yet it doesn’t have the same amount of tourists. This was the city where I also realized that my French was really bad. In the cities I visited before, most people were used to tourists and spoke English. I was looking for the more ‘untouched’ Morocco, but the price was that English was kind of not existent. 416. IMG_0296What to do in Meknes? Just wander around in the souk, go to the palace and eat lots of ice creams.

 

From Meknes you can do day trips to Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. You can do an expensive trip organised by your hostel, but you an also just take the local bus for about 1/10th of the price. Moulay Idriss doesn’t have much to offer, but since you’re in the neighborhood anyway, I would quickly walk in and out if I were you. You can go to the holy shrine, but they won’t let you enter, unless you’re Muslim.

Someone told me you can easily walk from Moulay Idriss to Volubilis. Yes, you can, but keep in mind that it’s not really comfortable when it’s about 40C. I started walking, but halfway realized that I didn’t like it and started hitchhiking (I wouldn’t recommend this in Morocco as a female girl travelling solo, unless you really know what you’re doing).

Volubilis is breath taking if you like ruins. It’s big and relatively well-preserved and doesn’t have many visiters. There’s no bus to Volubilis, so you have to go back to the roundabout near Moulay Idriss (again, you can walk the few kilometers, I hitchhiked).

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The ruins of Volubilis

From Meknes, I went back to Fes and then to Chefchaouen (there’s no connection between Meknes and Chefchaouen).

 

Chefchaouen: What to say about this little town…. It’s the place every tourist and backpacker goes to… And even though I generally don’t like these hubs, Chefchaouen is too cute to skip. It’s the place where everyone smokes weed, though even if you’re not so much into this, it’s a super relaxed place. Go to the local hammam, hike into the mountains, just stroll down the streets again and again and relax with fellow travellers on the roof top terrace of your hostel.

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Adorable blue streets in Chefchaouen.

Chefchaouen is so charming because the entire city is painted blue. The story goes that ‘back in the days’, every house-owner painted his properties in 1 color. There was either a really really wealthy man that chose blue as his color, or someone told me a bullshit story. You might want to verify this 😉

 

 

 

From Chefchaouen I took the bus to Rabat. Rabat was the surprise of my trip. Everyone had recommended me to skip Rabat, since they said there was nothing to do.
Yet, when you tell me to skip a specific place, I go there. That’s just how I travel. Which resulted in 1 big surprise! Indeed, Rabat isn’t spectacular, though it has enough to offer.

I only had one afternoon in Rabat. In one afternoon you can try to cover as much of the touristic sites and you can, but I decided to go surfing instead.

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Rabat’s kasbah

In front of the kasbah, you will find many surfers waiting for a good wave. Even though I’m not a good surfer, they gave me a board and told me they would come and check if I was still alive in a few hours. Loved it! And what’s nicer than waiting on your board for a good wave with a beautiful old kasbah at the background.

 

 

Rabat is a good destination to spend your last night before you go to the airport in Casablanca.

 

Hostels:

Hostels in Morocco are super cheap. If you want to travel even cheaper, bring a sleeping bag and ask if you can sleep on the roof top terrace. They’re likely to let you stay there fore about half of the price, plus, in the summer this is the only place where it’s still comfortable.

 

Marrakech: Riad Dia. Friendly atmosphere, cool staff and if you’re lucky, even free dinner with music! Right next to Jemaa el-Fnaa, the central square.

Essaouira: I stayed at Surf & Chill, which really made my stay! Though the always friendly Wadie, who works there, recently started his own hostel (Surf Mellow). I haven’t been here yet, but I can’t imagine Wadie disappointing you.

Fes: Riad Verus. I didn’t like the vibe in this hostel, and it isn’t cheap. Though it’s clean.

Meknes: I couldn’t find a hostel in Meknes. I stayed in a riad where I heavily negotiated the price, though it was still expensive. Can’t remember the name, but it was one of the many riads in the old souk.

Chefchaouen: Hostel Souika. Thé place where every traveller stays.

Rabat: Auberge de la Jeunesse. A bit poor, but good enough for 1 night.

 

 

Transportation:

  • Marrakech – Essaouira: 3 hours by bus (but book in advance, I just went to the busstation and had to wait for 3 hours before I could board a bus).
  • Essaouira – Fes: 13 hours, overnight. There was only 1 bus I could take, a night bus. It’s not ideal, but the guy next to me was awesome, and even though we had a major language problem, we had great fun. He made my trip.
  • Fes – Meknes: take the train! Comfortable, and a new way of transportation is always fun. It’s about half an hour when there’s no disruption, but the train station is quite far from the city center in Fes.

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    Even when your French is not great, you understand ‘retard 1h10min’.
  • Fes – Chefchaouen: About 5 hours by bus.
  • Chefchaouen – Rabat: About 2 or 3 hours by bus.
  • Rabat – Airport Casablanca: Take the train. It took me looooong due to disruptions, but would generally not take you longer than 1,5 – 2 hours.

 

Dress code:

Morocco is an Islamic country, but got used to tourists. This means that you won’t have to be fully covered when going there. Though, you’re making it a lot easier for yourself if you cover your shoulders and legs as a female traveller.

 

Warnings:

I guess Morocco doesn’t really need warnings. You’ll just figure out how it works. Sometimes it might make you grumpy, but what can you do? Everyone tries to earn something from the tourist boom. One thing that will happen frequently is getting lost in the narrow lanes in the old medina (everything looks the same!). For someone like me with zero sense of direction; don’t even try to find your way. There are plenty of kids on the street, willing to bring you to your hostel for some money (they’ll even do this without asking, but still expect money). They’re adorable and don’t really speak English, until your in front of your hostel. Then they’re suddenly fluent in English and curse you with words you wouldn’t even use. Don’t pay more when they’re doing this, because then you’re ruining it for other tourists.

‘If you ever make it back alive….’

One of my friends told me that she would love to hear my stories, if I would make it back alive. Well, I guess I did! I got home safe and sound about two weeks ago. So this will really be my final blog (ok, you can’t change  a person that much, it will be my final blog for a while. Being at home for two weeks without having bought any new flights is a weird feeling!).

 

I started my blogs to challenge the perceptions we have about the Middle East. It was never the question ‘if’ I would make it back home. I never doubted about my security. I’ve traveled to quite a few places, but the Middle East is one of the safest areas I’ve traveled to, which sounds weird for a region where there are wars and bombs.

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The Middle East is the region with ‘hospitality teas’ on every street corner.

Before I left for my trip, I often didn’t even mention I was going to Iran, because it led to so many negative comments. Yet, especially Iran, the country people thought I wouldn’t survive, was the safest country I traveled to. As a solo backpacking woman, you don’t have to run for your life, or fight to keep men at a distance. I’ve been perfectly safe and instead made so many friends.

 

Instead of traveling to a ‘super dangerous’ region, I experienced a region where hospitality is taken to a whole new level. What really made my trip different than previous trips, is the people I met. So often I was received as a long lost daughter or dear friend. The people I met on the way, all of them, did everything within their power to make my trip as comfortable as possible. I’m struggle to find the good words to describe how loving and caring everyone has been to be. Daily, people were willing to share everything they had. A blackberry phone that I got, or when they gave me the keys of a mini cooper that I could use for the day (I didn’t do this, was too scared to crash it), and even entire houses (even though the owner was sometimes not even at home. I often got the message ‘you can find the key under the rock next to the door’), free paragliding trips… Pretty awesome!

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And sometimes, you just wake up in paradise and realize that your trip is pretty awesome!

Yes, there are wars in this region. And bombs. I’ve had to change my itinerary a few times for security reasons. And to be honest, I’ve been lucky, sometimes appearing at places just before or just after attacks. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t survive a trip to the Middle East (it was partly my own choice to search the boundaries of what was still safe).

There are a few countries I wouldn’t recommend going to now, which is exactly the countries we’re receiving refugees from.

IMG_2374I can’t help but think about what we’re doing right now with the refugee crisis. I know it’s way too simplistic to just welcome everyone. Of course, there are solutions at different levels, and I’m leaving it to professionals to find long term solutions. But what I realized was that if people can be so welcoming and truly made me feel at home, are we doing the same? (me included, I’m not pointing fingers at anyone). In the whole debate about refugees, I sometimes miss common humanity. The majority of the people are amazingly loving people who make sure you’re having the best time of your life. There is a saying here that can be translated as something like ‘if you do good, Allah will be good to you’. This is exactly how I experienced travelling in this region. People went way beyond ‘doing good’.

 

 

Iran itinerary, tips and tricks

You’re considering going to Iran?! Do it! I just came back from a 3 week trip and wrote my tips and tricks down, because it’s challenging to get a clear picture of what to expect. Hope this helps! First my itinerary, and after that tips and tricks.

 

ITINERARY

I spent the first few days of my trip in Tehran, which is an incredibly big city. Most guidebooks say it doesn’t have much to offer, but I liked to see this buzzing city that I found surprisingly Western. The only downside is the air pollution. I constantly had a soar throat and when you wash your hands at the end of the day, the water is dark brown (seriously, no exaggeration). It’s so bad that only on the third day, I saw that there’s a mountain not far from my hostel.

Things to do in Tehran: the bazaar (like in every Iranian city), the American embassy (watch the movie Argo before you go),

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The American Embassy in Tehran

Golestan palace, take the metro (sounds weird, but great fun. The place where business happens).

 

 

After Tehran, I took a 2 hour bus ride to Qom, sometimes called ‘chador city’. Qom itself doesn’t have much to offer, but Fatimeh’s holy shrine is absolutely amazing. A pilgrimage site for Shias. Be aware that they don’t always let tourists in. Qom can easily be done as a nice break on the way to Kashan.

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Qom, Fatimeh´s holy shrine.

Kashan is an old town and nice to stroll through for a day, but don´t expect to spend weeks here. Main sites: Agha Bozorg mosque, the bazaar (again) (there’s a lovely bathhouse in the bazaar, now transformed in a tea house. A nice place for a break after shopping. The owner is very friendly and will probably show you the old parts at the back of the tea house), traditional houses, Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad (beautiful bathhouse. If you’ve seen enough bathhouses already, just climb up to the roof top for a spectacular view. You can haggle a good price).

From Kashan, you can take tours into the Maranjab desert and the nearby salt lake. I would definitely recommend doing this! We haggled quite hard and got a price for 25 euro for a taxi; so make friends and it’s super cheap.DSCN0940 Note: the salt lake still has tides. For us, this meant that the soil was still wet and brown in the morning. During the day it became white and shiny as you expect from a salt lake (but this is obviously dependent on the moon). Check this before you book a tour (though it’s likely they’ll tell you it’s white anyway).

 

From Kashan, the big and magical city Esfahan is only 3 hours by bus. Esfahan is like a fairy tale, it’s the Vienna of the Middle East. See for yourself, if the main square looks like this, it’s worth spending a few days here.

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If the main square of a city looks like this, the place is worth a visit!

Highlights in Esfahan: the bazaar. I spent 2 full days here! Mashed-e Shah on the main square is beautiful. Mashed-e Jameh is still used as a mosque and if you’re lucky they’ll let you sit in during the prayers. The palace Kakh-e Chehel Sotun is slightly overpriced (200.000 Rial), but it’s a lovely place and such a peaceful spot in a busy city.

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Esfahan and its bridges…

My absolute favorite spot is the bridges. Especially at night, the bridges come alive, people hang out here together (men ánd women together). It seems that where ever normal life is quite separated, under the bridges people hang out together and if you’re lucky, you’ll see a spontaneous singing session.

 

After the big cities before, it was refreshing to go to the sleepy desert town of Yazd. The narrow lanes between mud houses, spectacular sunsets and craftsmen who’ll invite you for tea make it the perfect place to relax a bit. Highlights: just walk through the narrow lanes, sunsets from a rooftop (art house has a spectacular view), visit the Mashed-e Jameh (like you should do in every city). Walk to the Amir Chakhmaq (also the place where exchange bureaus are). While here, just off the square is an old water reservoir in which men perform zoorkhaneh, a traditional way of working out.

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Zoorkhaneh in the old water reservoir

You can visit their sessions at 6pm (Lonely Planet says that only men are allowed to watch, but I was there together with 25 women, all watching the show). Just outside the city you’ll find the towers of silence, which are Zoroastrian fire temples, though I found them a little bit disappointing.

 

Most people go to Shiraz after visiting Yazd. I had a little bit more time and went to Kerman, 7 hours south east. I didn’t find the city very interesting, except a very nice bazaar. But Kerman has a spectacular desert (Kalut). I planned on just passing through, but my couchsurf host took me on a spontaneous trip to the desert. Eating dinner while watching the sunset is definitely one of my dearest memories of this trip.

 

After a while in the desert, I felt it was time for a tropical island. So I took the bus from Kerman to Bander Abbas (approximately 8 hours) and from there the ferry to Qeshm island. Highlights: watch dolphins, take a boat trip in the mangrove forest,

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Mangrove forest on Qeshm

visit star valley (the Cappadocia of Iran, but you won’t come across as many tourists as in Cappadocia). On Qeshm island, locals still live their normal life, not really bothered by a few tourists on the island. You’ll find women with beautiful masks and men in their traditional outfits on a motorbike. Throw your backpack in the back of a pick up truck and enjoy the island life! IMG_4940

The only downside of Qeshm is that there’s not public transport, so you’ll need to take taxis for everything, which makes it quite pricey (though I would’ve hitchhiked if I wouldn’t be a female travelling alone). From Qeshm you can take a ferry to Hormoz. I didn’t have enough time to do this, but I heard spectacular stories about it.

 

Last but not least, Shiraz! I have to admit, I was sick in Shiraz and therefore didn’t try very hard to see every site. The absolute highlight for me was the Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk. The mosque has stained glass and if you go there before 8.30 you’ll probably have the mosque to yourself to enjoy a spectacular light show. IMG_5295 - CopyShiraz is the city of the poets, so a visit to either Sa’di or Havez’ tomb is a must. I went to Havez’ tomb (go here in the evening when the garden is beautifully lit up), and as always; the bazaar. And of course, the site that every tourists visits; Persepolis. One big advise for Persepolis: don’t do tour your hostel offers! It’s incredibly expensive and will save you a lot if you just arrange it yourself. We took a taxi for 14 euro (550.000 Rial) and entrance fees are €7 (200.000 Rial). Even if you do this trip alone (unlikely, since there are many people in Shiraz that go to Persepolis every day and are willing to share a taxi), it’s still cheaper than the $35 they’ll charge you in the hotel. A tour guide is likely to costs around €10 (I would recommend taking a guide).

 

CLOTHING

THE question for every female tourist in Iran is ‘what to wear?’ Basically, you need to cover arms, legs and hair and you shouldn’t show a figureIMG_4338

(though skinny jeans are ok as long as you have something wide covering your bum). It sounds really annoying, but you easily get used to the headscarf. And to be honest, I traveled in winter and was quite happy I could cover with a warm scarf. Even though many rules apply for locals, they’re pretty flexible with tourists. This is what I wore:

 

ACCOMMODATION

In a country where the tourist industry is still starting up, it’s not as easy to find accommodation as in other countries. The good thing about this though is that every major city generally has 1 budget hostel, which means it’s really easy to meet other travelers (seriously, I strongly feel I should start a hostel somewhere in Iran. Success guaranteed).

Couchsurfing is officially forbidden in the country, yet the website isn’t blocked (unlike many other websites). I found it complicated as a woman to find hosts. Partly because there are just fewer hosts, maybe also partly because men are not supposed to have unattended women in their house, and also just because internet access was limited, which made it difficult to arrange it. But it’s definitely worth the try, because once you have a good hosts, it all makes up for the struggles! Just one warning, make sure that you know a name of a hostel in the town, just choose the first one in the Lonely Planet. If the police finds out you’re couchsurfing, you could get in trouble. And probably not just you, you’re bringing your host in big trouble (also, if you’re going for a visa extension, you need a reservation at a hotel).  The great thing about couchsurfing in Iran: most young people live with their parents, which doesn’t only make it very safe, it also gives you a nice inside in family life in Iran.

 

Places I stayed at:

Tehran: Seven Hostels. $15. Slightly overpriced, but a great place to stay.

Kashan: couchsurfing (ask for ‘papa couchsurfing’. He hosted over 600 people!).

Esfahan: Amir Kabir hostel. 300.000 Rial. Not excellent, but ok.

Yazd: Silk road hotel. 200.000 Rial, but this price was negotiated. To be honest, this hostel is so nice that I felt guilty negotiating this price. The hostel is amazing and its breakfast is beyond anything you can wish for. Official price is $10 and definitely worth it!

Kerman: couchsurfing.

Qeshm: Mr Amini’s guesthouse. 300.000 Rial.

Shiraz: Niayesh hotel. 350.000 Rial. Very nice place.

 

MONEY

I don’t think I ever traveled to a country where I struggled so much with the money. I read many blogs about how honest Iranians are and that they won’t rip you off. Well, they will. Not as badly as in other countries, but with a growing tourist industry, people suddenly start charging 5 euro for a falafel sandwich, which is normally €0,80. But no worries, you’re not the only one that can’t make sense out of the money. I haven’t met a single traveler who didn’t struggle with converting their money. At the moment, €1 is 40.000 Rial, 4.000 Toman, though people will ask for ‘4’. Very confusing!

 

Due to the sanctions, it’s not possible to use your international bankcard (though this might change rather quickly). You can bring dollars or euros and exchange them basically anywhere. Everyone says you are likely to get a better exchange rate on the street than at the airport, but I found a quite good rate at the airport. I estimated 300 euros a week, yet only spent 450 for almost 3 weeks (including buying a domestic flight).

But, with so much money in your backpack, you literally become a walking cash machine. And even though Iran is super safe (I often wondered if locals are aware of the amounts

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Travel hacks: be creative when hiding money!

of cash every backpacker has with him), you better be creative hiding your money. The best place was in an empty lipstick. Though a good one was also to fold it in my socks, preferably dirty socks ;). For diehards: put it in your dirty underwear bag, though very risky when you do your laundry ;).

 

Iran is a super big country, so you might want to fly to certain places (most people fly from Shiraz back to Tehran). Because your bankcard doesn’t work, you won’t be able to book domestic flights. Just arrange this when you’re in Iran. Many travel agencies sell tickets and prices remain around 50 euros (even if you buy it a few days prior to the date).

 

INTERNET

Yup, facebook is blocked (and many other sites like youtube and some western news channels. It was only since this trip that I realized how hooked I was on following the news (Al Jazeera works and saved me). I would say: get over it and enjoy not having all the social media. Though there are occasionally places in the desert where the ban somehow doesn’t work and where you’ll be able to access these sites.

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Still figuring out what ‘friendly internet’ is

I still don’t understand how this works. Btw, every local has access to the blocked sites. It’s only tourists who aren’t able to access them. You can avoid this by downloading a VPN client before you enter the country, though I heard many people still struggling with it. I just enjoyed not having anything (the couchsurfing website still works).

 

There’s only 1 last thing remaining: safety! But at the same time, there isn’t much to say about it. Iran is safer than any country I’ve ever traveled in. Partly because social interaction is so strictly controlled, and partly because Iranians are really good and well-educated people.

 

 

The dress code is black and wide.

When you’ve been travelling for a while, even beautiful places become normal. I know I’m starting to become spoiled after travelling in the Middle East for 4 months, but I had this feeling at the first part of my Iran trip. Even though cities like Esfahan are like a fairy tale; I loved them, but missed the magic. Until I went to Yazd. 6 Hours east of Esfahan is the sleepy desert town Yazd. The place where backpackers are adopted as a part of the community. As you wander through the narrow lanes between the mud houses, you’ll be invited by craftsmen to watch them working. They obviously hope that you’ll buy their carpets, copper or pottery, but without pressuring you, it’s also fine to just enjoy their tea and sit down for a chat.

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Women knotting Persian rugs.

Spectacular in Yazd are the sunsets (as always in a desert). As the sun started to set, we headed towards one of the many rooftop terraces. For over half an hour, we all silently watched the sky colour, creating a beautiful view over the wind towers (kind of air conditioning they used back in the days) and mud houses.

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Badgirs are wind towers that are still being used to cool down the houses.

When the town fell dark and we made our way back to the hostel, we were passed by women in black flowing chadors rushing through the streets. Yazd gave me the feeling of being in a completely different world, a world that intrigues me.

The dress code is black and wide.
The dress code is black and wide.

The next day, we headed to a traditional ‘gym’, which is called ´zoorkhaneh´. In a former water reservoir, men do traditional work outs, a combination of dance and cardio. The workout was assisted by a man playing the drum while reciting poems, which is to stimulate discipline.  The woman next to me proudly told me this was the first gym in the world. I’m not sure if this is true, since Persians are proud and claim that everything is the first or the best in the world (best carpet, best pistachios, first water reservoirs in the desert, biggest ancient trading centers…), but I recognized quite a few things I did in the gym! Being able to watch sport as a woman is quite a thing in Iran. Only recently they allowed women to watch volleyball matches. Football is the #1 sport here, but women are not allowed to go to a match. So watching them work out in a stinky and warm water reservoir was a thing!

Men performing the Zoorkhaneh rituals.
Men performing the Zoorkhaneh rituals.

After Yazd, I moved 7 hours south east to Kerman. As soon as I got off the bus, I clearly saw the difference with other cities; people look differently here. They look somewhat tougher, which isn’t surprising, considering we’re in the middle of the desert. This is the hottest place of Iran, with temperatures in the summer over 50C, I’m so happy again that I’m travelling in the winter. I planned on just passing through Kerman, but when my couchsurf host suggested we could go into the desert, I already knew it would be better than just passing through. I clearly developed a weak spot for deserts during this trip. We drove for a few hours through the mountains, and ended up in a moon-landscape. And you know what the best part was? We ate dinner in the desert between spectacular rock formations while watching a breathtaking sunset. And again, I realize why I love couchsurfing so much: because people take you to places where you would otherwise never go to.

Eating dinner in the Khalut desert.
Eating dinner in the Khalut desert.

I’m more and more aware that the end of my trip is approaching, but moments like this make it really difficult to not keep travelling (don’t worry, after a failed attempt, this time I’m really coming home).

The further south I go, the warmer and dryer it gets. We head towards the most southern point of Iran, Bandar Abbas, from which we take the boat to Qeshm island. Just because the best place to finish a trip is on a tropical island in the Persian Gulf.

But, prepared as always, just before we board the boat, I realise that I don’t have any money anymore. Due to the sanctions on Iran, banks don’t accept western cards. So on Friday afternoon around 4pm (which is weekend here) we need to find an exchange bureau; impossible. We ask some people on the street and become slightly worried, because there is no place to change money and people are not as tourist-friendly as in the rest of Iran. Until a lifesaver appears and offers to change my money. They always warn you to never ever exchange money with people on the street, but this man looked decent and to be honest, we didn’t really have a choice. He exchanges my 50 euros for an exchange rate that’s so good, no one else would ever give. And not just that, he pays for the boat to the island and our food (travel hack #1, if you’re in a difficult situation and don’t know what to do, go and get some food. After that solutions appear). What a hero! He makes sure that we understand that he does this because Allah expects him to be good to others, like so many people told me on this trip. Yet, he also makes sure that we know that he’s single and looking for a foreign girlfriend. ‘Ok, thanks for everything and byeee!’ We board the boat just on time before a proposal follows.

Qeshm can best be described as the deserted version of Cappadocia, Turkey. It has spectacular rock formations, yet also a mangrove forest and dolphins!

'Star valley' on Qeshm.
‘Star valley’ on Qeshm.
Mangrove forest.
Mangrove forest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The perfect place to relax, make fun and get some vitamin D (while Europe is covered under snow and ice, I’m enjoying 28C, sorry, don’t want to make you jealous). It’s the first time that I’m actually getting sweaty under my scarf and wonder how to cool down while still covering everything. The solution: drink a lot of water, straight from the well!

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Qeshm is the place where locals don’t seem to care much about tourists and just live their own life. It can best be described in pictures.

Not only locals don't care too much about tourists. The camels can't care less and don't feel the urge to leave the road
Not only locals don’t care too much about tourists. The camels can’t care less and don’t feel the urge to leave the road.
Local boatmen.
Local boatmen.

There are only a few days left before I’m coming back to the Netherlands, which is scary, but also exciting. See you soon!

Fishermen checking their nets. Spotted when we took the ferry back to the main land. Only a 13 hour bus ride to go...
Fishermen checking their nets. Spotted when we took the ferry back to the main land. Only a 13 hour bus ride to go…

Iran, the country that challenges every idea you had.

You know that feeling when you’re getting a crazy idea in your head and you know it won’t go unless you do it? My most recent crazy thought was making a trip to Iran. I always assumed that it was impossible to travel to Iran, and certainly as a woman travelling alone. But I’m really here! It took me a few days to realize that I’m in Iran, but I’m really here and I love it!

Iran is probably the only country I’ve ever visited of which I had absolutely no clue what it would be like. Yet I think this is exactly why I like it so much here: I’m suddenly in a world that’s so different than what I’ve ever experienced. After travelling for a while, I love being in a place that’s so significantly different than anything else. Yet, it makes it really hard to write down everything.

The question that keeps everyone busy before coming to Iran is whether it’s safe to travel here. It is! Life between men and women are kept separate here as much as possible. For example, in a bus or metro, I’ll have to sit in the ‘women’s wagon’. It sounds weird, but to be honest, it gives a very safe feeling. And also at the airport, the women’s section for security is a cosy section where women chat and laugh. Nothing intimidating or scary. Moreover, in other countries you’ll get a lot of unwanted attention from men. But in Iran, unmarried men and women are not allowed to hang out, so you won’t be harassed on the street (Morocco can learn from this!).

The ‘women’s wagon’ in the metro in Tehran. The place where business happens. I now have ‘metro socks’!

Of course, you need to follow certain rules. For example, you need to cover yourself. Yup, you get arrested if you’re not covering your hair. But it’s not as bad as it sounds, and because it’s quite cold, I’m happy to put that scarf around my head (I don’t even want to think about coming here in the summer, must be awfully hot!).

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I have to admit that I still don’t understand the country. For example, I’m sleeping in mixed dorms, men and women together, which seems perfectly fine (ok, maybe not perfectly fine, since dorm rooms are officially not allowed). But as soon as you leave the room, you need to cover everything again. Weird!
I’ve been here for a week now and keep being amazed by everything. The architecture is stunning, nature is beautiful and people are friendly (and everyone speaks English! It’s heaven, much easier than the struggles I had in Turkey).

Like I said, stunning architecture.
Like I said, stunning architecture.

I wrote this blog in the bus from Kashan to Esfahan, while I was wondering how to process everything. Iran is so different and therefore so interesting. Snow-covered mountain peaks are passing, yet this morning I was still at a salt lake in the desert near Kashan. It was a 2 hour drive into the desert, but then suddenly at the horizon you see a white glow appearing. Amazing! Iran has so much to offer.

Road through the salt lake.
Road through the salt lake.

 

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A highlight last week was my visit to Qom, which is sometimes called the ‘chador city’. You’ll understand this as soon as you get off the bus. Almost everyone wears a black chador (literally: tent). And in general, not just in Qom, most women wear a chador in Iran, even though it isn’t obliged. Qom doesn’t have many sights and most people skip it, but Fatimeh’s holy shrine is worth the stop. Iran has many beautiful mosques and shrines, but what made this visit so special was the woman who showed us around. Tourists are often not let in, but we got a full tour from a lovely woman who spoke perfect English and patiently explained everything to us.

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You’re not allowed to visit holy places in normal clothes, so we had to dress up in a chador. I’d never realised that this is actually super difficult! With one hand you hold your chador closed, with the other you hold your handbag and camera. But as you walk, your chador catches wind and slides back. So unless your headscarf is super tight, you’ll be struggling to keep your head covered.

Trying our chadors on.
Trying our chadors on.

Another absolute highlight is all the bazaars. You thought the bazaar in Turkey is big? That’s nothing compared to the bazaars here. And I found my travelling buddy who likes buying fabrics as much as I do. This resulted in 2 full days in the bazaar in Esfahan with lots of haggling and laughing!

My absolute favorite so far is Yazd, a desert town in central Iran. Here, craftsmen still work in their workshops. We watched an amazing sunset over the city, while the call to prayer sounded through the narrow lanes of the city.
On our way back, we saw many women covered in flowing chadors rushing through the dark narrow lanes. It gave me the feeling that I was in a village where they are still living 500 years ago. The perfect place to really relax and reflect on all the crazy and amazing adventures I’ve had here in the Middle East.

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I think if I need to summarize my first week in Iran, it can best be described by amazement. I’m amazed by how clean it is, how well-educated people are and how safe it is. I’m curious about the rest of the country!

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Esfahan. The city where everything happens under the bridges.

Being frozen in Turkey

The further east I headed, the harsher the circumstances became. The climate changed significantly from being quite comfortable and sunny to extremely cold (-5 during the day). Therefore, ‘warm became the new sexy’. The best investment of this trip was a pair of super warm and comfortable (yet not really sexy boots). I once saw and advertisement saying that being cold is a choice. So my daily outfit contains almost everything I have in my backpack. But who cares, deodorant is the new way of doing laundry ;).

Yet, the cold isn’t that bad. I kind of like the extra dimension it gives to my trip. I’m seeing spectacular winter wonderlands and when you want to warm up with a cay (tea), people will always invite you to come and sit next to the wood fire.

Winter wonderland in Kayseri

These cold conditions also resulted in quite funny situations. Because what do you do if you’re couchsurfing and you both can’t sleep because it’s extremely cold? Yup, you share all the blankets you have and sleep as closely together as comfortable. Even though you just met the person. It’s a super fast way of becoming friends ;). Haha travelling makes a person very flexible.

It sounds weird, but after having done this for 2 weeks, I was exhausted of all the fun, short nights and social interactions. So I booked a hostel in Cappadocia. And for the first time during my trip I felt lonely! So after sleeping 11 hours a night and enjoying a warm room (and an outdoor shower while it’s freezing outside), I quickly looked for another couchsurfer… and the fun continued.

My blogs have always been very positive, not because I don’t want to show the negative side, but just because I like it so much here. Yet not everything’s always great of course. For instance, I spend Christmas day in the bus to Ankara. Not really great, though I have to admit that I’d almost forgotten it was Christmas, because it’s not celebrated here. But knowing that all your friends and family are together at home made me feel like I was missing out. Yet I still don’t regret my trip, and so a simple consequence was that I wouldn’t be at home during Christmas or New Year.

I saw a spectacular sunset from the bus though

As always, the highlights of your trip are not necessarily the most spectacular things you’ve seen. In Turkey, my absolute nr 1 is all the people I’ve met and new friends I made here. So if I can give you one advice: say ‘yes’ whenever people invite you for something (ok, sometimes you still need to use common sense). Some people plan everything on their trip, I’m awfully bad at planning ahead. To the extend that for this trip I didn’t even have a lonely planet (the bible for every backpacker). I’d watched ‘3 op reis’, a Dutch travel programme with a few short videos on Turkey and checked visa regulations, some travel blogs and the dress code for Iran. That was about all my preparations for this trip. But for Turkey this lack of preparation worked out pretty well, I would even recommend not planning too much and just see what happens. Be open for new adventures, because Turkey is an excellent place for it.

My nr 2 favorite moment was actually a very normal moment. I was walking to Ephesus, a UNESCO historical site. It was in the morning, the air was still foggy, yet the sun was breaking through and the smell of woodfires was still in the air after a cold night. This was such a peaceful and happy moment. Life slows down when you’re travelling and during this walk I remembered how blessed I am that I’m able to make trips like these. I know, I’ve made many trips and do super exciting things, but sometimes just the small and normal things are the most enjoyable.

Same for this morning, I was in Ankara in the Kocatepe mosque, a massive mosque (seriously, enormous. There’s even a shopping mall and parking lot beneath the mosque).

Kocatepe Camii Ankara

I was here during the prayer times (usually they ask tourists to leave, but somehow they didn’t). I just sat down for a while, while people around me were praying. There was so much peace here and it was beautiful and special to see the ceremony.

 

Prayers at the women’s section of the mosque

 

Another thing I would really recommend is the whirling dervishes in Konya. Konya isn’t a touristic place and everyone adviced me to skip it (actually same for Ankara, but don’t listen to them, because both Konya and Ankara are worth the visit). The only reason why I initially came to Konya was to break my 14 hour busride from Fethiye to Cappadocia. Which is probably why I liked Konya so much, because I wasn’t expecting anything. But instead of staying for 1 night, I stayed 3! Partly because of a great couchsurfer where I felt completely at home and because I needed a break in my travels. But also, the dervishes’ ceremony had something mystical. I could look to it for 1,5 hours and was still intrigued. Note: the whirling dervishes’ show is only on Saturdays at 19.00h.

 

Whirling dervishes in Konya

 

My trip in Turkey has come to an end and I’m feeling a bit confused about it. On the one hand I’m really excited (and slightly scared) about going to Iran. On the other hand, I enjoyed Turkey so much more than I thought I would. It’s sad to leave a country where you enjoyed every single minute you had. I’m quite sure I’ll come back to Turkey.
Ok, I’m heading to Iran! See you soon and don’t freak out when you don’t hear from me; facebook and some other apps are blocked.

Ps. For some people my way of travelling is already far out of their comfort zone, but I’m looking for ways to spice up (spicify) my trips. Anyone aware of travel competitions or any new challenges?

 

Cappadocia! Where you shower in outdoor showers and wear every single piece of clothing you have in your backpack

 

Turkey: the country where ‘sharing is caring’ is taken to a whole new level. 

It’s 7am right now and I’m sitting at a busstation waiting for my bus. This is the first moment in weeks that I’m alone and I’m trying to get grip on the rollercoaster I’ve been into from the moment I arrived. Turkey has amazed me more than any country I’ve been to so far.

For me, the one thing that makes a trip valuable is the people you meet. Travelling is amazing, but after spending a few months on the road, you start realising that every mosque is just a mosque and every historical building is similar in a way. So for me, travelling stays exciting because everything you see and do gets coloured by the people you meet on the way.

View over the bay in Fethiye. 

Most travel guides advice you to get in contact with ‘the locals’ (I really don’t like this term, since it draws such a clear distinction between ‘them’ and you). But sometimes it’s difficult to get in contact with the local population, either because you’re travelling as a tourist and stay in your hotel, or because the local population is more distant. Well, nothing is easier than becoming friends with the Turks.

I still can’t really get my head around how these things have happened so far. Because of the low season, most hostels are empty, so I prefer couchsurfing to have some company. The only time I therefore spent alone is the time on the bus. But once I arrive at the busstation, the next host is waiting for me already, which leads to new amazing adventures.

For example, I went paragliding, just because I love adventures. Just before we ran off the mountain, me and my pilot had a chat and I told him I was looking for a ride to the next city (because buses are constantly delayed, I decided to give alternative means of transportation a go again. Though I wouldn’t recommend hitchhiking alone here). And within 5 minutes it was all arranged: I had a super fast ride that saved me 2,5 hours in buses, I met with a great guy who even invited me to stay at his house and took me paragliding again the next day! How often did you experience that people offer free paragliding trips?

 I know that everyone’s thinking right now: ‘yeah sure, it’s pretty easy to stay at a guy’s house’. And that’s true, it is. But it’s not with bad intentions that people invite you. At least, not from what I’ve experienced.

Last night, a friend of mine described 3 characteristics of Turks: they all have a beard, they all smoke and they all think they can do anything. I agree that they’re all hairy and smoke way too much, but I would never use these characteristics to describe Turkish people. To me, they are extremely friendly, open and will do anything they can to help you out.


What’s better than drinking Turkish coffee with your new friends?
Hospitality here doesn’t just end by offering a bed or a ride. It means that whenever you’re someone’s guest, they’ll take care of you as if you’re a queen or a long lost daughter. I’ve met people who gave me a spare blackberry they had, who told me I could use their mini cooper for the day (I love mini coopers, but I was too scared to crash this one), and who paid everything for me during my stay. And no matter how hard you insist, they won’t let you pay.


Touring with the mini cooper!




It seems that every time I had a perfect adventure, I walk into someone who has been able to topple this experience. All these new friendships and amazing experiences only leave me with an extremely rich and blessed feeling. There’s only one week left in Turkey and I’m really looking forward to what’s going to happen.

Btw, couchsurfing in Turkey works like crazy. I usually post a public trip to see who has a spare couch. But in Bursa I received 50 invitations in only a few days! After this, I started posting my trips for a few hours and take them offline again, because the amount of responses is overwhelming. I have to admit though that this doesn’t work this crazy for men. But again, I’ve only had a million positive experiences so far.

I don’t like posting pictures of other people’s faces, so you’ll need to wait for that ;).


I can’t even count the amazing sunsets I’ve seen.