Bangkok Photo Essay

Reclining Buddha Wat Po, Bangkok

In October 2015, I had the opportunity to do Urban AdventuresTuk Tuk Experience tour. I was invited along to take in a city tour by Tuk Tuk and share my experiences with you through this Bangkok Photo Essay.

Early in the morning I met my small group and we hopped in our Tuk Tuk’s to head off to Phra Sumeru Fortress. Sadly the fortress itself was under construction, but we still got to have a peek, as well as see the beautiful river views and learn about the murals nearby.

We were whisked off through the hectic streets to the bottom of the Golden Mount where we climbed 319 stairs to the top for breathtaking views. There were locals wandering around praying and presenting offerings. Inside you could see beautiful, colorful art, various statues and carvings.

Over the next hour or so, we wandered through the amulet Market, the flower market, a wet market and the Phahurat Market in Little India. All were filled with interesting history, unique scents and locals buying and selling nearly everything you can imagine, from fruits to trinkets, statues to flowers, street food, material, clothing and herbal remedies. It’s crowded and hectic, but as local as it gets!

Last, but not least, we zoomed our way through the streets to the famous temple of Wat Po where the world’s largest Reclining Buddha resides. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what the ‘big deal’ was until I arrived. I had no idea how massive the Buddha would be and I had no idea how beautiful the temple would be. We spent about an hour wandering around the complex viewing everything from the stunning architecture to children’s music and dance classes.

And with that, we finished up the Tuk Tuk tour by returning to our starting point. The Tuk Tuk Experience was a great overview of some of Bangkok’s important sites and certainly a great way to get acquainted with the culture. Why not give it a try if you are headed to the city!

Hope you’ll enjoy a few of my favourite photos from the tour!

This post has been sponsored by Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel.

“Urban Adventures is about a new style of travel experience for those who want to get off the beaten path and really connect with a destination. The experience can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a whole day, but in every case our Urban Adventures tours take travellers to interesting places to meet locals, and to really see what makes a place tick.”

Istanbul Night Tasting Trail

In September 2015, I explored the foods of Turkey on a great tour with one of my favourite companies, Urban Adventures. They welcomed me along to enjoy their Istanbul Night Tasting Trail and share my food experiences with you!

I met up with my local guide, Beatrice, and four other passengers; two were from Germany and two from the United States. We set off from the Galata Bridge, taking the Tunel (one of the oldest in the world) to the top of the hill where we began our evening food adventure. Trust me, the two minute ride is well worth it, it is a steep hill!

The tour itself was presented as a day in the life of a Turk, through food. We started at a small cafe eating a breakfast food called su boregi (directly translated to Water Pastry) and a sampling of Turkish coffee or tea. The su boregi was light and mild. Layers of dough boiled and then flipped to keep the inside moist and the outside crispy. Sometimes they are filled with meat, cilantro, eggplant or yellow cheese, but ours was light and simple with just a sprinkling of white cheese inside, mixed with oil and hang yogurt. The texture is like eating pasta, but with no sauce, it is light enough for breakfast.

Su boregi
Su boregi

With Turkey being the world’s second largest tea producer, you might understand that it is an important part of their culture. Most of the tea is grown in the Black Sea area and Turkey as a whole, produces 1/3 of both tea and hazelnuts in the world. You don’t see Turks just sticking a tea bag in hot water though. There’s a delicate process where they use two tea pots with water in the bottom pot and loose tea in the top. They pour the boiling water from the bottom over the loose leaves. A bit of this extract will be mixed with more of the hot water and voila, the perfect cup of Turkish tea!

Turkish Tea
Turkish Tea

For ‘lunch’ we headed to a lovely little patio restaurant where they served up a bottle of Raki for us to share as we pondered our meze options. Raki is a local liqueur. When mixed with an ice cube and water, watch the magic happen as it turns from a translucent liquid into a milky substance that they refer to as Lion’s milk. It has a distinct liquorice flavour and is regularly compared to ouzo, but don’t say this out loud as you will start a big debate that cannot be finished!

Raki
Raki

Meze is a variety of hot or cold small plates, served with bread. Our group poured over the options, asking what each one was and then a handful were ordered to give us a little taste test of everything. From denim borulcesi (sea weed / sea beans) to atom (a powerful chili), kozlenmis biber (red peppers), patlican ezme (mashed eggplant) to the most delicious hummus I’ve ever tasted. Of course, it was accompanied by the standard onion, tomato, garlic, pureed salsa and haydari (hang yogurt with garlic and herbs). Add a spoonful of any of these tasty dishes on top of bread baked soft in the middle and crispy on the outside, and you have yourself a meal! Did I mention we were only on lunch at this point?

Meze
Meze

As we moved on from the outdoor patio to our next destination, we stopped for a quick bite of street food. Vendors throughout the streets of the Taksim and Galata districts are always hopping with the crowded night scene streaming by at a constant flow. As two men stopped for a quick snack from the muscle vendor, we joined in the fun. A muscle shell filled with rice, drenched in lemon and popped in your mouth is apparently the way to go for your mid-evening night-out-drinking snack! Seeing as we had already had our afternoon Raki, I guess we had caught up with the youngsters. I’m not a huge fan of muscles normally, but decided to give it a fair try. After staring down the shell convincing myself that I could do it, I popped it in my mouth and was pleasantly surprised at the mix of soft flavors and absence of distinct seafood taste. I almost had a second one and then remembered that I needed to save room for dessert! Oh wait, dessert isn’t next?

Stuffed Muscle
Stuffed Muscle

You can’t have dessert before you’ve had at least one more Turkish tea or coffee! So off to an open air cafe near the Passage Hazzopulo, we went! With a mixture of both tea and coffee drinkers, we got to enjoy the thick bold goodness of Turkish coffee, the smoothness of Turkish tea and the sweetness of emil cay (apple tea). Apple tea is my favourite, but apparently it is more of a tourist drink than one of the locals.

Turkish Tea and Coffee
Turkish Tea and Coffee

To give us a feel for a real ‘afternoon’ out in the life of some Turkish ladies, Beatrice offered to do a coffee grind reading for one of the guests. Often a way for ladies to pass the afternoon, is to sit and have tea / coffee with friends and then read each other’s fortune from the upside down settlings of the thick sludge at the bottom of the coffee cup.

We then meandered off through some of the narrow streets and were drawn in by the methodical clickety-clack of metal utensils on a hot metal cooking service. As the minced meat on the cooking service was broken up, tossed around and loaded up with spices, you could see people piling around to get it while it was hot and fresh. Kokorec it was called and our guide asked if we wanted to know what it was before or after trying it.

hmmmm … that doesn’t really sell it for me!

Kokorec is a very popular delicacy of cow or goat intestine mixed with spicy tomatoes and onion and then served on a small bun. I was sorry that I had asked what it was beforehand, but dug out my inner bravery and gave it a try. Much to my surprise, it was actually pretty tasty. It had the texture of minced beef or lamb, although maybe a little greasier, and the spices added a nice flavour. I even managed to take more than one bite, so it must not have been too bad at all!

Kororek
Kokorec

With our bellies warmed up from tea / coffee and spicy Kokorec, we headed off to a narrow, off the beaten track street for a taste of Efes, Turkey’s famed beer. Although I’m not a beer conosoeur, the gentelemen in my group described it as an “Easy drinking beer. Sweet and not too hard.”

Efes Beer
Efes Beer

After our ‘night out’ for a beer, next up was the typical ‘after-the-bar’ food; a little something called a wet burger. And, it was just that. It is a small, smoked, beef patty cooked with garlic and tomato paste and then smooshed into a small bun and left to get soggy. Chow down on a couple of these with a few big gulps of Ayran, a salty yogurt based drink and they say you’ll be hangover free!

Wet Burger
Wet Burger

At our final stop, we got to indulge in the delectable Turkish sweets. We were served delicious baklava which is many layers of phyllo pastry, filled with pistachios, baked and then drizzled with sugar water. To take the edge off the exceptional sweetness, we shared some gooey Turkish ice cream. The ice cream has the same substance as chewing gum, so it doesn’t melt quickly and is slightly chewy, but mouthwateringly delicious.

Baklava and Turkish Ice Cream
Baklava and Turkish Ice Cream

As if that wasn’t enough, Beatrice then pulled out a chocolate bar chalked full of hazelnuts which is one of Turkey’s big exports. I have a special soft spot for chocolate and hazelnuts, so I managed to find an empty spot in my tummy to try a couple of squares.

And with that, we finished up the evening near Taksim Square with full bellies, new friends and a feel for how the locals eat. I would highly recommend giving the Istanbul Night Tasting Trail a try for a great way to explore the foods of Turkey and a great way to see a bit of the amazing city by night.

This post has been sponsored by Urban Adventures, a division of Intrepid Travel.

“Urban Adventures is about a new style of travel experience for those who want to get off the beaten path and really connect with a destination. The experience can be as short as a couple of hours, or as long as a whole day, but in every case our Urban Adventures tours take travellers to interesting places to meet locals, and to really see what makes a place tick.”

 

20 things a non-wine drinker learned about wine in Mendoza.

As friends and family know, I’m not much of a drinker and especially not wine. Yes, I am well aware that it is a required taste. I’ve been trying to ‘acquire’ it for 20 years. I think it’s fair to say it’s just not for me. None-the-less, when you are traveling in Argentina, wine is a given at every meal and a winery tour is a must! It is such an important part of their history and economy that it was only fair for me to give it a try. While on my trip with Intrepid Travel, we did a half day wine tasting tour that visited three Bodegas (or wineries) in Mendoza. The three Bodegas were: Alta Vista, Dante Robino and Lagarde. We started around 9am and by 10am we were three tasting glasses in! Each winery gave us a tour and overview of their process and then served us three to four of their mid-range wines to test. Proudly, I tasted all nine wines that were put in front of me. I really disliked most of them, but a couple of the whites or sparkling wines were ok. I even had seconds on one of the ones at Dante Robino! Having said that, there were wine lovers in my group who enjoyed every single glass, plus the remainder of several of my glasses. Needless to say, everyone was pretty happy by 1:30pm when we finished at the last winery and headed to lunch.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

Here’s what I learned about wines during my tour.
1. All grapes are the same color on the inside. The skin is the difference in the color.

2. The amount of dryness in a wine is directly related to the sugar content. It ranges from Extra brut, brut, sec and demi sec.

3. Vineyards are good up to approximately 100 years.

4. The older the tree, the smaller the harvest, but the better quality of the grapes.

5. The type of ground that crops are planted in, determines the flavor of the wine. Rocky, earthy, sandy areas all provide different flavors.

6. Mendoza is best known for Malbecs (red).

7. Sparkling wines made with natural carbonation have very fine bubbles that raise up the glass in stems and collect along the edges of the glass. Cheaper sparkling wines that are carbonated artificially have larger bubbles (like soda).

8. In the Mendoza region, they have very few natural elements that will harm the grapes. However, when a cold front and warm front meet, they often create hail that can range from golf ball size to baseball size. Not only does the hail knock the fruit off the trees, but it can also damage the tree and cause it to not produce well going forward.

9. The crops are sometimes covered in netting. This is to protect the fruit from hail (not from birds).

10. Red and white wines go through almost the same fermentation process, but because white wines are the color of the grape, they get to final product more quickly. The reds have to have the skins added in for four hours (rose) to several days for a darker color.

11. Wines used to be stored in very large oak barrels but have been moved to smaller oak barrels to improve efficiency. With more litres in the large barrels, it takes longer for the oak flavor to infuse through the entire liquid. By moving to smaller barrels, the oak flavor dispurses more quickly and can be moved to market more quickly.

12. The oak barrels are used once, first, for the best wines. Second for the next best and third for a market version. The barrels are purchased for close to 1000 Euros each and then sold to be made into furniture or other decorations for approximately 25 Euros each after their three-year cycle. They are sometimes sold to other producers of whiskey or rye as well, but these are not made in Mendoza.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Dante Robino Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

13. Many of the best Argentinian wines are not exported at all. They produce a lower amount of these wines and keep them within the country for consumption. Many of the wines we tasted cannot be found in Canada.

14. Red wines are usually more expensive than whites because it is a longer process to make reds.

15. Lagarde makes one of top four wines in the country.

Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Lagarde Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

16. Henry (by Lagarde) is a blend of four different grapes and takes five years to produce. Each of the wines goes through the fermentation process individually and then they are mixed together in the end. Henry is well known outside of Argentina, but is produced in low quantities, more for awards than for sale. The quality of the wine brings prestige and integrity to the winery. They focus on the quality of this wine and not so much the profit.

17. Mendoza is situated at about 900 meters above sea level. Growing grapes at altitude works well because there are no problems with insects ruining the crops, so no pesticides are needed. However, they struggle with little rainfall to irrigate the crops and hail storms can ruin a crop within minutes.

Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Alta Vista Winery, Mendoza, Argentina

18. When storing bottles in the cellar, they allow dust to pile on the bottles because it protects the wine from the light.

19. Use beer caps instead of corks during processing to make sure that no oxygen seeps in and that humidity (or lack thereof) doesn’t dry cork out and leave bits in the wine.

20. Most wines still have sediment in them when they are first bottled. Wineries will store bottles with the neck down and do a ¼ turn of bottle daily, or weekly, to help the sediment go to the neck. They then freeze the neck & pop out the frozen chunk then re-cork the top, leaving a sediment-free and clear wine for drinking. Seems like I learned a lot about wine making. Interested in knowing more? Well, you’ll just have to contact me and I can set you up on a fantastic Argentina trip!

The wine tour that I enjoyed was part of a week long trip with the wonderful folks at Intrepid Travel traveling from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Unplan – Life Changing Decisions – Part 10

For the last couple of years I’ve certainly had wanderlust. Since I first got back on a plane after surviving a plane crash in December 1997, I’ve gotten stronger and stronger and have wanted to explore further and further.

First, a trip to Bermuda to see if I would lose it completely on a plane. (2008)
I didn’t.

Then a trip to New York to celebrate turning 30 and that I didn’t lose it on a plane! (2008)

Then on to Costa Rica and Nicaragua – a whole new continent for me. Also the first time that I started thinking about studying Spanish.(2009)

Next thing I knew I was traveling to photograph destination weddings. (2010)

And then another new continent as I flew to Germany and Poland to photograph Coalition for Kids International, granting wishes to terminally ill children in Poland. (2011)

My little wings that had been weakened by 11 years of non-use, were getting stronger.

Why not take it further and create Photo Tours in far away places like Peru and Vietnam? (2012 – 2014)

With all of those great destinations under my belt, a lot of take offs and landings and no further plane crashes … I decided it was time to really take a leap and off to Southeast Asia I went with my longest flight being 12 hours and 50 minutes from Narita, Japan to Chicago, USA.

Looking back, it’s incredible to see that all of this (and much much more) has happened in the past seven years.

So, it really shouldn’t be any big surprise to anyone what I’m about to tell you …

I’m sure if you’ve been reading my series of Life Changing Decisions, you are starting to put it together.

1. Decision to get debt free.
2. Work at a job that can be done anywhere in the world (or confirm that your current job can)
3. Do renovations & put condo on the market
4. Dream of travel

What do you get when those things all come together?

You get the UNPLAN! (and a really happy Shari)

In my head, and to my close friends and family, my plan since the beginning of this was not really to have a plan at all, hence the UNPLAN.

What exactly does the UNPLAN look like?

Like a leaf in the wind (or a paper airplane), I can go wherever the wind takes me. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Well, it’s a semi-calculated type of crazy if that makes it any better!

I am setting my life up to be debt free and with fewer commitments. This will allow me to travel when and where I want and discover our amazing world. I don’t want to live my life waiting 12 months for my next vacation. I don’t want to be on vacation all the time, but I do want to live my life to the fullest and for me, a big part of that is seeing this amazing, vast, beautiful world we live in.

The UNPLAN has always been somewhat calculated. I’m not jumping off a cliff without checking for a soft landing. From the beginning, although extremely hard for other people to understand, I have made very few decisions about where / when / how long I would travel for. I would tell people I’m getting debt free so I can travel and they would of course ask ‘Where are you going to go?’ Although I had narrowed it down to a starting point of Central and South America, that’s as much as I was willing to commit to. When they asked me ‘How long are you going for?’ My answer has always been ‘I’m not sure. An undetermined amount of time. I’m not debt free yet.’

I have flitted back and forth between ideas such as a year-long around the world trip, a SWAP working holiday in New Zealand, settling in for a couple (or several) months somewhere in Central or South America, or simply living in Nova Scotia and traveling whenever I possibly can. These are big, amazing options. Don’t you dare say I’m ‘lucky’ to have these choices. This has nothing to do with luck folks, I am making these choices, they aren’t just magically happening.

You see, there are doers and dreamers in this world. I’m a doer. Yes, I have big dreams but I don’t sit and daydream unless I’m actually going to make something happen. So, being realistic about it all, I absolutely, flat out refuse to make any travel decisions until I become debt free. (with one exception – see below)

Although I still dream of where I want to visit, where I might like to stay for a little while and what great adventures are out there waiting for me, until I achieve my first, and most important goal of being debt free, I can’t move forward with achieving this undetermined amount of travel. This is a calculated UNPLAN!

I’m designing my own life. I’m making choices for me, based on my passions, what’s important in my life and how I can find happiness. Isn’t the true meaning of life to live it to it’s fullest?

So, let me give you the big announcement(s) …

1. Knock on wood, my condo has sold. Barring any complications with the condo financials, it is a done deal with a mid-June closing date. It was on the market for less than one month. I got reasonably close to asking price. I got slightly more than I needed in order to get completely debt free, set aside my down payment for my next home purchase and set aside a bit of money for travel. I think the universe is encouraging me to continue with the UNPLAN!

2. I confirmed a long time ago that I would be able to continue to be a travel agent, but work from anywhere in the world with my current employer, The Adventure Travel Company. Today, May 15th is my last day working in the office and as of tomorrow I will be working remotely. I’ll post a blog about this transition in a couple of days, but for now, all you need to know is that I am still a full service travel agent, specializing in adventure travel. I am affiliated with the amazing Adventure Travel Company and I hope you’ll support me by trusting me to help you plan YOUR next adventure. You can email me at stucker@atcadventure.com

3. I have been accepted on a travel agent familiarization tour with Intrepid Travel for one week in Chile and Argentina in November. This is the one concrete travel plan that I allowed myself to make before all of my other plans came together. I knew that once the condo sold, I would likely head to Central or South America, so this was a natural fit and gave me dates to work with when I would already be in that part of the world. This trip is free (except airfare) and gives me the opportunity to experience these two countries with a great supplier. I knew that even if my condo did not sell, that I would be able to either find the money for the flights or I have enough Aeroplan points to get me there. There were too many benefits for me to pass up. I had originally applied but it was full. A couple of months later, someone had to cancel and one little spot opened up. It had my name all over it! I applied within minutes of finding out a spot had opened up.

4. Having confirmed that I would be heading to South America in November, I shortly thereafter made the decision to launch a new Peru: Through the Lens Photo Tour. I’ve just released details to my photo email list and full details will go public next week. On my first day to announce the new tour, I already have the first person signed up! Tour dates are Oct 18 – 28, 2014. If you’d like more information, please contact me, or sign up for my photo tour newsletter.

There it is folks …

My condo has sold.
I start work as a home-based travel agent on May 16th, but remain under the umbrella of The Adventure Travel Company.
I have a tour booked to Chile and Argentina in November, so if nothing else, I know where I’m headed in late fall.
I am about to go full force promoting my next Peru: Through the Lens photo tour for October 2014.

My UNPLAN is starting to shape up.

Now, of course, in the spirit of an UNPLAN, I have not decided how long I am going for or what other countries I will visit. And, as with everything else, those decisions all depend on many variables. My condo sale still needs to finalize and all of my debts must be completely cleared. I need to find a place to live for the summer and early fall. I must find at least eight people to travel with me on the Peru: Through the Lens photo tour. And, let’s not forget that nice man who walked into my life back in February (see Part 8 of this series). I can’t leave him behind for a year while I go gallivanting around. And no, sadly he can’t come gallivant around with me for a year due to commitments here! It’s still new and early, but it wouldn’t be fair to him or me ignore him in all of this!

Like I said … it is still an UNPLAN with many choices and decisions yet to be made and too many variables still lurking around. Don’t worry, I’ll be blogging about it all along the way!

Now that the big news is out there … let the questions begin! Feel free to post questions and comments below on this post … share with your friends … send it to other people you know who are currently on extended travels or those who dream of doing so …

I’ll be posting updates about my struggles, preparations, decisions and triumphs until departure day (whenever that may be). After that, I’ll transition into sharing my travel adventures of whatever fantastic countries I visit. Some will be exciting, inspirational and likely funny. Others will be boring and simply there for me to keep track of my thought process. I invite you to sign up for my blog updates (top right of my blog) and follow along as often (or not) as you wish.

The first five months of 2014 have certainly been filled with amazing challenges, laughter, tears and some of the biggest decisions of my life so far … but wait … at least all of those things are my choice … so really, how bad can it be?

Just like a leaf in the wind … I’m about to go on a crazy ride.

I hope its a warm, southern wind not a Nor easter!