Turkey – Tea with the Locals

Travel to Turkeyby Richard Earls.

“Yes, the British and the Japanese have their tea customs and rituals, and I wouldn’t want to take away from the special nature of either of those cultures. But if I had to choose where I would most like to have a cup of tea with the locals, it would be Turkey. Tea shops are a focal point for street level Turkish culture and most good things happen in the presence of a cup of fine Turkish tea. The Turkish people prefer the black tea (or Cay in Turkish) and it is at the center of daily life there, offered everywhere as a gesture of hospitality both before and after meals…

Tea is a good place to begin understanding how to visit Turkey. This is a land of relationships, where time sits still to permit you to go about getting to know your surroundings. Here, travelers are welcomed and greeted with both respect and curiosity. The antiquities, thermal pools, coastline and Turkish baths are all there waiting to be explored, but it is in the marketplace with the people that Turkey is best experienced, because it is there that the warmth and culture of this ancient civilization is authentically expressed…

Turkey is not a destination to hurry through. Experience it slowly, like a fine cup of hot, black Turkish tea.”

To read the complete article, visit travelresearchonline.com

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A Staff Postcard from the Field: A Journey to Taksang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery

Travel to Bhutan

Taksang Monastery

Notes from Paro, Bhutan from Kirsten Louy Nasty, Asia Transpacific Journeys’ Operations Manager

We awoke early to a cool, still morning. The sun had not yet peered from behind the mountains.  After basic morning ablutions, we headed to the dining area where we had requested an early breakfast and more importantly, an early coffee.  We picked up a picnic lunch consisting of cheese momos, emma datse (cheese and chilies sauce) with rice and vegetables, grilled chicken and hot tea, from a local restaurant.  After parking our Land Cruiser at a monastery just above Paro town, we adjusted our pack straps, tightened our hiking shoes, checked our belongings and remembered to dab on sunscreen before the rays began to cut through the thin mountain air onto our skin.

Our posse of 5 intrepid hikers followed a windy one-lane hiking trail up, up, up through brush, branches and moss-covered trees. We quickly rose above the layers of incense and wood fire smoke from below, and above the townspeople preparing for their busy day in the fields, at the market or business. We could not hear them; the air was quiet. We ascended above daily life on a pilgrimage; a mission to find the famous Taksang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) by a path less traveled, swooping in from behind and sneaking up on it, as if on the back of our very own winged tigress.

After ascending 3,000 ft in 3 hours we came upon a high meadow with views of the Himalayan peaks and the valleys below; the layers of valleys extending far beyond. Our picnic lunch was our body’s fuel and the breathtaking view, our soul’s reward. We paused to take it all in.  The furry-faced yaks with clanking neck bells turned to watch us.   Then onward down, down, down we continued until a turned corner revealed a gem of a structure clinging to the side of a cliff wrapped, as if a precious gift, in bands and strings of colorful prayer flags. Its gold paint glimmered in the morning light.  A Tiger’s Nest it was, and we had landed. It looked as if a strong wind or one move from the mountain and earth could hurtle it into the crevice below, but for over 300 years the monastery has strongly held its precarious position on the side of the mountain; a testament to the faith and vision of those who built it.

Our small group witnessed that day of the beauty of friendship, of the land, of humanity and of history. We stopped to say hi to the inquisitive yaks, to spin prayer wheels and to let peace soak in. We walked on the earth and shared stories while breathing the air deep into our lungs. We enjoyed food and drink together and we viewed an awe inspiring structure which continues to sacredly store spiritual stories and, which conveyed to us, the meaning of Bhutan.

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Istanbul, European Capital of Culture 2010

The Daily Telegraph featured an article on Istanbul being the European Capital of Culture for 2010 reported by James Bedding

Istanbul may be European Capital of Culture for 2010, but it by no means needs special events to be worth a visit. Its sublime Ottoman mosques and Byzantine churches, its sprawling palaces and bazaars, and its spectacular location overlooking the waters of the Golden Horn and the Bosporus are without parallel. Add the fact that Turkey is currently very affordable and the locals famously welcoming, and you have all the ingredients for an unforgettable city break whenever you go.

This year, celebrations highlight everything that makes the city special. First as Constantinople and later as Istanbul, this has been the capital of two great empires. Straddling two continents, the city has been the gateway through which Eastern influences have reached Europe, as well as the West’s window on the Orient, Asia and the Islamic world.

To read the complete article, visit telegraph.co.uk

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Laos: Asia’s New Cultural Hot Spot

Travel + Leisure magazine featured an article on Laos becoming Asia’s new hot spot, as reported by Guy Trebay.

…Luang Prabang is a rare place in Asia—a calm and somnolent city, a town of narrow lanes and polychrome temples and worn timber houses and scabbed colonial colonnades, all set along a peninsular thumb that juts toward a bend in the Mekong River and is surrounded by mountains that are like palisades shutting out the wider world.

There are other protections as well. Since 1995, when UNESCO inscribed Luang Prabang on its list of World Cultural Heritage sites, designating it “the best-preserved city in Southeast Asia,” teams of architects and planners, mostly French, have labored to hold back the inevitable tide of development, retarding if not altogether halting the changes that often spell doom when some lovely and untouched backwater becomes the next destination. And Luang Prabang is surely that place…

The city I found was dozy and small enough to cover on foot in a day or two but best experienced over the course of a week. Like the mandalas some Buddhists use as aids to meditation, Luang Prabang turns out to be a city of recurrent patterns, of images and motifs explored and repeated, refined across centuries and with the clear-cut goal of hastening enlightenment. It was for centuries a royal city, but just as important was its role as a monastic center. Even now the temple complexes are active centers of worship and learning. The saffron-robed monks you see everywhere are more than local color. They are the animating force of the city, the engine whose sound is the always-audible hum of their prayers.

To read the complete article, visit Travel and Leisure.com

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