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Sunset in İstanbul

Sunset in İstanbul

Take a ferry between Eminönü (on the European side of the Bosphorus) and Kadıköy (on the Anatolian side) near sunset and you’ll be rewarded with this view for 1.35 Turkish lira – about $1 USD, £0.60 GBP or €0.75. Not bad for a sunset cruise between two continents!

The crossing takes about 20 minutes – just enough time to snap some photos and have a cup of Turkish tea.

Check out my posts about Turkey.

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Feeding the birds near İstanbul’s spice market

Feeding the birds near İstanbul’s spice market

İstanbul, like most major cities, has no shortage of pigeons.

Despite the busy square outside the Yeni Cami, the New Mosque, near the busy spice market, the pigeons still gather and are regularly fed by children and tourists.

Check out my adventures in Turkey.

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Take a hike! 5 unique treks in Europe

Travelling isn’t just about going to museums, learning new customs and eating different food. It can also be a chance to get out and enjoy the fresh air.

Hiking during a trip is a wonderful opportunity to get out of the city, off the trains and into the wilderness. With a decent pair of shoes, a waterproof raincoat and a bottle of water (and maybe a map and a phone), you’re off to the mountains.
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Getting dizzy at Sagrada Família in Barcelona

Spiral staircase at Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona is an ongoing project.

Begun in 1882, Gaudí made his plans mainly in his head and on the fly. When he died, no blueprints were left (some had been burned but most were non-existent), so architects taking on the massive project (projected to finish in 2026, 144 years after it was started) must try to imagine what Gaudí would have wanted.

The Sagrada Família feels like it’s just dripping with nature-inspired Gothic architecture. The columns supporting the church are meant to look like trees, the pointy spires become bowls with fruit and berries and the spiral staircases look like snail shells. The ceiling looks like the canopy of a forest and birds soar around the outside of the building.

Lacking any purely flat surfaces, there is a lot to admire in this church.

Visiting the enormous church mid-construction is certainly interesting, but if you head to the side entrance on Carrer Sardenya (just ask someone working), you can attend mass in either Catalan or Spanish. There are no English services.

While everyone is welcome (you won’t be turned away unless you’re inappropriately dressed), the service is intended for the local congregation. You might not understand any of it, but it’s a great (and free) way to see the inside of the church and get a lesson in Catalan or Spanish.

Check out the rest of my visit to Spain, including Barcelona, Girona and hiking in Montserrat with a day hitchhiking to Besalú, Castellfollit de la Roca and Olot.

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A giant, some geology and a myth

Basalt columns at Giant’s Causeway

Northern Ireland is steeped with geological history and ancient mythology. When visiting Giant’s Causeway, you can choose to believe either one.

Geological history says that 50-60 thousand years ago, Country Antrim was at the centre of intense volcanic activity. Lava flowed from the eruptions and dried, cracked and adjusted, giving us the steps or pillars found at Giant’s Causeway.

You can find similar formations around the world, but they’re usually on a smaller scale. The size of the columns partially depends on how fast the lava cooled.

Ancient mythology tells us that the Irish warrior Finn MacCool was challenged by a Scottish giant.

When the giant crossed the bridge from Scotland, Finn has his wife dress him up as a baby.When the Scottish giant saw the size of the baby, he ran, fearing that the baby’s father, Finn, would be even larger. As he fled, he tore up the bridge so the enormous Finn MacCool couldn’t follow him to Scotland.

The remnants of the bridge have come to be known as Giant’s Causeway and similar basalt columns can be found in Scotland.

Check out more of my visit to Giant’s Causeway and my other Northern Irish adventures.

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Ancient mounds, Irish sheep and the Ark of the Covenant?

The Hill of Tara, just northwest of Dublin, was the traditional seat of the High King of Ireland, where kings were crowned. Various ditches, mounds and banks can be seen (even on Google Maps) forming circles and spirals on the man-made hill.

Even with its history dating back 5,000 years, containing Roman artefacts from the 1st-3rd centuries and at one point thought to hold the Ark of the Covenant, sheep are still free to roam the mounds with the tourists.

Check out other posts about my time in Ireland.

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Book review – Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson

A few months ago I read Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchhiking Japan (also under the title Hitching Rides With Buddha) by Will Ferguson and it’s recently been on my mind. Between Japan being hit with an earthquake and tsunami, the sakura zensen (cherry blossom front) passing the country and my current week-long trip to Vancouver where I’m attending a Cherry Blossom event, it feels very applicable today. While it didn’t completely enthrall me like a really good book would, it was still a book I couldn’t put down because I knew it was teaching me really interesting and culturally important stuff.
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