Travel A-to-Z – I

I’m taking some time this month to travel back in time and reflect on some of the wonderful (and less wonderful) places I’ve been able to visit, and to think about places I will visit in the future when travel is possible again.

Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina: Possibly the biggest waterfall in the world. If you love waterfalls, this is definitely somewhere to put on your bucket list, but try and schedule your visit for the wet time of year if you want to see the falls at their full roaring volume. (Although I’m sure even in the midst of summer they are still impressive.)

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The falls are on the border of Argentina and Brazil, and you should allocate at least one day to visit the falls on each side of the border. Both sides have their own appeal – on the Brazil side you can fly over the falls in a helicopter; on the Argentine side you can take a boat up to where the falls come crashing down into the river. From the helicopter, you get a perspective not just of the falls themselves, but of how they are located in amongst miles of apparently uninterrupted jungle.

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View of the falls from helicopter

From the boat on the Argentine side, you get to see the falls from the bottom and hear the deafening roar as the water pours off the cliffs and into the river. Make sure your phone and/or camera and/or video camera is fully charged before coming to Iguazu Falls. And make sure you have some kind of wet weather gear, although the spray from the falls is so pervasive, you will feel damp no matter what you do. But it’s kind of OK, after all this is a tropical area, so you’re going to feel damp most of the time. And you will be so amazed by the falls, you won’t really care about whether you’re dry or wet.

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The poncho didn’t do much for keeping me dry.

Istanbul, Turkey: I’ve had the good fortune to go to Istanbul several times (mostly for work), and it definitely has a place in my heart. What’s to love about Istanbul? History, geography, food, people… even the noise and chaos is part of the city’s charm.

History and geography are linked – this city’s location on the Bosphorus made it an important trading centre; everyone wanted a piece of it. The Galata tower was built by the Genoese who had a trading post there (check on a map and see the distance between Genoa and Istanbul), and the Roman-Byzantines held the area that is known as Sultanahmet today (ditto Rome and Istanbul). The taking of Constantinople (as it was known then) saw the start of the Ottoman empire; a period that lasted 600 years until it was replaced by the Turkish republic.

Let’s dwell a bit longer on location – Istanbul straddles the continents of Europe and Asia. You can take a ferry across the Bosphorus and be on another continent. I am partial to a city with a waterway in the middle, having grown up in a river city myself, but the Bosphorus is more than a river, and getting out on the water gives you another perspective on the city.

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And then there is the food. Turkish food is based on fresh ingredients, and simple preparation. It’s the simplicity that throws you. “But this is just grilled meat in bread,” you think, and then you taste it, and it’s not like any other grilled meat in bread you’ve ever had. “It’s just a simple lentil soup,” you think, and then you taste it, and you’re suddenly very jealous that your vegetarian friend’s simple meal is so much better than your simple meal. A visit to any food market will show you just how much pride the Turks take in good ingredients to make good food.

And of course the people are great. Yes, I know anyone engaged in tourism has a vested interest in being welcoming and friendly, but I can’t help feel this is part of the culture. I look back on my time working on Turkish projects very fondly.

Somewhere I want to visit: Issyk-kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan I’ve thought often about whether or not I want to visit Kyrgyzstan, and when I do look at the country, it’s the nature that attracts me, and Lake Issyk-kul is one place I would love to see. Issyk-kul is a huge lake that is more like a wide inland sea, especially as it’s a salt water lake. It’s overlooked by the Tien Shan mountains which make for a stunning backdrop, and it looks like you can choose your experience – sandy beach or quiet rural location. I hope to be able to make my own choice one day.

Visiting Issyk Kul Lake: the north shore vs. the south shore
Lake Issyk-kul Photo from Kyrgyzstan Travel

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