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Culture in Austria

State Opera House

With two nights in Budapest behind us, we crossed into Austria by train and arrived in Vienna. We only had one night to spend there, so we decided to dive right into Vienna’s cultural side. We made our way downtown to the Straatsoper (State Opera House) and bought tickets to that evening’s performance of “Onegin”, a ballet with music written by Tchaikovsky. We were pleasantly surprised that we could attend the show without breaking the bank: an hour before the doors opened, “standing room” tickets went on sale on a first come, first served basis. We bought tickets in the ground level standing area, which was meant to be the best one, and it cost us a whopping 4 euros each. Not bad to see an opera in a setting like that!


A tale of two buildings

Istanbul's Blue Mosque

The overnight bus to Istanbul was long and uncomfortable, but as we pulled into the multi-level bus station — where there were at least four hundred million other buses, I swear — and the sun climbed into the sky, we peered from under our sleepy eyelids into the sprawling city around us with excitement. Istanbul’s reputation as a magical city where east meets west preceded it, and as we made our way through the streets to our hostel, we truly felt as though we’d arrived back in Europe. Many of Meg’s reflections on Turkey in this post hold especially true in Istanbul, so I won’t dwell on them too much here. Rather, I want to write specifically about two famous buildings in Istanbul that were the highlights of our visit: the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia.


More money stats

In the spirit of helping other travelers in planning their own adventures, we’ve updated our money graphics on our About page, and added some new info. If you think you’d find it helpful, or if you’re just curious what this type of traveling costs, then check it out.

He’s ok!

Just before leaving Cappadocia we got a great email from Toon. The van was fixed! Although the repair job didn’t come cheap, he was happy to inform us that Vyv was back on the road and running smoothly. He’d arrived in Cappadocia the night before, and things looked good for making it safely back to Belgium. Unfortunately we didn’t get the message in time to connect with Toon before we had to leave ourselves. Istanbul was calling (and so was the hostel we’d already paid for, and the train ticket onwards too). Still, it was a relief to hear that our good friend and travel buddy was back on the road too. Safe driving Toon — hope it’s smooth sailing for you from here on out.

Strange landscapes in Cappadocia

The fairytale landscape of Cappadocia

We left Aleppo at 5:00 a.m. to begin our marathon trip to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Three buses, one border, and 14.5 hours later, we arrived in the town of Gor√∂me just as the sun sank below the horizon. We were truly feeling the time crunch now — with only 16 days left to go before our ship sails for home from Southampton in the UK, we’d decided to visit Cappadocia instead of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. I guess we’ll save that for next time! The Cappadocia region was just too much of a draw for us. The pictures looked otherworldly, and it sounded more than anything like a very relaxing destination. Cappadocia is famous for it’s rock-tower landscape, which really has to be seen to be believed. Hundreds of spires of stone stand defiantly against the sky in every direction, and many of them are carved out with old cave dwellings or rock churches. We checked and re-checked our schedule, and decided we could afford two nights in Gor√∂me. We checked into Flintstone’s Hostel, which (like many of the hotels and hostels in the town) had several of it’s rooms built into caves. Our cosy cave had a window, which was nice, but more importantly it had a large, comfortable, clean bed. We collapsed into it and didn’t move again until morning.


25,000 visits!

This morning our little website has reached a big milestone — has now been visited more than 25,000 times since it went live last year. Wow! Thanks everyone for checking up on us! It’s great to know that so many friends, family and other travelers are keeping tabs on us as we go.

Roman Ruins in Syria


With the yellow van laid up in Homs for servicing, the three of us took a bus to Palmyra to visit the ruins there while waiting for news from the garage. Luckily for us, Homs happens to be kind of a central hub in Syria, and our plans to visit Krak des Chevaliers and Palmyra would have taken us through there anyways. It was even on the way back and up to Aleppo. Besides, if you have to wait anyways, what better way to kill some time than by visiting a famous, enormous, and ancient collection of Roman ruins?


Krak des Chevaliers

Krak des Chevaliers

While in Jordan, we visited the ruins of two old Crusader Castles: Shobak Castle and Karak Castle. While both were fascinating in their own right, they were only appetizers before the main course in Syria: Krak des Chevaliers. This is the best preserved Crusader military castle in the world, and it dates back to just after 1000 AD. Crouching agressively on the top of a 650 metre hill in western Syria, it commands a stunning panoramic view of the countryside in all directions. The location is at the only historical crossroads between Antakya in Turkey and Beirut in Lebanon, and was a position of strategic importance during the Crusades. We only had time to make a stopover at the castle on our way to Palmyra, but it was worth the detour.


Monastery in the Desert

Mar Musa Monastery

While staying in Damascus, we met another traveler who had just come from the nearby Mar Musa Monastery, where she had spent the night. None of us had ever heard of the monastery, but we were intrigued by her story, so we decided to leave Damascus one night earlier than planned in order to check it out. We discovered that Mar Musa Monastery, or Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi (literally The Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian) is a one thousand year old monastery tucked in the barren hills about two hours north of Damascus. It is still an active monastery, although it had been all but abandoned for several centuries before being reactivated in the 1990s. Driving there was an uninspiring event — the landscape is desolate and littered with garbage from the nearby townships. But at the last moment, we pulled off of the main road and a small cleft in the hills came into view, along with about 350 steps winding their way upwards to a small collection of buildings crouched on the cliffs above. We parked the van and sweated our way up the stairs, with no idea what was in store for us.


Crusader castles

The view from Shobak Castle

We stopped to visit to ancient Crusader castles while in Jordan: Shobak Castle on the way to Dana, and Karak Castle on the way to Madaba. These castles were kind of like appetizers, as we look forward to visiting Krak des Chevaliers in Syria. The castles were built about 2000 years ago during the Crusades, and they are built in some fantastic settings. Shobak Castle sits alone atop a hill, with commanding views of the landscape in all directions. Karak Castle’s site is equally impressive, and it sits at an important ancient cross-road along trade routes and holy sites.


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