outdoor activities, travel

Travel is so Broadening… in 10 ways

I recently returned from three weeks in Turkey. My heart was full, my mind replete with warm memories, and my computer teeming with new photos. The best part, though, was that my travel compatriots now love Turkey as much as I do.

It happens. Traveling to new places broadens who we are.

1. Build and strengthen friendships.

I knew most of the ten people in our tour group, but they didn’t know each other. By the end of our weeks together we were a cohesive, caring clan. Sharing unique experiences is a wonderful way to bond; whether old friends or new, traveling together builds relationships.

We ten--friends forever
You can tell we’re bonded both by our smiles and our “blue clothing” theme. Left to right: Me, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, and Jane Hofkamp (light hair), Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt–friends all!

2. Challenge yourself

Some of us visit the same places year after year because they’re comfortable That’s fine. However, visiting a country with a different language and culture stretches you. It challenges every part of you—your senses, your palate, your ears, and even your sense of self. Waking to the Call to Prayer, so different from the loon calls of my northwoods home, warmed my heart each morning.

a coffee toast to ballooning
Some of our group took the plunge and hopped on an early morning balloon ride in Cappadocia. Jini toasts them with her morning Java.

3. Expand your knowledge

I was bored with history through school, yet when I visit a foreign country as an adult, I’m fascinated with the sequence of events that brought it to where it is. Turkey’s rich history, both political and religious, continues to spur my desire to learn more. After traveling I always come home eager to devour both historical fiction and non-fiction about the places I’ve seen.

ladies in the Turkish bath
A Turkish bath is DEFINITELY a new cultural experience, and we loved sharing the adventure. L to R: Sally Nankivell, me, Jini Danfelt, Jane Johnson, Rondi Olson

4. Experience new cuisines

Ah, the food! There’s something about new tastes that elivens the palate. From the döner of street vendors to the haute cuisine of the world-renowned Mikla Restaurant, my palate was tickled daily in Turkey. Breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, dried fruit, bread, eggs, and olives greeted me each morning, and I blush to confess that I never left my plate with fewer than 20 olive pits. We experienced the unique cuisines of each region, always preceded by mezes (Turkish appetizers). One favorite dish was the testi kabob, a rich stew baked in a pottery jar that’s brought flaming to the table, then broken with a flourish by an enthusiastic waiter. And of course, the fish was not to be missed—grilled head-on, it required a bit of finesse to separate the flesh from the bones, but we were rewarded with the tantalizing flavors of fresh, light trout or sea bass.

fish lunch on the Galata Bridge
We happily indulged in a fabulous sea bass dinner on Istanbul’s Galata Bridge.

5. Learn about yourself

As you traverse a new country, you can’t help but push the limits of your abilities, both physical and emotional. You may find yourself conquering hills you would never have attempted, or foraging into buildings you might not have explored. You’ll be astonished at how well you can communicate with signs and pantomime. Your confidence increases along with your curiosity as you immerse yourself into new experiences.

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We were definitely challenged by the rough terrain as we explored the ruins of Termessos on a mountaintop near Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast).

6. View the world through a new lens

I’m embarrassed that my country is so self-absorbed that we seldom know what’s going on outside our Western World. Shame on us. I love seeing the world through the lens of a different culture, viewing the advances and accomplishments of a smaller country and listening to their perspectives on America.

carpet shop
Nazmi Bey fascinated us all with information about Turkish carpets during our stay at his Bella Hotel in Selçuk.

7. Understand world politics

When I’m overseas I pay much more attention to international politics. Visiting a less-known destination helps dispel the myth that a few countries dominate the world. Each country plays a role, and each faces its own issues. Turkey currently struggles with the ever-increasing power of their president, and they’re beginning to kick back. I loved discussing this issue with the Turks; I have yet to meet anyone happy with the current situation.

Ataturk and me
There’s a major conflict between the liberal Kemalists and the current Islamist government in Turkey. Imagine our surprise at finding this cardboard version of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey’s founder and hero of the liberals) waiting for photo ops in the Antalya Airport. Yup, that’s me beside him.

8. See your position in the world

Travel helps me realize how broad the world is, populated by people with varied lifestyles and experiences. When I volunteered in Ethiopia I was touched by the desperate need of people who still found it in their hearts to smile. In Turkey I was repeatedly helped by people who had no reason to care about my needs. I can’t help but realize my insignificance in this world of 7+ billion people, each one as important as I am. It brings to mind these lyrics from “The Galaxy Song” by Monty Python:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,

‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

9. Spread the word

Because of your experiences, you’ll share insights and stories with friends. Of course you don’t want to bore them with a grocery list of events, but it’s fun to interject an anecdote about your first experience in a Turkish bath or your awe at the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Your stories can open the world to those less apt to tackle the adventures you’ve enjoyed.

fairy chimney cave hotel
Who wouldn’t be amazed at the Fairy Chimney homes of Cappadocia? This one has been converted into the Kelebek Hotel, probably my favorite hotel in the world (complete with resident pooch.)

And, last but not least, travel helps us…

10. Appreciate home!

I’m always glad to return home; being away makes me more thankful for my life in Minnesota. Though I left warm sunny days behind, I was undaunted at the ice still on our lake. I reveled in time with good friends and dove back into local activities. It’s the life I choose, the home I love, and the wilderness I occasionally leave to explore the world beyond.

You can read more about the Turkey tour on Ann Marie’s Istanbul.

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:

Sixtyandmelink

health, life in general, travel

SEVEN TIPS FOR SOLO TRAVEL

by Ann Marie Mershon

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I took this selfie on a mountaintop overlooking Bodø after a gorgeous solo hike.

Many of us over 60 are single or have husbands uninterested in touring the planet. Is that any reason to avoid the trips we yearn for?

I lived overseas (alone) for seven years, and though I preferred traveling with friends, I spent a week in Malta by myself and another one alone in Thailand. I managed, but I learned some things along the way. At first I sat with a book at dinner and ate other meals in my room, but once I reached out just a bit, I found people were friendly and welcoming. I need connections.

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Street performers in Bangkok, Thailand

1. Tell restauranteurs that you’re alone and would appreciate being seated with another party. 

If that’s not an option, seat yourself near someone who is alone or people who look friendly. Why not?

Last month my husband suffered a back injury and had to wave me off for two weeks in Norway without him. I would have cancelled the trip if it hadn’t been for a huge family reunion in the fishing village where my grandfather grew up. Determined to make the most of things, on my first night in Bodø I wheedled my way into a busy seafood restaurant and was seated beside a couple from Lilljehammer. It took me a minute to engage them, and they turned out to be charming as well as informative, giving me ideas for activities in the coming weeks.

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I indulged in this delicious solo lunch at the Underhuset Restaurant in Sakrisoy, Norway. 

2. If breakfast is provided at your hotel, strike up a conversation as you stand in line and ask if they’d mind if you join them at their table. Few people would refuse.

Once your day begins, you have other options for making connections, or perhaps you’d prefer to tour on your own, which is great, too. I like going through museums by myself, but I prefer company at meals.

3. Stay in hostels or bed-and-breakfasts that offer time for socializing.

On my last night in Lofoten, Norway, I moved from my studio apartment to a hostel-type room, where I was pleased to chat with a young Australian woman. She happily joined me on a trip to a glassblower’s shop the next day. The drive was spectacular, and I enjoyed her company immensely, especially after five days by myself.

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This was my “cabin” in Chang Mai, Thailand, where I shared meals with other residents.

4. Plan at least one interesting activity each day.

Jerry and I had planned a kayak trip in the Lofotens for our second week in Norway. At the beginning of my solo week, I perused the tourist information books and chose one or two activities each day. I booked a studio apartment in Å (pronounced “Oh”), a town of about 50-60 residents. The Lofotens are spectacularly beautiful, with mountains jutting from the sea between adjacent fjords. Å featured two fishing museums,and I visited them on separate days, making sure I was included in guided English tours of the museums. It was fascinating to learn about the life my grandfather must have lived as a fisherman.

One day I arranged a kayak trip of the Reine Fjord, and my young guide Kaspar was an absolute delight. The two of us spent a fascinating four hours chatting and paddling some of the most breathtaking water on the planet.

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Nothing beats kayaking the Reinefjord with a charming young guide. Really.

5. Join group tours at museums and tourist sites, then engage others in conversation throughout each tour.

It might cost a little more for a spot with a tour guide, but you’ll learn a lot more and have the opportunity to connect with other English speakers. Of course, most Norwegians speak English, but they don’t tent to reach out to strangers. That was my job.

Another option is traveling on a tour, which offers you automatic companionship. I’ve sponsored a few tours of Turkey, and I was amazed at how close members of the group became after spending a few weeks touring and eating together.

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I met this friendly fellow on a tour of the Elephant Sanctuary near Chiang Mai, Thailand.

6. Engage shop owners in conversation.

Whenever I felt lonesome in Turkey, I’d find a carpet shop to wander into. Carpet dealers always offer a cup of tea or bottle of cold water as well as friendly conversation. Of course, I always looked at carpets, but I only bought one occasionally. I still treasure my relationships with Hussein Palyoğlu and Musa Başaran, who always seemed pleased to see me. Western cultures might not be quite as welcoming, yet most shopowners are eager to engage customers, and they can offer a wealth of information about the area. Who knows? You might even find the perfect souvenier or gift to bring home.

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One of the many delightful carpet dealers I’ve met over the years, this one in Cozumel.

7. Choose a safe bar or pub and enjoy a chat over a glass of wine or a beer.

Should you dare, you might also consider a stop into the hotel bar or a nearby pub, making sure you use good judgement and hang on to your purse. Though I’ve always found it difficult to step into a bar alone, it can be a good way to meet other solo travelers. It’s important to keep your wits about you and avoid being pulled into an uncomfortable situation, but it’s also great fun to chat with other travelers or locals about activities they’ve enjoyed or recommend.

Efes in Kalkan coffee shop

I grew fond of Efes beer while in Turkey, especially since their wine is, well, not as good.

8. Take a group tour that matches your age, interest, and activity level.

There’s a wide variety of tour organizations geared for people of different interests and activity levels. Some arrange cruises, others bus tours, and some offer high-energy active options. The first time I took a group to Turkey, I arranged it through Go Ahead Tours, an adult affiliate of EF Tours (an international student tour organization). We were a group of 24, and everyone fell in love with our intelligent, fun, and informative guide, Mehmet. There wasn’t enough physical activity on that tour for some of us, though that was the only complaint. This year I’ve organized an independent tour through Sojourn Turkey Tours, and we’re doing a similar tour with fewer people and more activity—lucky us!

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The fellow waving at me was our wonderful tour guide Mehmet, here at Ephesus in Turkey.

However you choose to connect with others while you travel, I wish you a fulfilling and interesting experience.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

~ Mark Twain

 

This article (with different photos) originally appeared on Sixty and Me, a web site for women over sixty: http://sixtyandme.com/8-tips-for-staying-social-when-traveling-solo/

self-publishing, travel, writing

What man gives away carpets?

My new book, You must only to love them, is out, the reviews are great (HOORAY!), and I’m scrambling to market this baby—an overwhelming task.

You must only to love them, cover, A Writer's Angst

 I’ve done a blog tour (a new concept for me—I wrote blogs for other sites), I’ve tweeted and facebooked and built a new web site (annmariemershon.com). I’ve sent e-mails to everyone I know. I’ve given away free books through Goodreads and paid people to tweet and post for me. I’ve done author interviews and promoted myself ad nauseum. And this is only the beginning. Sigh..

I’ve decided to post a segment of the book online, so here’s a tidbit from my first week in Turkey, a late-night visit to a carpet shop in Selçuk:

from CHAPTER 5, POINTED SHOES

Every time we left the Nilya, Jana and I were hounded by a greasy-haired rug merchant with black shoes tapered to a pencil point. Jana ignored him, but I made excuses each time we saw him. I’d been taught not to ignore anyone but my bullying brother.

Jana & Ann Marie, Ephesus, Turkey-A Writer's Angst
Jana and Ann Marie, Ephesus, Turkey

On our last night we took the mini-bus back down to Selçuk, and as we climbed the dark hill home, light gleamed from Mehmet’s carpet shop.
“We really should go in,” I sighed. “I did promise.”
“But I’m so tired, and he hasn’t seen us.”
“It’ll only take a minute, Jana. One cup of tea and we’ll leave.”

The man who gives away carpets? A Writer's Angst
Cats in a carpet shop, Selçuk

Mehmet brought tea in tiny tulip-shaped glasses as we perused his shop. The worn wooden floor was  surrounded by stacks of folded and rolled carpets, much like other shops we’d passed.
“What can I show you?” Mehmet asked.
“I’m sorry, but I really can’t buy a rug. We’d love to see what you have, though.”
Explaining as he went, Mehmet showed us kilims (woven), carpets (knotted), and sumacs (woven and embroidered), piling one on another as he pulled them from his collection. I was drawn to the silk carpets, brilliant-hued masterpieces with a rich sheen. Mehmet picked up a tree-of-life carpet in soft shades of green with maroon and red, then flipped it around. The pale colors transformed to deep, rich hues when the nap faced us. The intricate designs of the silk stole my breath.
“How do you like this one?” Mehmet asked, pulling out a narrow silk carpet with three pink and white medallions on a field of light blue, framed with intricate floral patterns and long twisted fringe. When he saw my smile he offered me his “teacher price” of 400—was it dollars or lira? (A dollar was about 1.3 lira at the time.)
“I’m sorry, Mehmet. I really need to wait until I learn more about carpets.”
“Ah, but you will never find better price than this, and I can see you love this carpet. It is beautiful, no?” I had no idea whether his price was fair.
“Yes, it’s lovely, but I haven’t been paid yet. I have no money.”
“Do you have a credit card?”
“I never charge anything unless I can cover it.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Jana interjected. Thanks a lot.
Mehmet eyed me carefully. “I will make special offer only for you. You must take this rug home then look at other rugs in Istanbul. I know you will not find so fine carpet for such good price. Later you send me money or return carpet. You are teacher, so I trust you. In Turkey we love teachers too much.”
I was uncomfortable. It felt shady to take this rug with no down payment, yet Mehmet seemed sincere. Why was he doing this?
Jana convinced me that I couldn’t lose, and I finally succumbed. Mehmet wrote my name in a spiral tablet with a note that I taught at the Koç School in Istanbul, and I took his business card. I expected he’d charge something on my credit card, but he didn’t even ask for it. He rolled the carpet in brown paper and put it in a black nylon duffle.
“I have important warning to you,” he said as he handed me the package. “You as American woman must be very careful for Turkish men who try to take advantage of you.”
Right.

To learn what happens with the carpet, buy my book!  CLICK HERE

Here’s a hint:

Silk carpet on bed, A Writer's Angst
Trying out the silk carpet on my bed