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Blog - foXnoMad

What To Do In London After Your First Trip

monty's seven dials market

London can feel at times like a dignified, obese man and all the people in it red blood cells getting by just enough to avoid causing a heart attack. You can meet him for a moment and see his proud hat, notice the odor, and after a trip or two think you’ve seen enough not to see more again.

This is where I found myself, somewhere in the third or fourth time I visited London, England. Knowing this year I’d be going again, for the (probably 8 or 9th time) since you voted it Best City in 2019, I though it was time to sit you down with London.

Let’s Talk

Yes, you can see Westminster and the visually jarring London Eye. Go to a pub, have a pint, visit the Tower of London – truly one of the easiest cities to have a first date with. Like with many massive cities (Istanbul, New York I’m looking at you), it’s natural to think that’s all there is to do. All that remains is just rat racing.

hyde park london england

The fringes though are where it gets interesting because those are where you’ll find the borderlands between locals, immigrants, and tourists hoping to get off some beaten path they saw on Instagram. London is not the most approachable place to get to know, it has to warm up to you and you to it.

Over Lunch?

Break bread with the city at a place in Seven Dials Market. Hipster haven full of whatever your particular preference, allergy, or indulgence might be. Take for example Monty’s, where you can find salted beef, pastrami, smoked salmon, and other classic deli fare. They call it “Jewish soul food” recently opened at Seven Dials after the closure of its flagship store.

Walk around the side streets shows on the map in my video above to try various other street foods from around the world nearby. You can learn a lot about a city from what it likes to snack on.

Head To The Hanging

A long, slightly isolating walk to Captain Kidd, a pub baring the name of the Scottish pirate who was hung nearby in 1701. Some nights you could probably write an entire evening television lineup based on the expressions of the patrons. Plenty of sarcasm for your comedy, drama politely loud enough to be overhead, and the occasional glassy eyes reflecting light between depressed and delighted.

Slightly bumping back to the nearest tube stop later in the evening, remember as you tip tap down the damp stairs that someone probably much drunker than you photographed Sir Winston Churchill’s ghost down below.

I for one, don’t quite see it but stare close enough, long enough, and you can vaguely begin to make out a shape. A lot like this city, London; hard to make out if you stick to the center but on occasion can become ever so tangible if you head to the fringes wherever you happen to find them.

What Do You Need To Declare At The Airport?

dublin airport

We’ve all walked under those big green and red banners at airports asking if we have anything to declare. Perhaps you’re undying love for rock ballads? No, that’s not what they mean but if you’re confused about airport declarations understanding what the question means can help.

Specific Disclaimer

Most countries will hand you a declaration form or under those declaration banners, list out specific items you should declare. Essentially customs are looking for things they can tax and prohibited items for the most part. Remember that every country has different rules so remember to brush up on what’s prohibited to avoid any legal trouble.

Governments Love Taxes

Technically, you can list every single item you bought in a foreign country that you’re bringing back home with you. Practically, for stuff under a few hundred dollars, “gifts” is a reasonable description. There’s a set total number (e.g. $1000) for taxable purchases abroad which is why customs often asks how much something cost.

dji mavic drone

Many places will differentiate between unopened boxed items as well so if you are pulled aside to have your bags checked in customs, electronics in plastic will likely get you stuck with a duty (i.e. tax) to be paid. A new set of headphones around your neck however, probably not.

Prohibited Items

Some might be obvious like guns but other prohibited items often include produce, meats, and other organic materials. Invasive species and other non-native seeds can disrupt local ecosystems so most everything that’s not sealed, packaged, or canned will likely need to be declared. A wrapped box of chocolates, highly doubtful.

Cash Money

Currency (for example in the United States) over $10,000 must be declared. Not doing so can lead to customs agents confiscating nearly all of it. The idea behind these laws is to disrupt smuggling and money laundering operations. With modern banking though for most people, it’s probably better just to bring a little cash for the airport ride then use the ATM afterward. Large sums of cash are easy to lose as well so unless absolutely necessary, keep it in the bank.

Pets

Any kind of non-human animal traveling with you (including service pets) need to be declared in many places. Keep this in mind as you walk through customs to have your pet medical information, as well as other documents, handy as you go through customs. Pet microchips will usually need to be scanned as well, plan accordingly and take your time.

I Declare Generalities

As I mentioned above, customs in every country vary (like regulations on drones) but their motivations are pretty much the same. Taxes on stuff you bought abroad, contraband, and live animals are what customs are controlling. The $5 magnet you bought for your mom isn’t on the table, unless that magnet is made of rare diamonds.

4 Great Non-Touristy Places To Eat In Istanbul

istanbul turkey tea cat

Istanbul is a massive, sprawling city, whose area and population make it better to break the city down into its neighborhoods. It should actually be 10 smaller cities but since it’s not, rather than focusing on specific parts of Istanbul (which would make this a much longer post), these are some foods that will take you a bit off the typical tourist trail.

1. Ev Yemekleri Lokanta

These home-food restaurants are local, canteen-style restaurants where you can choose from a variety of home-style dishes. It’s a great way to try more traditional foods served quickly, without the need to speak Turkish (just point and choose) – not to mention lokantas are almost always very inexpensive.

You can find one of my recommendations in the video below.

2. Vegan Istanbul

Canteen style lokanta are a good way to try various meat and vegetarian dishes. Many Turkish home foods are vegetarian or vegan naturally but if you want to try some meatballs or kebab dishes, Veganarsist in Nisantasi is a good choice. The restaurant is small (they serve takeout as well) so larger groups might want to reserve in advance. Veganarsist’s meat-substitute choices are surprisingly flavorful plus the cute balcony view is nice to if a seat’s available.

veganarsist instagram istanbul

3. Borekci

Every culture has a borek – stuffed dough with good stuff in it. In Turkey however, borek is borek, and there are places dedicated to selling only borek. Borekci translates into “borek place” and they’re pretty common in Istanbul. More of a snack-stop with tea as opposed to a full meal, Gundogdu Borek vs Kunefe (Osmanağa, Rıhtım Cd. No:14) in Kadikoy is a good choice. If you’re not venturing out that way, meander through some residential side streets and you’re bound to find one.

istanbul borek

4. Cig Kofte

Raw meatball that’s not meat at all, cig kofte isn’t a taste for everyone nor can everyone handle its spice. (Non-spicy is a bastardization of the whole thing, you might as well not try it.) There are a few places to try cig kofte in Istanbul but although he’s no longer there, Orhan Usta is worth mentioning. His stall outside of the Egyptian Spice Market represented an endangered tradition of independent artisans in Istanbul.

orhan usta istanbul

Serince Cig Koftecisi is a good choice down from Istiklal Street.

A Few Other Options

In most cases eventually good places to eat in a city are found out by tourists. The beautiful views from Ortakoy don’t hurt either but it’s still a good place to visit for kumpir. You can see how to order and some of my recommendations on the best stalls in the video below.

None of this is to say touristy areas aren’t worth visiting, the Hagia Sophia doesn’t look a day over 1,000 (do it for the gram). But a lot of touring around will make you hungry and possibly thirsty as well, in which case you should learn how to drink raki like a Turk.

Destination Star Trek Birmingham Review: Stuck At Impulse

Having recently attended Europe’s official Star Trek Convention Destination in Birmingham, it was hard not to compare it to Creation’s Las Vegas convention. These two events regularly trade places as the world’s largest gathering of Trekkies worldwide but Destination can learn a lot from its more mature competitor.

You can watch my full review and see some of the best cosplay from Destination Star Trek in the video above or read on. (For non-fans, here’s why people go to Star Trek conventions at all.)

Good Start

Despite thousands of attendees gathering in a massive convention hall, Destination Star Trek felt more like a smaller fan-run show. Having a huge wide open space in the National Exhibition Center (NEC) meant never feeling cramped and it was easy to get around. Unfortunately, this also meant that the speakers from various talks would often overlap, making them difficult to hear. Talks which were mostly not free to enter either, something you would have to have known weeks in advance to even see the most popular actors.

birmingham england

For some, the option to have weekend tickets, day tickets, plus have tickets that include some talks might be desirable. Generally though a more straightforward all-inclusive set of options would be less confusing and expensive overall. Hate luggage fees? Destination Star Trek’s ticket model feels too similar.

Space Seeds To Improve Upon

Like the paragraphs above show, the good parts of Destination Star Trek invariably lead to revealing its poor execution. Large open space? Great. Places to sit and take a break? Not many convenient ones inside. Cosplay? Enthusiastic but contest showing was obscured. Side events? A few. Where are they? Not clear nor are what the entry tickets include.

destination star trek 2019

Destination was very much more like a Star Trek trade show, rather than an immersive Comic-Con style weekend. Sci-fi television is what brings people through the door but meeting other fans, having drinks, and all the other reasons people people socialize is what keeps everyone coming back.

Learning From Vegas

The Las Vegas Convention despite its largest variety of talks and vendors, is ideal for hanging out. It’s what brings Star Trek fans back year after year, to hang out with the friends they’ve made at prior conventions. All the talks are included with the price of admission and there are plenty of seats to sit with several bar/cafe areas close to the action.

It has taken Creation’s Las Vegas Star Trek Convention a few years to recognize the need for these elements. Destination has a few other good starts like professional moderators (Las Vegas’ Convention co-founder shoehorning himself into insufferable fan-gushing over actors derails far too many talks.) Destination Star Trek’s Birmingham NEC location also had a good food selection (Las Vegas’ options are terrible and terribly overpriced) plus the staff were very friendly and helpful.

In the closing remarks the founder of Destination Star Trek mentioned his desire to improve the young (8 year old) convention year after year. Hopefully attendees will respond to their feedback emails and share this post as well – Destination has a lot of potential that will hopefully be realized before warp drive.

Asen’s Fortress Is A Hidden Day Trip In Bulgaria

asen's fortress

More than a few visitors coming to Sofia or Plovdiv tend to miss Asen’s Fortress, an easy day trip from either city tucked away in Bulgaria’s mountains. Likely built by the Thracians roughly 2500 years ago, its unassuming remains obscure the fort’s interesting past. Only two hours away from Sofia and less than 30 from Plovdiv, there are several tour operators running shuttle buses here but if you’re up for it, renting a car gives you more options with fewer crowds.

asen's fort bulgaria

During the fall, winter, and colder days of spring you’re likely to be the only visitors around, having the entire fort to yourself. Walking around the grounds though might not be for everyone, there are a lot of stairs and steep climbs to be aware of. Even so, just stepping out to the front entrance can give you nice views of below.

asens fortress church

Well preserved and restored if you do make the climb up you’ll see the Church of the Holy Mother of God. Built in the 12th or 13th century, it was the only remaining part of Asen’s Fortress which was mostly destroyed in the 14th century.

asen's fortress

Asen’s Fortress was strategically located close enough to the Ottoman capital Istanbul to be a viable staging ground for competing brothers warring to become sultan. Fratricide was common through this era of Ottoman history meaning brothers would murder one another to become sultan.

Church of the Holy Mother of God

Seeing the obvious issues a place like Asen’s Fortress might cause, it is thought Sultan Suleiman destroyed it to prevent a figurative thorn in his western side.

bulgarian flag

You can often catch wonderful views, even on a cloudy day as the winds tend to carry breaks in between the mists of the mountainside below.

asens fort

Asen’s Fortress is open Wednesdays through Sundays from early in the morning through later in the day (8am-5pm). There’s a nominal fee to enter this beautiful place to explore. During the colder months remember to wear good shoes, watch your step, and make your plans around any potential snow.

Further north you can find Belogradchik, a fort built into the natural rock formations, climb Vitosha if you’re staying in Sofia, while all the time keeping in mind they nod backwards here. So when ordering one of these local dishes at a restaurant, they will be bringing you a coffee – unless they’re nodding up and down.

Scottish Highlands Photos Are Why You Need To Visit Right Now

scottish highlands

Scotland as a people and a nation is seductive in all the varieties of that word. The northern reaches of the country it’s mountainous Highlands have an effect visitors so common it may be telling the story of the human heart. Perhaps I’m overly romanticizing but spend as much time over as many visits to Scotland as I have – and the rain, stories of honorably hopeless battles – plus lots of whisky will do that to you too.

The weather forecast here should be given in quarter hours, otherwise it’s like a 12 month forecast most anywhere else.

eilean donan castle

It will rain, it will be windy. Chilly but just warm enough after a short walk to make your armpits sweat. Maybe all of this. Maybe none of it. Likely all at once or not at all.

scotland highlands

I could tell you of the history here. There’s a lot of it. But just look up and know that to have lived here the Scot’s ancestors had to be crazy, tough, and carry a good sense of humor.

eilean donan castle

Fighting off the world’s best armies, Nordic psychopaths whose descendants would later give us Dancing Queen, plus each other at times probably meant you had to enjoy the moment in between.

scotland mountains

Got 10 minutes of sun? Take advantage of it then when the rain hits, drink the night away. The same is still true today for locals and tourists alike.

scottish mountains

The Scottish Highlands are one of the least densely populated areas in Europe (roughly 8 people per square kilometer) which comes with its own gruesome history.

scotland waterfalls

When you arrive you’ll be welcomed. A Saturday night drink in a local Portree pub will have you talking with locals, in between singing sessions.

portree isle of skye

More people should come here you think. But not too many, they’ll just muck it up.

scottish mountains

The Highlands are a geography that are unforgiving. Welcoming too. If tales of warriors fighting to the last person against hopeless odds to defend their land makes you nostalgic for centuries when you (thankfully) weren’t alive… or cows that look like they smoke weed all day make you say “aww” – or both – then you’ll love this part of Scotland.

highland cattle

The landscape and culture here speak to many parts of the human experience which is why it’s so alluring. Scotland’s Highlands are endearing but like the weather, for reasons that are unpredictable. It’s a region with a rolling story across seasons that are just as varied.

eilean donan castle

I’ll have more practical information for you in the coming days on visiting Scotland’s Highlands but why you should visit is where you can start. The reason is somewhere in us all, which is why you’ll love it too.

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