Category: Culture

The Starfleet Academy Experience In New York City Is Federation Utopia For Trekkies

starfleet academy experience intrepid

There are a lot of geeky reasons to travel so when I heard about the interactive Starfleet Academy Experience on board the Intrepid Museum in New York City, I knew I had to make it a part of my annual convention pilgrimage. The Starfleet Academy Experience (SAE) was anything but disappointing but be warned, you’ve got to be one step beyond a casual Star Trek fan to truly enjoy the exhibit.

starfleet academy experience intrepid museum

What The Heck Is A Starfleet Academy Experience?

Well timed with Star Trek Missions, the first major Trek convention in New York City in a very long time, the long standing Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum has opened a (very) interactive exhibit celebrating the 50th anniversary of the original show through October 31, 2016.

Essentially, the exhibit is broken down into the major fields of study seen on Star Trek, from tactical to communications. Your progress is tracked by a wrist band that digitally updates your own personal voyage through Starfleet Academy. The first stop is in medical, where you’re asked to scan an injured Klingon, and diagnose his condition based on a number of tricorder readings.

starfleet medical

You make your way through the individual areas, taking 30 second touchscreen tests, learning a lot of sci-fi and science along the way. The creators of SAE put in a lot of thought to make every section interactive but different so it doesn’t get boring.

Beam Yourself Up

Admittedly, I did not expect stepping onto a transporter and watching myself beam up would be nearly as fun as it was. Or plotting a course for the Enterprise around 6 or 7 astronomical phenomena on a touchscreen the size of a large television. The longest line was for phaser practice (basically a one-person arcade shooter) which, if you’re pressed for time, can be skipped without regret.

You’ll learn a few phrases and be tested on your Klingon pronunciation as well. (If you really want to try your skills, read this post I wrote entirely in Klingon.) All of this taking place in a large area built to look like the halls of the Enterprise from The Next Generation. The effort on creating the look, feel, as well as appeal to casual and hardcore Trek fans is noticeable.

Sit In The Captain’s Chair

Given that the entrance fee is $25 (or $35 if you don’t want to be forced to visit at a scheduled time) the extensiveness of the Starfleet Academy Experience is appreciated. As you make your way toward graduation, which takes about an hour if not more, you’re welcomed with a recreation of the Enterprise bridge where you take the Kobayashi Maru test. Then, pose for countless photos in the captain’s chair, helm, security, engineering stations… and again, depending on your enthusiasm.

starfleet academy experience bridge

On the way out, you scan your wristband on last time to get your Academy results, plus a read out of the starship positions you’re best cut out for. You can have that, as well as your transporter video emailed directly to you. The Starfleet Academy Experience is open 10am-7pm daily, through October 31st. I recommend arriving early, then purchasing tickets to visit the Intrepid Museum itself, on the aircraft carrier by the same name.

You Don’t Know You Like Belgrade Yet, But You Do

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belgrade serbia Skadarlija

Serbia’s capital city is like an intimidating uncle you barely know who’s rough around the edges but when he visits is so interesting, you want to endear yourself to. For most people around the world, still, Balkan cities conjure up greying men with stern faces and apartment buildings dotted by bullet holes. And still, there are plenty of beer bellied 40 year-olds proudly packing man purses and old Communist apartment blocks that needed new pain a century ago, but now they’re filled with vegan food and jiu-jitsu schools that have nearly as many female fighters as men.

Belgrade is, like most Balkan capitals, surprisingly modern, if not a little weird, with Internet that’s faster than most anything in the West, offering the quiet, night, or high life depending on your preference and budget.

Getting Around The Not-So-Obvious

I’m often asked whether or not people in the Balkans speak English, or if there are ATMs in the major cities. To sum up, everyone under 35 (and a good portion of those older) speak English so accent-less it’s nearly distracting. There are ATMs everywhere, but many prefer to pay with credit cards, and half the population walks around hunched over the addicting glow of a cell phone.

belgrade serbia streets roads

  • How To Arrive Internationally – Flying is by far the easiest method, as train routes from nearby countries are very limited. Renting a car from other Serbian cities is a possibility, but nearly all rental companies won’t let you cross national borders, at least in this region of the world.

There are parts of town you want to avoid and you should order your taxi from this number to avoid getting ripped off. In all, not perfect, but modern, and very familiar to most people who’ve seen Europe, America, or similar.

Meat To Vegan Spectrum

Traditional Serbian food is hearty meats, with lots of heavy sides like beans, creamy salads, and other dishes that make you feel happy when it’s frosty outside.

gradska restaurant belgrade serbia

One of the best places in Belgrade to try home-cooked, traditional Serbian food is Gradska.

A 20 minute walk from central Belgrade, it’s location is so inconspicuous that you’ll doubt you’re headed in the right direction, no matter what your GPS says. (Getting a local SIM card for phone and Internet access is easily done from one of the small corner shops around town.) The waiters are very friendly, recommending what’s been cooked up fresh that evening (take their suggestion, trust me).

radost restaurant belgrade serbia

  • Radost – On the other side of town is Radost, a restaurant which is a reflection of the growing Balkan obsession with sugar-free deserts, vegan dishes, and alternative health-foods.

The Balkan version of veganism isn’t a militant one or the type where people restrict themselves to a diet which constantly makes them cranky. In Belgrade for example, people go out for a vegan meal occasionally but most don’t necessarily adhere to the lifestyle. Probably due to this softer attitude, many younger Serbians are open to the idea of going out for a vegan meal, since vegan and health-conscious options are often integrated into the menus of mainstream restaurants. Meat lovers might not drop buttered pork for pumpkin soup or beet burgers permanently but a craving could crop up occasionally after a trip to Radost. The coffee is also great, with or without soy creamer.

Stroll Scene Is Strong

During my time in Ukraine, I met with a local expert on Ukrainian history, who mentioned once that eastern Europeans love to walk stroll, particularly on Sundays, looking into shops they have no intention of buying from. I have found this to be true from Romania to as far as Albania, Serbia being no exception.

belgrade national assembly

  • Skadarlija – Plenty of small cafes, pubs, and restaurants like Tri Sesira if you’re looking for Serbian favorites in large portions. You’ll find a local fruit market at the end of the street near the tramway rails. Good for produce shopping if you’re staying in an Airbnb with a kitchen. (Prices for accommodation of moderately priced hotels are about the same as local apartment rentals.)

tri sisera belgrade serbia

To work off the food, or work up another appetite, a hike up to the Kalemegdan (Belgrade Fortress) is worth the the views of the city and where the Danube and Sava rivers meet.

belgrade fortress

Many places around the world are a mix of “old and new” but Belgrade is a mix of really old, less old, new, and upcoming, under a microscope.

Surprising Less

Training at the Gracie Barra academy, where I was warmly welcomed during my time in Belgrade, the instructor asks if I’ve ever seen this many women in a jiu-jitsu class. He takes pride in the fact that his school has opened up a very male dominated sport to so many women and children as well. Walking out of the class after a training session I hear a band practicing heavy metal in one of the large rooms nearby, echoing off the halls. All of this takes place in the mostly abandoned BIGZ building, the former headquarters and printing press of National Printing Institution of Yugoslavia. From Communism to choke holds, Belgrade isn’t taking the conventional road to modernity.

gracie barra belgrade

Belgrade is making its own path, while retaining Serbian culture with a toughness cultivated over a history of harsh winters, wars, and general hard times. Frankly, Belgrade is cool. Like much of the Balkans, staring at you with a strong, straight face, you’ll have to earn your smiles. Once you figure out how though, you’ll leave feeling a part of the group.

Be Sure To Do This Before Visiting The Tesla Museum In Belgrade, Serbia

nikola tesla museum blegrade serbia

One place you really shouldn’t miss while you’re in Belgrade, Serbia, is the Nikola Tesla Museum. The Tesla Museum is an interactive experience about Tesla’s past as well as our technological future. A history about one of the world’s greatest minds you won’t be able to truly appreciate if you don’t call ahead to the museum first.

Who Was Tesla?

There aren’t enough science museums in the world and while old rocks or abstract paintings are mildly compelling to look at for a moment, watching a group of visitors hold up florescent lights being lit by wireless electricity is something hard to forget. Summing up the engineer Tesla is something one line of text can’t do but if you’re using a laptop right now that’s plugged into the wall, using wifi, sitting under florescent lights, and have ever used a remote control, you can thank Nikola Tesla.

Tesla was born in 1856 to Serbian parents in Smiljan (now in modern-day Croatia), later moving to the United States to work with Thomas Edison. Despite only spending a day of his life in Belgrade, the (then) Yugoslavian government established the Nikola Tesla Museum 9 years after his death. All of his belongings in the U.S. were sent by his nephew to the small building, now the museum, along with Tesla’s ashes.

nikola tesla ashes

I learned a lot more and if you’re particularly interested in the technical details of Tesla’s accomplishments, you should definitely take one of the offered tours.

Call Ahead To Take Advantage Of The Tours

The tours, where you can actually play with wireless electricity, are offered in different languages at varying times throughout the museum’s hours, 10am-6pm, open all days except Monday. You need to call ahead to join an English tour (ideally the day before or latest morning of) since the tour times change daily and aren’t listed on the Tesla Museum website.

tesla museum belgrade

  • Nikola Tesla Museum Tour Phone Number: +381 (0) 11 24 33 886

I made the mistake of just showing up, where I hopped on to the Serbian tour. The guide was very patient and translated everything for me but noted it’s not his preferred tour method. English tours are 500 Serbian dinar (~$4.50 USD), lasting 30-40 minutes.

A Museum Worth Visiting

I can’t recommend the Tesla Museum enough to see how far wireless technology has come yet at the same time, how much further ahead we could be. (Why the hell are we still charging everything with wires?) The tour guides are very informed – frankly passionate – about Tesla and the science of his accomplishments. Getting to the Nikola Tesla Museum is simple either by taxi or a 20 minute walk from most parts of interest around town. Just don’t forget to call ahead for the English tour times.

Edit: Additionally, reader Clabbe notes that the Tesla Museum is not state funded so relies on tour and souvenir sales to keep running. Another good reason to join one of the tours.

Where Leonard Nimoy’s Famous Vulcan Salute Came From

This post is a part of Geek Takeover Week 2016.

chisinau jewish cemetary

This above is a photo from Chisinau, Moldova’s Jewish Cemetery, the largest in Europe. But you may be noticing something familiar about the hand gestures on this tombstone – especially if you’re a Star Trek fan. Yes, this is the famous Vulcan salute, created by Leonard Nimoy, during the show’s second season.

It was a gesture he made spontaneously but has described its origin from his childhood. Nimoy, whose parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, took him to services at a local synagogue in Boston. He recalled as a child being told not to look at the kohen (priests) during one particular part of prayers each service – but of course his curious Vulcan mind took a peek.

spock live long and prosper

This gesture of the two hands is what he saw and it’s the inspiration for the now famous Vulcan salute.

So, to you my friends and fellow travelers, live long and prosper. To which the appropriately Vulcan response is, peace and long life.

This post originally appeared on foXnoMad Tales.

What It’s Like To Live In Turkey As Foreigners, 13 Years After A Dream Come True

This is a guest post Barry and Julia, who sold up in the UK to travel around Turkey for 6 months. They’re still in Turkey, living in Fethiye on the southwest coast. Their blog, Turkey’s For Life is a slow travel and food blog about Fethiye and other parts of Turkey. All of the images in this post are courtesy Turkey’s For Life.

fethiye boats

In the UK, many people dream of moving off to pastures new; moving overseas to those dreamy Mediterranean coastal towns or rural villages where life is going to be relaxed, natural, sunny, perfect.

When we still lived in the UK, almost 13 years ago now, we, along with millions of others would be glued to TV programs like ‘A Place In The Sun,’ where we were fed the dream; watching British couples looking to make the great escape being taken around overseas properties by a glamorous presenter.

Luxury villas with swimming pools, traditional Spanish farmhouses, rural French gites. “Ahhh, we could live there. Just imagine how perfect it would be,” the millions of viewers would say as the couples walked from room to room saying, “Oh, this is a good size. This is bright and airy. 15 acres of land with the property, you say?”

Kabak road ölüDeniz Turkey

13 years ago, after a few holidays there, we had completely fallen for a coastal town in Turkey and when the opportunity came about that we were in a position to jump ship, we took the plunge and bought our own ‘place in the sun.’ (It’s not a luxury villa with a swimming pool in acres of land, by the way!) We actually took the plunge to travel Turkey for a few months, not to live here…but we never left.

After 13 years of life in Turkey, we’ve done a lot, seen a lot and learned a lot…and there’s much further to go.

When Anıl asked us if we’d like to write a guest post for his blog, it was a case of hmm, what to write about. Well how about a few random musings about life in Turkey, in another culture, in a town that mixes local life with backpacker stop off, with package holiday tourism. Musings about how we assumed life would be – and how life actually is.

We’re Going To Be Fluent In Turkish

That was definitely going to happen to us when we moved to Turkey…Oh yeah, we were going to blend in with the locals, speaking fluently in our new language. Well, we’d already picked up a few words and phrases from past visits. Surely, we’d hit ‘fluency,’ at some point. Hmm, well, 13 years in and lots of study later, we can just about get the gist of a newspaper or magazine article. We can bumble our way through a conversation if we know the subject matter.

But put us in a room with lots of random Turkish conversations going on and watch that glaze fall over our eyes. We’ve got some friends who can fall into Turkish conversation with ease (why oh why can’t we do that), we’ve got some friends who can just about manage a ‘hello, how are you’ and we’ve got lots like us, too. Not all of us are blessed with the language-learning knack, it seems – much as this irritates the life out of us, personally.

Survival tip we give ourselves from this – We go easy on ourselves. Our town is a bit of an anomaly in that a lot of the Turkish residents are fluent in English – and they love to speak English. We actually use our Turkish more when we’re out of town than when we’re at home.

I’m Going To Immerse Myself In All Things Turkish Cuisine

For us, moving to Turkey meant immersion into all things Turkey and Turkish and, especially with the cuisine, that’s what we did. We were almost militant about it, in fact, to the point that we never went to any other type of restaurants or made any other foods at home for perhaps a couple of years! We ate, we read, we asked Turkish friends about Turkish food, we watched them cook and we taught ourselves lots of Turkish recipes.

Full English breakfast? Fish and chips? Restaurants specializing in foods from other countries? They were all off the menu.

bulgur wheat rice

We’re passionate about food and, to be honest, we’re glad we did this. And it wasn’t difficult either – well, Turkish cuisine is ranked among the top 3 cuisines in the world. Why wouldn’t we want to explore and experiment.

Today, our daily diet is predominantly Turkish cuisine but again, over time, we’ve learned to give ourselves a break. As well as oodles of great Turkish eateries – traditional and modern – there are a good few international restaurants in our town so if we fancy an Indian meal, Chinese, Italian or yes, even a plate of good old fish and chips; well, that’s okay occasionally, too.

Our Friends Will Be Turkish. I’m Not Going To Be Part Of The Expat Community

There’s that immersion thing again. No, we didn’t come to live in Turkey to sit in those stereotypical British bars, watching British TV programs via satellite, complaining about the latest increase in local beer prices. We’d made a few Turkish friends from previous visits to the country and they were all we needed, thank you very much.

But a lot has changed in 13 years. When we first came to Turkey there were relatively few expats in our town. That number has fluctuated over the years for lots of reasons but the reality is, our town is good in that it manages to blend so many people in a relatively small space.

A lot of Turkish people work in tourism so they’re comfortable with having so many people around of different nationalities. Is there an ‘expat community?’ Not even sure, to be honest. If ‘expat community’ translates to an ‘us and them’ scenario then that is not the case. Yeah, there are some pockets where the clientele in bars and restaurants is predominantly British – but generally, especially around the town center, it is a whole mix of everyone and that’s where we spend a lot of our time. Inevitably – and thankfully – you meet lots of other people, too. Some live here, some have a place here and are in town often.

paspatur fethiye turkey

We’ve got lots of close Turkish friends but we’ve also got British, Australian, American, Hungarian, Russian, Dutch, German and Danish people in our lives, too – and lucky us that that’s the way it is.

Ahh, But You Don’t Live In The Real Turkey

If we had a lira for every time someone said that to us! We can assure you that wherever you may live or travel to in Turkey, it is very real.

There are coastal tourist areas where beaches, beachwear, bars, nightclubs, restaurants and foreign holidaymakers prevail – and these places might be ‘touristy’ but they are still very real. Cosmopolitan cities, where the high street is packed with designer stores, remote villages in the Anatolian plains where people live off the land and barely see anyone from outside the village, let alone a foreigner. They are also the real Turkey. It’s all the real Turkey; it’s just that each place is very different.

istanbul turkey fishing

We Can Still View Turkey Through (Slow) Travelers’ Eyes

One of our favorite places in Fethiye is the otogar (intercity bus station). Even after 13 years, we still get excited at the sight of all the buses coming and going and the company offices listing all their destinations – we really can just take our pick. Somewhere an hour or so down the road or a 20+ hour overnight bus journey. Where to next…

Turkey is a vast country. Because we live here, we have the luxury of being able to practice what we preach on our blog – slow travel; attempted immersion into many of the places we visit. There is so much out there to see and do and absorb and if we listed everywhere we’ve been, it might look pretty impressive…but we’ve hardly scratched the surface. Each place we go to – some we visit time and again – comes with its own pleasures, rewards and challenges.

Living in Turkey has been a huge learning curve and that learning never stops. It’s a case of keep traveling, asking, listening, reading, being open and the more we learn, the less we realize we know. That’s the best part. Never boring, that’s for sure.

And The Biggest Lesson Of All…

Anıl himself has written a blog post about this subject and, with regards to Turkey, it’s what we try and show in our own blog in every post we write. The biggest lesson of all is that the majority of people in this world are good people and we’re all just trying to live our lives in the best way we can on a daily basis.

Particularly recently, Turkey is often in the news for unpleasant reasons – as it should be – and the same can be said for a lot of other countries in the world, too. (I’m actually writing this post in complete sadness on a day of national mourning – the day after the terrorist attack on Atatürk Airport in Istanbul.)

The problem with such international media coverage is that you only get to see those countries when an atrocity occurs, a disaster or when its leader makes a newsworthy statement. All those billions of good people mentioned in the above paragraph, who are just getting on with their everyday lives, get swallowed up in that and we forget they exist. But those good people are the ones who are going to make your experience in Turkey – and other countries, too – memorable for all the right reasons. I hate to use the cliche but if you do a stint in Turkey, you’ll know why ‘Turkish hospitality’ is a phrase used so often.

izmir turkey

As two people living in a country where lots of people currently fear to travel, all we can say is this country – and elsewhere in the world – has so much to offer. Yes, use the media to make yourself aware of what’s happening in a country but also get down to ground level, too. Read blogs (there are lots of us bloggers in Turkey – travel, food, politics, random musings), talk to people who live here (social media is a wonderful thing), do your homework…and that’s when to make the decision about whether or not you want to go off and see for yourself. You never know, you could end up living there…

Thank you very much Julia and Barry for sharing your experiences living in Turkey with us. If you have any questions for Barry or Julia, you can ask them in the comments below and find them at their blog Turkey’s For Life, on Facebook, and @TurkeysForLife on Twitter.

A Photo Essay Of The Iconic Ortakoy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii) In Istanbul, Turkey

ortakoy mosque

Istanbul is a city of cliches, phrases that are easier to repeat rather than trying to explain how intricate and unique it is across 39 districts. Like this Hubble experiment where scientists pointed the orbiting telescope to an empty patch of space only to discover countless galaxies, in Istanbul, Turkey, there are dense patches of photographic opportunity.

Last year during one of the stops of my See It Like A Local Tour, I turned my lens to the Ortakoy Mosque (Büyük Mecidiye Camii) to see what angles I could find of this iconic sight.

interior ortaköy mosque

Built in 3 years beginning in 1853, the small Ortakoy Mosque was designed by Armenian father and son architects Garabet Amira Balyan and Nigogayos Balyan. (The latter also designed Dolmabahce Palace.) Some of the interior calligraphy was done by then sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdülmecid I.

Büyük Mecidiye Camii

The Ortakoy Mosque from the angle above is often what you’ll see in the background of foreign correspondents reports on CNN or travel shows highlighting Turkey.

ortaköy camii

Entry to the Ortakoy Mosque for free. The easiest way to find it is by taking a ferry to Beşiktaş, then hopping a minibus to Ortaköy (Osmanzade Sokak). A 15 minute walk directly from the ferry port is also an option.

Bosphorus Bridge Boğaziçi Köprüsü

To capture this angle, you need to walk around to the sea-facing side.


Aside from the mosque and views of the Bosporus Straight, this part of Ortaköy is one of the best places to try kumpir, a street food, for vegans and carnivores alike.


About Anil Polat

foxnomad aboutI'm the blogger and computer security engineer who writes foXnoMad while on a journey to visit every country in the world. I'll show you the tips, tricks, and tech you can use to travel smarter. Read More

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