Category: Travel Journal

My Favorite Places To Smoke Shisha (Nargile) Around The World

cario egypt shisha nargile

The art of smoking shisha (or nargile as it’s also commonly called) isn’t so much about exhaling plumes of flavored smoke from your lungs as it is for cultivating conversation, reflection, and relaxation in many parts of the world. Originating in India or Persia around the 1600s, shisha cafes are now a regular sight around the world, many with their own characters.

Having stumbled into more than a few shisha bars as I travel, many often leave an impression on me as I jot down my thoughts about a town, chat with locals, or take in a few cloudy breaths at the end of an interesting day. These are some of my favorite shisha cafes from around the world, welcoming and perfect for a unique experience of your own.

Arabesque Cafe In Cairo, Egypt

Aptly named, Arabesque‘s yellow walls are an oasis of calm a few minutes walk away from Tahrir Square, the heart of Cairo’s Arab Spring. Several months after Egypt’s revolution, I looked up from my laptop (Arabesque has free wifi) to see a large crowd chanting slogans and marching toward the American embassy. Nobody in Arabesque took more than a glance as we all continued to smoke as hundreds of angry protestors marched past a few meters away.

arabesque cafe cairo egypt

Mesale In Istanbul, Turkey

Open 24 hours hours a day, with live music in the evenings along with excellent food, Mesale is nearly always full of interesting locals and tourists alike. Mesale isn’t hard to spot if you’re visiting the historic Sultanahmet neighborhood of Istanbul, just follow the sweet scent of light, fruity, tobacco smoke to the left of the Blue Mosque. (You’ll also want to keep an eye out for a colorful waiter who likes to pretend he’s going to spill a tray of hot coffee on unsuspecting tourists for a laugh.)

mesale cafe istanbul turkey

Shisha Cafe In Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

The city of Sulaymaniyah in northern Iraq has a bizarrely strong Chinese influence, plentiful liquor stores, and this massive two story shisha cafe is the center of it all. The service is great and after a while the groups sitting at neighboring tables tend to mingle and mix. As the evenings go on at the shisha lounge the entire cafe becomes a large conversation you can join as you desire.

sulaymaniyah iraq shisha nargile

Annette In Sofia, Bulgaria

Primarily a Moroccan restaurant, Annette has probably the best shisha in Sofia. The hookahs last for hours, going well with the tasty appetizers offered here. Bulgaria has some of the fastest Internet speeds in the world so if you’re looking for a good spot to get online while enjoying apple, mint, or other flavors of tobacco, make sure Annette is in your Sofia plans.

sofia bulgaria vitosha parking

Babylon Shisha Lounge in Lubeck, Germany

Ironically, Babylon Shisha Lounge is a breath of fresh air in a town that’s a bit stiff. Babylon is cramped, which means you’ll have to arrive early in the evenings to be assured a place to sit – or closer to midnight when the thoroughly pre-gamed crowds head out to dance the alcohol off. There is free wireless at Babylon (not always a given in Western European cafes) where you should plan to watch at least one German national soccer game if you can.

Mhirsi Cafe Alta In Tunis, Tunisia

I’m fairly certain Mhirsi Cafe Alta isn’t the right name of this den cut into a stone wall, slyly positioned in a busy intersection of Tunis’ medina ideal for people watching. Around this area, you’ll find many of Tunis’ most popular travel attractions making Mhirisi Cafe Alta a good location to rest and chat with locals.

Mhirsi Cafe Alta Tunis Tunisia

There are quite a few places I didn’t add to this list but could have – like Address Restaurant And Cafe Bar in Fethiye, Turkey – plus a number of others not big or official enough to have a proper name. All though, with intangible qualities making them worth a visit, even if you’re only in it for the tea.

For those of you who enjoy a good nargile, what are some of your favorites places? Let me know your recommendations in the comments below!

Take A Look At This Photo From Kawkaban, Yemen, Because It Doesn’t Exist Any More

yemen shibam walled city

The Old Walled City of Shibam in western Yemen was a place that made me feel what a shame Yemen’s terrible security reputation was¬†reputation back in 2013, keeping most travelers from visiting. Back then there were parts of Yemen that were safe to visit (mostly) including Shibam, one of Yemen’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But as unknown to most as the 2800 meter high Shibam was, so has been the destruction of its most popular attraction, the Kawkaban Fortress. Hardly any coverage in Western media was made of the airstrike that demolished the 12 centuries-old Kawkaban in February 2016. The only news in English I could find was this Facebook post by Eternal Yemen, the company that arranged my trip there.

I left Yemen with a sense that the best of a bad situation was likely to end soon and four months later a civil and larger proxy war began – making the country inaccessible. In addition to the 6,500 lives lost since then, historic sites like Kawkaban have been lost to humanity forever. So now once the site of one of humanity’s achievements, is ruble, marking the failing of our species; a lesson still not learned since the first stone of Kawkaban was laid 1,200 years ago.

3 Weird Habits I’ve Developed From Traveling Full-Time

This post is brought to you by USB Memory Direct which specializes in producing custom flash drives for marketing and promotions. [What is this?]

chicago bean

Recently counting back 8 things I’ve learned from traveling the world made me realize that while traveling has become my normal, some habits I’ve adopted are not. Although this isn’t a particularly useful list, you might find these weird habits I’ve picked up from traveling to over 80 countries somewhat enlightening, mildly entertaining, and revealing of one universal truth.

1. Everything Fits In One Bag Plus Carry-On

Instead of a closet, I’ve got an Osprey Sojourn 25-Inch 60 Liter roller-convertible bag that fits my entire wardrobe. Having a luggage-limit-weight-constrained portable closet means many of the things I wear have become multi-purpose clothes. You learn to shop this way to maximize the versatility of each article of clothing for various occasions.

london street market

osprey sojourn 60 literOsprey Sojourn Wheeled Luggage (25-Inch/60 Liter, Metal Grey)

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2. Priority To The Gadgets Bag

If one piece of luggage filled with clothes is my closet, the other Swissgear computer backpack is my office, living room, telephone and television. Receiving packing priority to make sure nothing is forgotten begins and ends with a bag I’ve noticed for many is more of an afterthought.

dell xps 12 2016

swissgear backpackSwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack 1900 (Black)

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3. In With One Shirt Out With The Other

When something is added to the collection, another is discarded if damaged or donated if not. Shopping for new clothes means concurrently thinking about what’s inevitably being replaced. Living out of such a small area has, over time, made me notice how little one actually needs. Like a gas, we tend to fill up our living environment primarily based on its size, with increasing pressures whether it’s zippers or apartment walls we’re cramming with stuff.

london petticoat lane market

Remember, packing for two weeks is no different than packing for two months.

Rearranging Randomness

There are a number of other peculiarities I could over-pack here, like the slight uneasiness of not having a trip to planned to several countries or always booking one-way tickets, but whatever our habits are, they are in the pursuit of routine. The world is an unpredictable place whether we’re traveling around it or not. Our passions drive us to indulge in excitement to varying degrees of risk, with the familiar keeping us grounded. Keeping the balance between the two is important, whatever funky ways we go about it.

What are some of your weird travel habits? Let me know in the comments below!

This Is The Geographic Center Of The Lower 48 United States: It’s In Lebanon (Kansas)

center of america lebanon

At least it’s been the center of the contiguous United States since 1912, when Arizona and New Mexico were added to the country. There isn’t much around, except a farmhouse and empty chapel where you can read a guestbook sign by people from everywhere you wouldn’t expect. (Hi Brazil!) I stopped here as part of a road trip across America to find its weirdest places.

8 Things I’ve Learned From Traveling The World For More Than 5 Years

Thessaloniki umbrellas

The only thing that moves in life, whether you go with it or not, is time, and I’ve spent a lot of mine traveling. You might be looking for some grand insights here but let me disappoint you upfront – distance doesn’t make you wiser, time does – and there’s not even a guarantee of that.

The fact that traveling can be enlightening but not necessarily spiritual is only one of a few lessons I have been taught by 5, wait 6, years of journey to visit ever country in the world. Here are some of the others:

1. It’s Not That Hard

Before I took off to travel, the thought of such a trip seemed daunting. For some reason booking a bus ride seems a lot simpler than buying plane tickets. Actually, it’s hardly different. You can’t really save huge amounts on airfare so stop chasing cheap flights, choose a destination, find a reasonable flight, and you’re off. For pretty much any flight not to Israel, get to the airport two hours before flight time. Pack (at most) two weeks worth of clothes no matter how long you’ll be gone from home. That’s it.

skopje bus station

Boozing heavily in an airport lounge: optional and fun.

2. I Could Have Done It Many Different Ways

There is no one or superior way to travel. Full-time, two weeks a year, there’s no formula. You don’t need to be a travel blogging digital nomad, a lifestyle that has it’s own constraints. Like pretty much anything, looking back, you realize there are multiple paths to any destination.

bogota highway colombia

3. You Pick Up Weird Habits

Pretty much all of my clothes, plus a gi, fit in a single backpack. (These are the best backpacks for frequent travelers.) Electronics go in a SwissGear bag, one I never have to check in. No matter how long I plan on staying somewhere, I pack light and keep it that way. A backpack is always around, not tucked away, as they are for most people, in a closet. New clothes aren’t additions but rather replacements to a wardrobe with an active weight limit.

backpacks for sale

There are so many weird habits, I’ll have an entire post about them in a week or two.

4. Traveling Becomes Your Normal

The idea that any two points on Earth are within reach of a whim along and some money, any time you want, is an arrogant way to describe some of the freedoms a location-independent lifestyle can bring. After a while it doesn’t seem so bizarre to you, it’s usually other people’s reactions that are a reminder being voluntarily homeless isn’t ordinary.

rachel nevada ufo bar area 51

Traveling becomes so normal after a long enough time, the notion of staying in one place seems a thought as intimidating as deciding to travel once was. Whatever our normal is, the idea of changing it is mentally challenging, not what it’s changing in to.

5. Planning Is As Useful As Not

Planners: sometimes you win. Not planning often results in travel serendipity. Like the debate of iOS or Android, there’s no absolute superior. Best to choose the least stressful planning method for you personally, while trying a little bit to incorporate more of the other to travel more efficiently.

ford transit connect #unminivan

6. Finding Good Friends Anywhere Is Hard

Traveling puts you in contact with a lot of good people you often stay in touch with for a few weeks after you’re off to the next destination. Occasionally you find people who become your really good friends. You would think that meeting more people around the world would mean ending up with lots of close friends. No matter your lifestyle, your circle of close friends stays small – hopefully being aware of this makes you value them a bit more too.

skopje bridge selfie

7. Appreciate The Journey

You’ll probably remember sitting on top of a mountain in Yemen, contemplating life at sunset, when the memory occasionally floats into your consciousness. That’s the Disney version. Really though what’s burned into your brain from that experience is erratically pointing a small flashlight around your camp throughout the night because your guide causally mentioned there was a 2-meter venomous snake lurking around while you were higher than the stars on khat.

stars overhead

8. Seeing The World Changes You

Although you’ll see poverty, unfairness, and the darker sides of humanity, the more people you meet the more convinced you become that people are fundamentally good. People everywhere are friendly tooeven the ones that don’t seem like it – because different cultures have developed ways of showing warmth. Poor places aren’t any more real than rich ones; misconceptions about other people are formed by the absence of experience. Ignorance is cured with exposure.

bogota night skyline

Long-term travel is an egotistical act, unique to every individual, which is why everyone learns – or doesn’t – something different from a journey. The lessons can come from anywhere, often unexpectedly. Travel won’t solve your problems or blatantly put you in touch with a higher being, no matter how cool your Indian yoga pants are. Whatever happens, it is certain to be unexpected, no matter what course you take.

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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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