Category: Travel Journal

Is This The Most Boring Place In The World?

The Best City To Visit Travel Tournament I run every year on this site is often controversial for a wide variety of reasons. 2017’s winner, Granada, Spain (yay!) wasn’t a surprising result for many of you who voted but the city it beat in the final, Campina, Romania, generated passionate comments of hate and love, mainly from locals.

Each year, I visit the winning Best City. I’ll be revisiting Granada this fall – though the fact that thousands voted for Campina while at the same time others wrote comments that I might die of boredom there made me curious. I have a goal to visit every country in the world, and there are many places I’ve visited which turned out to be very pleasant surprises, despite not having large tourist attractions.

You can see the story in the video above and decide if Campina is the most boring place in Romania or if a visit to the area should be part of your Romania travel plans.

My Camera Was Stolen In Argentina 7 Years Ago, Now I Finally Have The Pictures

buenos aires casa rosada presidential palace

In 2010 I visited Argentina for the first time, taking countless photos of the tasty foods and scenic views of Buenos Aires. I left Argentina with all of those pictures but when I landed in Santiago, Chile, they were gone. Along with my camera. I wasn’t robbed in a dramatic way – no armed mugging or crafty pickpockets – but fell for a sly scam at the airport which taught me two important lessons for all the travels I’ve taken afterward.

Those pictures I missed because of a security mishap had been on my mind until finally, six years later, I returned to Buenos Aires to get those photographs. Here are some of those pictures, 6 years later, and the story, from six years prior.

Traveling back to a place after a long while is like visiting friends with children, you’re surprised by how much they’ve grown, but also how recognizable their characters have remained. Like looking at an iPhone 7 but not seeing a smartphone since the 4S, the contrast is more evident since you’re seeing two moments in time, not witnessing the evolution in between.

buenos aires colorful street

But cities often look back at you, showing it’s not just them, you’ve grown too.

buenos aires canal

Some tastes may have changed, you can like a place you once hated, and getting to know yourself better opens up more travel possibilities.

la boca art

These beans at Cumana were so good, even the small cockroach in the dish didn’t stop me from finishing the bowl.

cumana buenos aires

A second ride around town with La Bicicleta Naranja was as good, and recommendable, as the first time.

buenos aires la bicicleta naranja

Many touristic areas are popular for a reason, like the very photogenic La Boca neighborhood.

la boca selfie argentina

Although I don’t remember specifically, there was probably a guy doing just this the last time I visited La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors soccer team stadium.

la bombonera

I do though recall flipping through the photos on my camera at Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires, prior to checking in.

park lezama buenos aires

When I got to the check in counter of a small airline I won’t mention, I was told that all of the electronics in my carry-on would have to be put in checked luggage. It was going to be a short flight, so naively, I didn’t resist much.

buenos aires old man

After landing in Santiago, many of the electronics were gone, along with some clothes. It was apparent that someone had a short time to reach in and grab what they could. I’m convinced it was part of an organized routine happening between the check-in crew and bag handlers – mostly because of the insistence of checking the electronics – which was never actually required and the knowledge of exactly where in the bag to look.

plaza de mayo buenos aires

For a travel blogger not having pictures of a place limits how much I can share of a destination. They’re also memories which can be looked back on, gone. On the other hand, not having one can let you focus on what you can’t capture with a camera.

cumana buenos aires

The theft of my camera cultivated two habits I’ve done ever since, which I would recommend to any traveler:

  1. Backup Right Away – After a day of taking pictures or videos, when you’re back at your hotel, transfer the data over to a laptop. Doing so ensures you have copies of you photos in case something happens to your camera plus it lets you comfortably delete pictures from your SD card or phone, in case it fills up when you’re out and about. There are some automatic wireless backup options or you can go with an external hard drive if you don’t have space on your laptop. No laptop? No problem, the WD 2TB My Passport Pro has an SD card slot, USB ports, and is wireless too.
  2. Keep Your Valuables In Hand Luggage – Although it seems very obvious to me now, at the time I didn’t consider theft from checked bags to be a significant risk. (Or even a thing.) Theft from luggage is fairly common all over the world and it’s important to keep an eye on your stuff through security checks as well. With all this thievery going on, tracking your stuff digitally may be a good idea as well.

WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive  WD 2TB My Passport Wireless Pro Portable External Hard Drive

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In the end, not having the pictures from 6 years ago brought me back to a place that was both familiar as I remembered but not quite the same. Which had changed more, Buenos Aires, or me? I wasn’t quite sure I thought as I left town, adjusting my small carry-on backpack with camera securely tucked away – probably, a little of both.

Momo Man At Berlin’s Street Food Fair Will Make You And Your Stomach Very Happy

holy nepal berlin

Beating in the center of Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood is a weekly street food festival that brings together artisans cooking up the best non-menu items from all around the world. Reflective of Kreuzberg itself, once the shunned, poor, and mainly foreign part of town, street food is being embraced for many of those now exotic qualities.

Thursday nights from 6pm-10pm within the brick walls of Markthalle Neun (9), chefs from all over the world serve up their favorite street food from back home. And every Thursday night you’ll find a bright-smiled face waiting for you in front of the Holy Everest stall set up near one of the main entrances.

Momo Man

G.B. (Rajesh) Lama wants people to learn about Nepalese cuisine in the best way possible: by tasting it. So often G.B. says, the “Nepalese” food you find at any given restaurant is actually Pakistani. Similar but not the same, G.B. serves vegetarian momos, dal bhat, Himalayan soup, and the desert shi momo. Markthalle 9 is the only place in Berlin, Germany you can find these Nepalese foods, which is why I affectionately call G.B. ‘momo man’.

holy everest momo

What’s In A Momo?

A momo is a type of dumpling that comes in a number of varieties but the ones at Holy Everest are vegan, steamed, and filled with peas, cabbage, spinach, carrots, garlic, (the full ingredient list is posted on the stall) and covered in a seductively spicy red tomato sauce. You add a little chutney on top at your discretion.

Clearly G.B. has a system. He effortlessly moves momos from bottom to the top of a three layered steamer, calmly serving a long line of customers in between. They smile, he smiles.

Street Food Fair Doesn’t Stop There

Thursday nights the street food festival is an eating, drinking, and lounging celebration. Among the vendors you can find Japanese takoyaki being prepared by a young couple from Osaka (where this fried squid ball originated), homemade chocolates, and a wide spread of Turkish meze (appetizers) you’re not likely to find at a restaurant outside of Turkey.

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Stalls run out of food fast and the lines are long, so it’s best to arrive early for the full selection of eats. Arrive close to closing time and you can avoid the bulk of the crowds, but you’ll be limited in the foods you can find. (The beer however, never runs out.) Other days of the week, there are more special events. The first weekend of each month there is a breakfast festival for example; Saturdays are the artisan market.

From Nepal To Nepal

G.B. spent 16 years as a trekking guide in the Nepalese Himalayas, moving to Berlin in 2013 with his family. He’s brought his unquestionably positive pride in his nation to Markthalle 9, where you can find him some other week days as well. (Markthalle 9 is open from 12pm-6pm daily, with some vendors holding variable hours.)

markthalle neun

All of the momos at Holy Everest are homemade, as are the other menu items. A serving of momos goes well with Himalaya soup – an aromatic vegetarian vegetable broth. (Each are 5 euros.)

himalaya soup berlin

Currently, G.B. is planning on opening a true Nepalese restaurant in another part of the city over the summer so he can reach, and teach more palates in Berlin. But you shouldn’t miss a Thursday night at Markthalle 9 for a taste of the worlds best street foods, most easily reached via the Gorlitzer Bahnhof metro stop, a 7 minute walk away. Be sure to visit Holy Everest, say hello to G.B., have some momos, and you too are sure to have a smile.

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

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!

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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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