The national Turkish alcoholic beverage, rakı (pronounced “rakoo”), is traditionally referred to as “the lion’s milk”. The reference is both to the milky white color that rakı turns into when diluted down by water, as is the custom, as well as to the insidious potential that it has of intoxication, with an alcohol ratio of 45%.
How it’s made: Raisins and fresh grapes are distilled into “suma”, an alcoholic base, which is then distilled a second time with the addition of anise seeds, in giant copper distillers with a volume of no less than five thousand liters. The result is a crystal clear liquid with a unique taste and a strong punch for the reckless.
How it’s served: Rakı is always served in small cylindrical glasses, and almost always watered down. First the glass is filled up to a third if you want a double or a “duble”; up to one sixth if you want a single or a “tek”; and only then the cold water is added. The addition of water turns the rakı into a cloudy, milky color. Most people will have an ice cube or two in their rakı to keep it cold; however since the melting ice keeps altering the concentration level of your drink expect slight changes in the taste. You are always served ample water with your rakı and you’re supposed to have a separate glass of cold water to wash it down after every sip. You might order in single servings but the tradition is to share a bottle. Rakı is nowadays produced in one liter, 70cc and 50cc bottles.
Drinking it: Mistaking rakı for just another traditional alcoholic beverage would be blasphemy. Rakı is the guilty pleasure of a Muslim culture and yet another contradiction welcoming the adventurous travelers to where the east meets the west. The closest comparison would be the tea rituals of the Far East. Even though you might walk into any pub in Istanbul to have a taste of rakı that is not the Turkish way and is only advised for the wary, in order to dodge the price of a full course meal. Even then please have at least some feta cheese with your rakı to save some face.
Preferably, you should enjoy your rakı at a “meyhane”, a traditional Turkish restaurant specialized in serving rakı and the food required to complete your pleasure. Meyhanes might also have some live Turkish music; with the crowd joining in as rakı starts running down their veins. A full course meal at a meyhane will start with your selection of cold starters or “mezes”, and it is the custom for your waiter to bring a giant tray of samplers, pretty much like a 3D menu, for you to look and make your mind up. This is followed by hot starters which might include delicacies like shrimp cooked in butter. Then comes the main course which is generally some sort of fish depending on the season. This is followed by desert, fruit and your evening reaches its peak with a cup of Turkish coffee at the end. The whole meal takes a few hours, and is not to be rushed. This is a ceremony after all and it is not about eating your fill. As you wash down every bite with a bitter sweet sip of rakı followed by a sip of cold water you will feel ecstasy and the orient engulfing you, and the next morning you are guaranteed to feel thankful for all the customary hydration.
Prices: A liter of rakı will cost around 60-70TL or 25-35 Euros at a supermarket in Istanbul. The oldest and the most popular brand is “Yeni Rakı” which ironically translates as “the New Rakı”. However “Tekirdağ”, named after the city that is famous for its rak? production, is a little easier on the palate and a bit more expensive. They might charge you anywhere between 10-20TL (4-8 Euros) at a pub for a “double” rakı. A full course meal at a “meyhane” might cost anywhere between 50TL and 150TL (25-75 Euros) per person depending on the caliber of the restaurant.
About the author: Ezgi was born and raised in Bolu and grew up in a boarding school in Istanbul where she met her future husband, Erkan. She studied mathematics in Istanbul and became a data analyst at a consultancy company.
To make up for their years in boarding school, Ezgi and Erkan started their serious travelling during their honeymoon with Thailand as their first destination. In the following years they have explored Italy and Spain extensively (using cross-pollinate!), to satiate their lust for great Pizza and their love of classical art.
With literally hundreds of museums and monuments in Paris, it’s easy for even veteran travelers to get overwhelmed. Here’s a guide to the city’s “big three” museums – Musée du Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and Centre Pompidou – which are conveniently organized by time period to help you set your sightseeing game plan.
Musée du Louvre
Thanks to its famous resident, the Mona Lisa, the Louvre is one of the most well-known museums in the world and third most visited attraction in Paris, after Notre Dame and Sacré Cœur. It’s also one of the oldest and largest museums, with more than 30,000 works of art ranging from Greek sculpture (including the Venus de Milo) to Italian and French paintings and other artifacts from ancient times through 1850. We can thank King Louis XIV, a great patron of the arts, for this grand and glorious collection, which was first opened to the public in 1793 after the French Revolution. This U-shaped royal palace-turned-museum is located on the Right Bank in the 1st arrondissement, connected to the Arc de Triomphe via a straight shot through the Tuileries and down the Champs des Élysées, giving visitors a sense of the lavish processional route that dates back to Napoléonic times. The entrance of the Louvre is adorned with a modern glass pyramid, designed by Chinese architect I.M. Pei, which was added to the museum in 1989. It’s impossible to see everything in one visit, so pace yourself and decide which galleries are your top priority.
France is synonymous with Impressionism, and the Orsay picks up where the Louvre leaves off, housing treasures from greats like Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Degas. The museum’s impressive collection spans 1848 to 1914 and includes a mix of paintings and sculptures, as well as decorative and graphic art. Inhabiting the former Gare d’Orléans train station in the 7th arrondissement, the beautiful steel and glass building is a work of art itself and a testament to the glory of the Industrial Age. Two restored clocks provide a backdrop to the light-filled gallery, which complements the light that the Impressionist masters set out to capture in their paintings.
You don’t have to look twice: the building that houses Paris’ modern art museum is indeed “inside out.” Named after France’s president from 1969 to 1974, the Pompidou Center is located in the 4th arrondissement and boasts an impressive exterior of glass, steel and brightly-colored pipes (green for plumbing, blue for climate control, yellow for electricity and red for safety and circulation elements). Inside you’ll find the largest collection of modern art in the world, with works from the early 20th century to the present, including must-see paintings by Picasso and Warhol to other more “out there” art. Even if modern art isn’t for you, the distinctive exterior of the museum is definitely worth a look. You can also take the exposed escalator to the top for a great bird’s-eye view of Paris.
All three of these museums are covered by the Paris Museum Pass, which grants you access to more than 60 museums and monuments throughout Paris and the surrounding area. The pass offers other perks too, like skipping the line at most sites, so you’ll have more time to explore Paris’ cultural wonders. You can find more time and money-saving tips for visiting Paris here.
Jessica is a Cross-Pollinate guest (having rented through us in Rome and Venice) who lives in the U.S. but attributes to her love of travel to her Italian heritage. When she’s not dreaming of Europe, she’s exploring it with her husband and favorite travel partner, Jeremy. You can read more of Jessica’s tips and experiences at her travel blog Boarding Pass.
Istanbul has been our family’s home for one month. On first blush, Istanbul didn’t strike us as being child-friendly. In fact, Istanbullus argue that there aren’t enough child-oriented things to do in the city. Our neighborhood of Beyoglu has a vibrant arts scene and variety of restaurants, cafes and boutiques. However, like most ‘hip’ locations, there aren’t too many things geared toward children here. While there may not be many playgrounds or green space as such, it is surprisingly easy to get around and enjoy the area with young children.
My husband and I are traveling around the world, visiting ten countries in ten months with our two-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. Our stay in Istanbul comes midway through our journey and we have surprisingly found the city to be the most child-friendly so far. One of the main reasons for this is the Turkish love for children. Other countries have welcomed our children, but Turkey has embraced them. Whether we are on a tram, in a restaurant or just walking down the street, Turkish people everywhere want to entertain and help us care for our kids.
The fact that we have support wherever we go in the city has made it one of the easiest to explore with little kids. Here are a few things we particularly enjoyed in the area around Beyoglu:
Riding the tram. The tram system is easy to navigate and clean. The routes are above ground so there is plenty to distract the kids. Riders always volunteer to hold children and take it upon themselves to entertain the kids for the journey.
Tip for family fun: There is a small playground just outside the Findikli stop. Kids can swing in Europe while overlooking the water to Asia. Parents can sip cay at the adjacent cafe. No other city in the world offers that combination.
Walking along Istiklal. The crowds on this pedestrian-only street can be overwhelming, but it’s worth navigating them to people-watch and expose children to a variety of street performers. The nostalgic tram, a one-carriage heritage tram that runs the length of Istiklal is a fun ride with kids.
Tip for family fun: Balik Pazari, an open-air market off Nevizade Street, sells everything from fish to exotic fruits and vegetables. In addition to the seafood restaurants there are a variety of stalls offering snacks such as fried oysters. A family can meander the colorful corners of the market, learning about and sampling ingredients like honey in the comb and smoked salmon.
People-watching at Galata Tower. The area at the base of the Galata Tower is a great substitute for a playground. It’s a large open space without any traffic. Street performers provide good background music and there is always a plethora of kids, providing for instant play dates. A regular popcorn cart offers a good snack.
Tip for family fun: While the kids play, parents can keep a watchful eye from one of the many cafes along the perimeter of the tower.
Exploring side streets. The cobblestone streets around Beyoglu are lined with character, be it in the form of old buildings, new establishments, or people. It’s best to stay on the sidewalks, where they exist, as drivers can hurtle around corners unannounced.
Tip for family fun: Don’t be shy about visiting any of the restaurants, cafes and little boutiques. Every single one we have been to, even those that look fancy, has welcomed the kids. Some restaurants brought out balloons to keep the kids happy; stores offer free chocolate; and boutiques love the company of little children (just don’t break anything!).
We encourage families with young children to visit Istanbul. The people will welcome your kids literally with open arms. The best part about the city is that it is possible to do things that adults enjoy while also making it fun for kids.
About Diya: By the time she graduated college, Diya had visited 28 countries, 5 which she called home. She met her nomadic match in Chicago; they moved soon after to New York City, got married in India, and talked about travel incessantly. Years passed. Fast-paced finance careers, an MBA, two children and a dog put extended travel on the back burner. A recent wave of good luck and health gave the family the courage to take a career break and travel around the world. Diya, Sandeep and their two children (Ava, age 3, and Kayan, age 1) aim to hit at least 10 countries in 10 months. Diya is recounting more family travel tales at www.minordiversion.com
It was our last day in Pertisau, high up in the Austrian Alps, and we were having our usual stilted conversation with our charming breakfast waiter. Clearing the table he offered the following,”Are you coming to see the cows today?”
We were puzzled. Cows had not been mentioned as a tourist attraction here. Pertisau is a place where you go to walk up mountains, eat huge amounts of food, brave the icy waters of Lake Achensee and do the same again. Upon much questioning we ascertained that each year in September the cows that graze up on the high alms are walked down to the valley in order to be housed for the long European winter. The festival is known as Almbetreib and is an annual festival across Austria and celebrates the end of a successful farming season, but in particular celebrating the cow!
Coming from Australia we were intrigued. As my husband is of Indian origin he could appreciate a little of this cow worship. We wanted to learn more and considered it a fitting end to our Austrian holiday. Our children were harder to convince. “What’s the big deal about a bunch of cows walking down from the hills?” said Miss Twelve. Miss Fourteen just plugged into her IPod and looked bored as we explained the concept as best as we could.
Come midday we joined throngs of locals walking through the town and past the pastures to the head of the valley. We passed people setting up deckchairs in the blazing noonday sun awaiting the appearance of the cows. We ate our lunch sitting on tree stumps in the forest. Our children still plugged in to their IPods, we were in conversation with an elderly British couple who told us the biggest milk producers of the cows wear a special yellow garland and the lead cow of the procession a red garland and wreath.
Suddenly a cry went up which translated to “They are coming!” Our children, sophisticated city kids, abandoned their IPods and took off into the distance so they could see the first of the cows. Lines of cows accompanied by schnapps-sipping-lederhosen-clad-gorgeous-blonde-giants! As the cows passed into the centre of Pertisau, more and more people joined them so it became a joint procession. Sounds of cowbells jangling and cows mooing drowned out out conversation. Outside the guesthouses, temporary bars had been set up with the landlords offering the cow’s guardians liberal swigs of schnapps and huge steins of beer! Our children played “spot the best garland” and wrinkled their noses at the fresh cow droppings.
As we reached the centre of town there was a brief respite as the cows, their guardians, and the townsfolk gathered a meadow. There were speeches, schnapps, and dancing and it was only 1.30 on a Friday afternoon. Sadly we had to leave as we had been advised by the hotel that our car transfer to the local station would have to leave earlier due to the cattle. “If you leave later, you may get stuck behind the cows and they won’t care that you have to catch a plane.”
It’s 2 months ago now, but the kids still say, “Remember the cows?”
Erica and her family used Cross Pollinate for their accommodation in Venice in mid September of 2011. They stayed at Ca’ Francesco in the Jewish ghetto and wrote that “It was a terrific apartment. Alexandra the owner was so helpful and kind. Would highly recommend it and your service!”
If you have a travel story of something unusual and memorable, submit it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org