My Travel Life List

The Greek Islands are on my Travel Life List

The Greek Islands are on my Travel Life List

As long as I’ve been traveling and dreaming of travel, it is a surprise to me that I’ve never sat down and written out my travel life list. After all, one of the earliest goals I ever remember setting for myself was to visit Paris before I was 20. As an exchange student to Germany at 17, I accomplished my travel goal of seeing Paris – and a whole lot of Europe – well before my 20th birthday.

I’ve been traveling ever since. But it’s never enough.

As I’m getting older and dealing with more responsibilities in my life, I realize that I may never get to fulfill all of my traveling fantasies. But my life list – or bucket list, if you will – will hopefully be a reminder of  the things I’ve got left to do. Of course, I’ll probably pop in here from time to time and add things, too.

I hope that my list will spark you guys to comment below on some of the things that you’d like to do travel-wise before you die – or get too wrapped up in life to make a travel plan. Also, I should note that I was inspired to finally sit down and write this by one Spencer Spellman, the Traveling Philosopher, who himself is a southerner who dreams of seeing the world. Thanks, Spencer!

The List:

  1. Visit Angkor Wat
  2. Go to Bhutan
  3. Go hang-gliding almost anywhere (strangely, I’m afraid of heights but this has always intrigued)
  4. See the elephant sanctuary in Candy, Sri Lanka
  5. Have my own travel show a la Rick Steves
  6. Surf in Hawaii
  7. Explore the Amazon
  8. Go to a samba school in Rio de Janeiro
  9. Learn to tango in Buenos Aires
  10. Attend the Westminster Dog Show in New York City 🙂
  11. Practice yoga in Pune, India, with BKS Iyengar
  12. Drive cross country across the United States
  13. Take a cruise of Alaska
  14. Enjoy a completely debaucherous weekend in Las Vegas – buffets, gambling, spas, shows, the works
  15. See all of the Greek Isles
  16. Attend an opera in the ruins of the Terme di Caracalla in Rome
  17. Visit the Hermitage and St. Petersburg, Russia
  18. Stay in a castle in Scotland (Madonna’s preferably)
  19. Snowboarding in Zermatt, Switzerland
  20. Live in all 20 of Italy’s regions for at least a month per region
  21. Binge on sushi in Tokyo
  22. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from the window of someone’s apartment, mimosa and/or bloody mary in hand
  23. Visit the bourbon distilleries of Kentucky
  24. Go to all three Triple Crown races – Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes
  25. Visit all of the historic and/or worth-seeing MLB parks – Fenway, Wrigley Field, etc. (no Arizona, no Tampa Bay)
  26. See the manatees in Florida and meet a koala bear in Australia
  27. Dine with Anthony Bourdain in France
  28. Visit more Native American reservations. I’ve only visited one, that of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico
  29. Go to the Galapagos Islands
  30. Spend time on a gorilla preserve
  31. Overnight and dine at the Hotel Mamounia in Marrakech
  32. See Jerusalem and the other historical wonders of the Holy Land
  33. Visit Petra in Jordan
  34. See the wonders of ancient Mesopotamia in Iraq (if there are still any to see)
  35. Travel the Silk Road
  36. Eat lobster in Maine
  37. Travel back in time and see the giant Bamiyan Buddhas of Afghanistan
  38. See a volcano erupt (from a safe place, of course)
  39. Go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  40. Sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House
  41. Visit some of America’s great cities that I’ve yet to see: Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis, L.A.
  42. Live in Istanbul
  43. See the Great Wall of China
  44. See the Pyramids of Giza
  45. Spend Queen’s Day in Amsterdam (a supposedly great party)
  46. Drive a convertible Ferrari on the Autostrada in Italy while wearing Tod’s driving moccasins and Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses (a girl can dream…)
  47. Learn how to drive a stick shift (my lack of knowledge on this part makes renting a car abroad almost impossible)
  48. Take a guided tour of Rome on the back of a Vespa, preferably with a Gregory Peck look-alike. This tour may take a week or longer as there are *many* sites to see in Rome. LOL
  49. Take a culinary tour of Mexico
  50. See Prague, particularly the Jewish cemetery
  51. Go to an Olympics – at least the opening ceremony

Photo © Wolfgang Staudt

Five Films About Italy

George Clooney in The AmericanI recently got the coolest invitation ever.

The editorial director of, distributor of the new George Clooney film The American, asked me to come up with a list of my five favorite Italy films. The result was Five in Focus: American Expat Bloggers on Italian Movies. I was one of six bloggers that was granted this fun opportunity to both relate my favorite films set in Italy and get a link back to my site

Who would have ever thought that my labor of love, my little website on Italy travel, would get mentioned in the same breath as a George Clooney film? Well, I am thrilled and hope this is just the beginning of more fantastic opportunities and lucky breaks.

6 things you must do in Istanbul

As you may know, Istanbul is the Europe Capital of Culture for 2010. Istanbul has been prepping for this year for quite some time, readying the city for an influx of new tourists to sights like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and the Grand Bazaar.

While I’m not heading back to Istanbul any time soon (unfortunately), I do have this wonderful city on the brain a lot. I like to think about what I would do if I had a chance to go back for a weekend and about all the enjoyable things I did there when I used to visit from Ankara. So I’ve come up with a top six list of things that I think others should do when visiting this Capital of Culture. This is not straight from any guidebook; it’s a highly subjective list of things that transport me back to this magical metropolis on the Bosphorus. But first-time travelers take note: several of my suggestions are in Sultanahmet, the district close to most of the city’s big attractions.


Wake Up to the Ezan (Call to Prayer)
Blue Mosque from Alzer Hotel Penthouse Suite IstanbulWaking up to morning prayer in Istanbul is easily done, as there are mosques all over the city, each with their own muezzin and loud speaker. Some non-Muslim travelers may find the constant call to prayer annoying and even discombobulating when it comes in the middle of a nice snooze. It also may come as a surprise to some travelers to hear the ezan in Turkey, a supposedly secular country. But this is one of those things that makes Turkey Turkey and especially provides the proper mood to a visit to Istanbul.

I highly recommend waking to the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) call to prayer. This is the main mosque in Istanbul and has a muezzin with a mesmerizing voice. This photo, by the way, was taken from the penthouse of the Alzer Hotel, located directly across the Hippodrome from the Blue Mosque. I was fortunate enough to stay in this room only once (unexpected upgrade!) and its view was incredible, as you can see. It also has a great rooftop breakfast, by the way. But dozens of other hotels in the vicinity will put you within earshot of the Blue Mosque.

To learn more about the call to prayer, check out this great guide from Turkey Travel Planner.


Eat at Sultanahmet Köfteçisi
Koefte at Sultanahmet Koeftecisi IstanbulSo you think you don’t like broiled lamb meatballs? I didn’t think I did either until I went to the original Sultanahmet Köfteçisi in Istanbul. Even though it’s only a few paces from tourist central, this 90-year-old establishment still has a local feel. There’s a nice, brisk, lunch counter feel to this branch, too. Maybe that’s because there’s no menu. You can order köfte, which comes with a side of grilled peppers (sometimes very spicy!) and, for an appetizer, there’s the mixed green salad or the traditional white bean salad with onions topped with olive oil and lemon juice. Pretty simple. Pretty delicious. If you do any more traveling around Turkey, you’ll inevitably see the chain restaurant of the same name. But know that this is the original and best. I dream about these little treats, and I don’t even really like meat all that much.


Spend Time Around the Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge Fishing in Istanbul TurkeyBefore going to Turkey, I had no idea how crazy the country was about fish and fishing. The more I thought about it, though, it made sense: Turkey is bordered on three sides by two seas – the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (known in Turkish as Akdeniz, the White Sea). The angling craze especially makes sense in Istanbul, which is practically an seafaring city bobbing around in the Bosphorus Strait. To go almost anywhere in Istanbul, you need to take a ferry or cross a bridge. And a great bridge to spend time on is the Galata Bridge, which connects the Eminönü and Beyo?lu (Galata) districts across a narrow waterway known as the Golden Horn (Haliç). Legend has it that the Golden Horn is where all the Constantinopolites dumped their gold and valuable possessions in the 15th century when it was clear that they were going to be conquered by invading Ottomans (the army of Mehmed II, to be precise). I can’t help but think that all the fishermen that line both sides of the Galata Bridge will one day pull up a dazzling diamond encrusted necklace or glass slipper from the deep waters below. So it’s fun to watch them.

It’s also fun to watch the anglers because they actually do catch fish. Rarely is it anything very big. Usually just istravit (a small mackerel). But there’s always such a happy, familial vibe among the fishermen. Another great thing about the Galata Bridge is you can find street vendors on either end of it (and restaurants underneath it) selling delectable fried fish sandwiches. As with the Sultanahmet köfte, a trip to Istanbul isn’t the same without it. So bring your appetite.


Stroll Up and Down Istiklal Caddesi
Istiklal Caddesi in IstanbulThe labyrinth of the Grand Bazaar is tempting and definitely worth visiting on your first or fifteenth time to Istanbul. But I prefer hanging with the Istanbulites on Istiklal Caddesi. This long, mostly pedestrian street has the cool cafes, quick bite delis, gorgeous boutiques, chain stores, coffee houses, raki houses, and flower stalls and it’s also the area you’ll find most of the European embassies and Istanbul’s hidden churches (check out the utterly lovely Armenian Church (on a narrow side street off of Istiklal – near some yummy fish restaurants) and the San Antonio di Padova Church). There’s always something going on on Istiklal, ranging from a political rally that has spilled over from nearby Taksim Square or just street troubadors playing music. Walk down Istiklal and you’ll feel like you’re part of the very vibrant city that is modern Istanbul. And, yes – there are good eats and great shopping in these parts.


Hang Out by the Bosphorus
Watching boats on the Bosphorus Strait IstanbulI love watching the locals on the Galata Bridge but I really love hanging with the locals in the shadow of the Bosphorus Bridge, that mammoth feat of engineering that connects Europe to Asia. There are several spots to get down close to the Bosphorus for good views of the bridge as well as the giant cargo ships, cruise ships, and tourist ferries that come and go on this waterway. The most obvious of these spots is in a cute neighborhood called Ortaköy, where there are tons of tea houses. And you’ll want to order up a tea (çay), too. Tea has never tasted so good as when it’s delivered piping hot in a tulip-shaped glass.



Get Out of Town – Go to Prince’s Island
Horse Carriage and Street Scene on Princes Island Istanbul TurkeyTake it from me: leaving Istanbul will make you love it more. And what better place to leave Istanbul for than Prince’s Island, also known as Büyükada (Big Island)? If the pace of life of Istanbul is too much for you, then the Prince’s Island – which is car-free – is the antidote. Daytrippers typically pull into port (after an exhausting, and usually hot, 45-minute ferry ride) and head straight for the horse and buggy depot, where you can purchase a quiet, horse-drawn trip around the island. It’s pretty relaxing – for the humans anyway – and you get to admire some of the gorgeous Ottoman-style country houses that the island is known for. Not surprisingly, many of Istanbul’s elite, including Orhan Pamuk, have houses on the island and there are even a few hotels tucked into the hillsides, most of which charge a pretty penny for a night’s stay or an afternoon lunch.

I regret I’ve only spent one day on Prince’s Island. But it certainly left me wanting more, as did Istanbul. What I’d give to be sipping in Istanbul’s sea air right now.

All photos © Melanie Renzulli except for Sultanahmet Köfteçisi which is from afyonblog on Flickr and Istiklal Caddesi which is from Wikipedia.