In our final weeks living in Istanbul during the COVID-19 pandemic, the country of Turkey re-opened domestic travel routes. We took this opportunity to visit an extraordinarily unique place in the world, only a few hours away, with vastly safer social distancing conditions.

Lifting off from the densely crowded confines of Istanbul, we felt our heart rates slow to a comfortably calmer beat as our Turkish Airlines flight carried us to the ‘land of fairy chimneys’: Cappadocia (Kapadokya).

Dating back at least 4,500 years, civilizations have made their homes here within caverns they hand-carved into monolithic rocks. Today, Cappadocia should…

We encountered an intriguing new specimen at our neighborhood farmers market today. Alongside the darkly glistening mulberries, leggy bananas and pyramids of oranges was a woven basket filled with fuzzy, celadon colored pods.

With delightful ignorance and curiosity, we purchased 5 Turkish Lira’s worth (less than $1 USD).

It took only a gentle bite along a pod’s seam to expose its interior. With a loud “crack!” it revealed a tender, white, almond-shaped seed. The fuzzy edible exterior had the crisp texture of an unripe peach and a mouth-puckering tart taste. The soft interior seed held a delicate grassy flavor.


Istanbul’s dense skyline as viewed from the Bosphorus

After living as American expats for three life-transforming years in the wonderful country of Vietnam, we knew it would be unlikely for us to ever again be as awed or stretched anywhere else in the world. The impetus for Mark and I to relocate to Istanbul, Turkey in the summer of 2019 was for Mark to attend a program here that would provide him a masters-level certification in teaching English as a second language and for us both to experience a different culture and new travel opportunities. …

  • In Vietnam, the most common atmospheric sounds were the honking of motorbikes. Here in Turkey, it’s the beautiful, 5x daily Muslim Call to Prayer and the sounds of cawing seagulls flying overhead.
  • Speaking of those honking motorbikes in Vietnam, nearly everyone there gets around by way of a motorbike, which is in stark contrast to America where automobiles are king. Here in Istanbul, Turkey, traffic congestion indicates a strong reliance on cars and motorbikes for some, but for the masses, public transportation and walking is their (and our) only means of getting around. Thankfully, Istanbul has a fantastic public transportation…
Turkish Kahvalti

We recognize it’s unlikely that you’ll travel from the US to Vietnam to Turkey any time soon. However, even if you’re never able to visit the destinations we describe here on Wandering Griffins, we love that you want to learn about them from afar! Many of you have told us that you’re curious about the contrasts we’ve witnessed since moving from Philadelphia, USA to Da Nang, Vietnam and now to Istanbul, Turkey. This list is for you!

  • In Turkey, we learned the lovely expression “It’s not about what you eat, but who you eat with.” And Turkish breakfasts, known as…
Vietnamese Mooncake, Bánh Trung Thu

Tết Trung Thu…Mid-Autumn Festival…Moon Festival…Children’s Festival…they’re all names for an annual Vietnamese celebration that occurs on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (which as of this posting, will happen next on 24 September, 2018).

In today’s modern society, it’s a time for the promotion of education and arts & culture. Traditional hallmarks of this ancient celebration include music and dragon dance performances by local children, the display of lanterns in the shapes of fish, stars, and butterflies, and, the gifting of bánh trung thu, also known as mooncakes.

We know it’s nearing Festival time when pop up mooncake…

Kem Bơ (Avocado Ice Cream)

When summertime is in full swing here in Da Nang, it’s evidenced by the surge of visitors to our local Chợ Bắc Mỹ An’s kem bơ stand. Kem is obviously an important word to learn for your Vietnam travels, because it means ice cream. But what about kem bơ? Google translating to English, you’ll be given the word “buttercream,” a decadent type of cake frosting. But kem bơ is even more delicious (and healthier!), because this local flavor is made from fresh avocados.

Yes, that’s right. Avocados.

Here’s how this unique dessert comes together: Large blocks of ice are manually…

We recently tried a local speciality at the Chợ Bắc Mỹ An that are as beautiful to look at on the outside as they are tasty on the inside. Ốc lễ are teeny tiny sea snails which are harvested by hand from the ocean and prepared for eating by steaming with sliced lemongrass, red chilis, and other aromatic seasonings. Presented for sale in large bowls and sold by the cupful for just 15,000 VND (about 66 cents in USD), our to-go purchase of Ốc lễ was poured into a clear plastic baggie then topped with several long thorns (compostable utensils!).

View from Rice Field Homestay in Hoi An, Vietnam

We were over-the-moon delighted by every aspect of our time with Mike and Hanh at their Rice Field Homestay and couldn’t have had a better experience if we had stayed anywhere else in Hoi An. Their brand new, custom designed home is modern, bright, spacious, clean, and extremely comfortable. Our room had every amenity we could have hoped for, and was above-and-beyond what we’d received anywhere else in Vietnam during our 3-weeks of travel for the same price range. Ample storage space for clothing, workspace, comfy bed with a think “Western style” mattress, flat screen television, modern bathroom with great…

Bai Xep, Vietnam

After the muddy blur of our initial days convalescing from jet lag in Hanoi, we were ever-so-excited to put our renewed states of consciousness to the next task ahead: luxuriating on a tropical beach.

When we planned the itinerary for our first month of Vietnam exploration, we sought a mix of practical and indulgent destinations. The practical included Hanoi, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), and Danang — cities where we might drop anchor once we’re ready to seek employment. The rest were for sheer enjoyment, such as the Mekong Delta, Hoi An, and of course…Bai Xep!

Even if you’re familiar…

Robin & Mark | Wandering Griffins

Former museum colleagues, now husband and wife, learning about world cultures through travel, ESL teaching and volunteering. Here to share tips and discoveries.

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