Category Archives: Australia and Oceana

Istanbul Stopover Tours

Gay Istanbul – It’s not what you think!

Istanbul is a great destination, especially if you are Gay.

Istanbul Stopover ToursI’m afraid I’ve played a little bit of an April Fools on you – I should have spelled it Gaye Istanbul, that’s Gaye as in Gaye Reeves the owner and personality behind the Ayasofya Hotel (which incidentally, is gay friendly, in case you were wondering) in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet  District and Istanbul Stopover Tours.

While I’ve been told that there is an active and fun gay community here, this post is really about my friend, Gaye Reeves and how she can make your stay in Istanbul much better than if you don’t get in contact with her.  Gaye is an Australian expat who came here for the first time seventeen years ago  and fell in love with Turkish culture and this magnificent country. So much so that in 2009, she decided to buy a run down Ottoman house converted into a hotel and turn it into one of the top boutique hotels in Istanbul.

Easier said than done but three years later, The Ayasofya Hotel is charming guests and earning a great reputation amongst travelers. This is a far cry from when she picked it up. While the building has been upgraded and the facilities are certainly better than when she got it, I tend to think that the success of her hotel is due to her own personality.

Which one of these ladies is Gaye?

Gaye is a passionate traveler who has globe trotted with the best of them and stayed in more than her fair share of bungalows, hotels, guest houses and hostels.  In addition to using her own travel finesse to turn her hotel into a comfortable haven for those seeking to explore Istanbul,  she has the warmth and hospitality that the Aussies are renowned for.

All of that is the reason, I always recommend the Ayasofya Hotel to friends, family and generally any nice people who come to Istanbul (including you).  At this point, I’ve stayed at the Ayasofya enough that it feels like a second home to me and I get a welcome from the staff that is more like that of a returning family member. In fact, we asked Gaye to be our daughter’s Godmother – and well, it might not be a complete coincidence that our daughter is named Aya Sophia. She is made in Turkey, after all.

In any event, when you come to Turkey and you are wondering what to do and it seems like every tout is out to get you and you don’t know who to trust – my suggestion is that you trust Gaye. She’s created a small travel agency that does private tours through all of her favorite areas of Turkey.  Whether you want to do a classical tour or take a trip to small village and explore village life there. Gaye can get you set up.

And while I realize that I’m posting this on April Fools day – the truth is that today is the 3 year anniversary of Gaye taking over the Ayasofya Hotel. She’ll be the first to tell you that she bought the hotel on April Fools day because it was the most foolish mistake she has ever made but don’t believe a word of it – have a conversation with her and you’ll see – she love’s every second of it and wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Wellington, New Zealand – A Fantastic Foodie Walkabout

Story and Photos by Katherine Rodeghier

Neil Miller gave up his day job to drink beer.

Food tour guide Stephanie Cutfield expounds on kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
Food tour guide Stephanie Cutfield expounds on kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

A political speech writer in New Zealand’s capital city, Miller had a fondness for the suds and started moonlighting as a beer writer for a local beer magazine. Then he began blogging about beer. Then leading beer-tasting tours. Soon beer became his occupation as well as his avocation and the allure of politics fell by the wayside.

“Wellington has a reputation as the best beer city in New Zealand” Miller told me when I joined one of his Wild About Wellington walking tours. “We don’t make a lot of beer, but we drink a lot of beer.”

Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
Generous sample sizes of beer are set up for tasters at The Malthouse. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Young and hip, Wellington is no stodgy capital city. Nearly 60 percent of its residents are under age 50, compared to 45.1 percent in New Zealand as a whole. Last year Lonely Planet placed it at No. 4 in its list of Best in Travel cities. Compact in size, it’s a miniature Hong Kong, with hills ringing its horseshoe-shaped harbor. While Auckland is spread out, you can get almost anywhere in the Central City on foot, which is why walking tours, particularly those devoted to food and drink, are so popular.

The first stop on my walk with Miller takes me to The Malthouse at 48 Courtenay Place in the heart of Wellington’s nightlife district. On Thursday through Saturday nights this street is jammed with young revelers, some of whom have imbibed a bit too much. But as this was a weekday afternoon, I feel reasonably safe from getting vomit on my shoes, so I settle into the warm and cozy bar to hear Miller give his spiel.

Kiwis consume 77 liters of beer per person per year, making New Zealand the 14th biggest beer-drinking country in the world (the Aussies out-drink them, however). Miller says Wellington may be the not-so-flashy little brother to Auckland, which produces more beer, but here it’s all about high-quality beers. We sample four: Three Boys India Pale Ale; Tuatara Pilsner; Epic Pale Ale, a very hoppy brew using hops from the U.S.; and Tuatara London Porter, an old-fashioned English-style beer that English home brewers and American microbreweries have been bringing back. Between tastings, servers bring out platters of pizza.

We barely make a dent into what The Malthouse has to offer. Rated Best Bar in New Zealand by Beer & Brewer Magazine, it serves the broadest range of beers in the country. It even has a “hopenator,” a device that looks like a fancy espresso machine that infuses flavors to beer, such as coffee bean, chocolate, even fruit. The Malthouse’s 168 beers, including 30 on tap, range in alcohol content from 3.7 percent to a whopping 18.2 percent for the $30-a-bottle Tokyo from the BrewDog Brewery in Scotland, so potent it has been denounced by Scottish Parliament.


A Monteith Black is paired with blue cheese, red wine-poached pears and caramelized onion at St. Johns Bar. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
A Monteith Black is paired with blue cheese, red wine-poached pears and caramelized onion at St. Johns Bar. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

We pass on the Tokyo because it’s time for some serious food. We stroll down to the waterfront to St. Johns Bar at 5 Cable Street. Miller describes it as having a “colonial Humphrey Bogart look, like the Raffles Bar in Singapore.” Originally an ambulance building, it still has a 1930s Art Deco style to it.

We sample three beers here, all made by brewer Monteith. Chef Kit Foe pairs each to a dish he’s created. With the Radler, a flavored lager, he serves us pork belly with honey glaze and apple and ginger chutney. The Celtic Ale accompanies venison on a mushroom tart. The earthy red ale brings out the caramelization of the meat. For dessert, the Black, a Schwarz Bier, goes with a triple cream blue cheese served with red wine poached pears and caramelized onion. Sweet.

Wellington has more restaurants, cafes and bars per capita than New York City. On Zest Tours’ Gourmet Walking Tour I find out how seriously Wellingtonians take their food.

We start out walking down Cuba Street, a once debauched, now bohemian section of the city with ethnic restaurants, cutting-edge shops and cafes catering to the literati. Victoria University is just up the hill.

Our first stop is Havana Coffee at 37 Wigan St. We head to the back where master roaster Joseph Stoddart is pouring Cuban coffee beans into the roaster set at 203 degrees Centigrade. The only New Zealand coffee roaster to carry real Cuban beans, Havana Coffee is one of the three original roasters that opened in Wellington in the 1990s. Now there are more than a dozen catering to the city’s coffee craze. I look around and see burlap bags of beans piled along a wall labeled with their country of origin: Peru, Colombia, Bolivian, Zambia, Ethiopia, India, Vanuatu. I move into the café and order a flat white, the Kiwi lingo for an espresso served with two-thirds steamed milk. It comes with froth in the shape of a silver fern, the national symbol of New Zealand, and is almost too pretty to drink.


Master Roaster Joe Stoddart tends the roaster at Havana Coffee. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier
Master Roaster Joe Stoddart tends the roaster at Havana Coffee. Photo by Katherine Rodeghier

Next stop is Moore Wilson Fresh at Lorne and College streets. Why is our guide taking us to a grocery store, I wonder? But this is no ordinary market; it’s where local foodies and chefs shop. A family business specializing in gourmet fresh foods from small, local providers, it’s all word-of-mouth rather than advertising. When it opened in 1998, it drew lines zigzagging through the parking lot. I walk over to the produce bins and pick up a gold kumara, the prized New Zealand sweet potato, and peruse a refrigerator case of game meats, including bacon made from wild boar. In a tasting kitchen, our guide has arranged for us to sample single variety apple juices, aged New Zealand cheddar and a selection of Ruth Pretty jellies. I especially like the feijoa chutney—can’t get this at home.

We continue walking, stopping at 19 Allen St. and the Kura Gallery, selling in ethnic art and a range of contemporary and indigenous New Zealand gift items. But we’re not here to shop, but to taste New Zealand honey from a display set out just for us. The Kamahi has a lily-of-the-valley scent, the Rata a medium flavor from the flower that grows on New Zealand’s South Island. My favorite it the Manuka because it not only tastes wonderful, but is said to have medicinal properties. I make a note to pick some up at the airport on my way home.

The hour is getting late and I’m ready to bail on the walking tour to allow time for an afternoon nap. Then I learn we’re walking across town to Bohemein Chocolates, 109 Featherston St., and can’t pass up a chance to sample my favorite treat. Owner George Havlik, a pastry chef who chose to specialize in chocolate, is waiting for us. He uses the best Belgium chocolate and mixes it with all sorts of unexpected ingredients, which, oddly enough, work. I taste the pineapple black pepper ganache, the wasabi cream and the balsamic vinegar and honey ganache and I’m sold. There will be no waiting to buy at the airport this time. I make my selection, stuff my chocolates into my jacket pocket and head back to my hotel. No time for a nap? Who cares. Between sleep and chocolate, chocolate always wins.

Wellington Resources

Wellington Hotels

Flights to New Zealand

Wild About Wellington

Zest Food Tours

Getting your head on in Australia - Rolf Potts

Vagabonding Vagabond Blogger – Our Interview with Rolf Potts

Getting your head on in Australia - Rolf PottsIf you’ve done or thought about doing any long term travel in the age of the internet, chances are you’ve heard of Rolf Potts. Rolf was blogging about travel for Salon at the dawn of the 2000’s, but he is best known for the publication of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to Long Term Travel in December of 2002. The book struck a chord with the internet generation and became a runaway hit amongst those who had missed the days of the hippie trail. The book is about taking serious time off from your normal life to discover and experience the world on your own terms. With sections on  financing your travel time,  determining your destination,  adjusting to life on the road and handling travel adversity, the book addresses travel as inner development tool rather than travel as something that you simply do.  In the spirit of Ed Buryn‘s Vagabonding in Europe and North Africa, Potts book captured the imagination of a generation that was finding its way on the internet and wandering what the meaning of life truly was.  Coming right after the dot com bust and on the eve of the financial crisis in the US and Europe, the book fit the bill for filling the gap between living to work and working to live and offered the opportunity to turn your life into your work through travel.

Since then Potts has piloted a fishing boat 900 miles down the Laotian Mekong, hitchhiked across Eastern Europe, traversed Israel on foot, bicycled across Burma, drove a Land Rover across South America, and travelled around the world for six weeks with no luggage or bags of any kind. He has also published a second book Marco Polo Didn’t Go There: Stories and Revelations from One Decade as a Postmodern Travel Writer and continues to travel around the world between rest stops at his farmhouse in Kansas. Rumor has it that Rolf has something new in the works for 2012 but he is keeping mum about it for now. I caught up with the vagabonding vagabond blogger via email and he kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions for Vagobond readers about life, travel, authenticity and himself.

Vagobond: What were you doing career wise before you started blogging for Salon (before the publication of Vagabonding)?

Rolf Potts: My last job before I transitioned into a full-time writing was teaching English in Korea. It was a key job for me, since in addition to earning me a decent amount of money for travel, it allowed me to live in and get to know an unfamiliar culture for a couple of years. My two years in Busan wasn’t always easy, but it was an essential experience that made me a better traveler down the line.

Before that teaching gig I hadn’t been following a single career path — I worked as a landscaper in Seattle for awhile, and I worked at an
outdoor store, selling backpacks and fly-rods, in Kansas. This was all building up to what I really wanted to do — writing — and eventually that happened for me.

Vagobond: My first book was all about living in a van and enjoying time instead of money. I understand your first travels were in a van too. What were some lessons you picked up from living in a van?

Rolf Potts:I think traveling and living out of a van during my first vagabonding trip taught me some essential lessons about minimalism and keeping things simple. Since I was sleeping in the van most nights, I didn’t have a lot of room for extra “stuff”, so all I brought were some clothes and camping gear in a couple of laundry baskets. And even the gear I had in those laundry baskets wasn’t always necessary — I quickly learned that the American road provided me with most everything I needed experientially; my gear played a fairly minor role in my most interesting experiences. This was a lesson I applied while packing for my later backpacking trips across Asia, and even my no-baggage journey around the world in 2010.

Vagobond: In Vagabonding, you wrote about the philosophy of long-term travel – has that changed in the decade since then? How has technology changed your philosophy?

Rolf Potts:I don’t think my philosophy of vagabonding has changed — and in fact I wrote it in such a way that technological and other changes wouldn’t ever alter its core message, which is about keeping things simple and seeking one’s wealth in time and life-xperiences. Those are values that would apply in the 19th century as easily at the 21st. So regardless of what new tools and gadgets arrive to make travel easier, the core principles of vagabonding won’t change much.

One interesting thing about new technology — like social media and smart phones — is that it is making independent travel a lot easier.
More people are doing it now, I think, because it feels a lot safer and easier and more accessible than it used to. The flipside of this is that the conveniences of travel are more and more making travel and extension of home. In many ways we don’t have to psychically leave home” when we travel — we can keep in such close contact with our friends, family, and social networks — and this can diminish the experience of travel to an extent. So much of what is transformative about travel comes from confronting — and working through — being lonely and bored and lost. The less we’re forced to encounter those little challenges as travelers, the more travel tends to become a consumer experience.

Vagobond: Do you see any problems with the massive growth of independent and long-term travel? What about the huge growth of tourism?

Rolf Potts:There will invariably be problems with the growth of any industry, and travel is no exception. There will also be benefits. Indie travelers spend a lot of money in the “mom and pop” economies of faraway places — which is a good thing — but the presence of so many travelers can also strain the local culture and environment. Islands are particularly vulnerable to large influxes of tourists, since scarce resources like water get diverted to tourist needs instead of local ones. I don’t think this means travel should be curtailed to these places — its an important cultural and economic force — but it does mean that destinations should take care in planning tourist
facilities, and travelers should be cognizant of the impacts they bring. In a way I think indie travelers are better equipped than standard vacation tourists to wander in a mindful way, since a vagabonding-style traveler emphasizes going slow and keeping  informed.

Vagobond: I realize I’m supposed to ask you about the best destination, your favorite country or something like that – but instead, what’s your favorite tourist area?

Machu Piccu in PeruRolf Potts:Tourist areas tend to disappoint some travelers — at least early on in their vagabonding careers — since the presence of so many tourists at these sites can be depressing and feel less authentic. But over time I’ve come to appreciate the dynamic of these places, each of which are unique to their own culture, even as they host a crush of visitors during high season. New Yorkers may complain about Times Square, but I think it has a great energy, even after having visited it dozens of times. The Champ de Mars area around the Eiffel Tower is always swarming with tourists and trinket vendors, but you’d have to be a pretty cynical soul not to enjoy a bottle of wine and a picnic there on a summer day with friends. Similarly, I found Machu Picchu in Peru to be utterly amazing, despite all the tourists there. So as much as I like getting off the beaten path when I travel, I still like to cultivate appreciation for these tourist areas.

Vagobond: What do you miss when you are on the road?

Rolf Potts:Ever since I got my home in Kansas, one thing I miss most frequently is the view of the prairie from my front deck. I know this might sound like a strange thing to miss, but over the years I’ve found that part of my enjoyment of faraway places extends from my affection for a single place that I know better than any others. When you find a way to attach yourself to a small part of the world, it can energize the way you see and appreciate other parts of the world. I have literally spent years away from my home in Kansas, but having that home gives me perspective and helps me appreciate all the other places I discover and experience in more far-flung parts of the world.

Vagobond: Do you think ‘staged authenticity’ is destroying the authentic travel experience? Is the world being Disneyfied?

Rolf Potts and EthiopiansRolf Potts:Interestingly enough, I think there’s something weirdly authentic and satisfying in “staged authenticity,” when local cultures “perform” a more colorful version of their own identity for visiting tourists. Even though it’s this absurd fake charade, it says a lot about how Westerners long for a kind of authenticity they feel they have lost, while at the same time reminding host cultures about certain aspects of their own traditions. Staged authenticity will always exist, to some extent (I’d wager it existed in some form when the ancient Romans visited Egypt), but it transforms in different ways in different places. Some cultures, like the Embera in Panama, have managed to use staged authenticity in the face of tourists not just to empower themselves economically, but to redefine their own sense of identity and pride. It’s a dynamic process, like all aspects of global culture, and no sooner do you mock a thing like “staged authenticity” than you’ll begin to see it in surprising new ways.

Vagobond: Speaking of authentic, how would you recommend that today’s travelers find a more authentic experience in their travels?

Rolf Potts:The world is chock full of authenticity; it is literally everywhere, if one would just slow down and endeavor to experience it. It’s also a phenomenon that has a lot of nuance, and what at first might seem to be inauthentic — an Ethiopian Mursi tribesman wearing Nikes, for example — might end up being a very authentic part of how that culture is living today. So the best advice I can give to travelers is to simply be where you are. Turn off your smart phone, stop chattering with your companions, leave your digital camera in your pack: Stop, look, wait, breathe in; don’t overanalyze. It’s all authentic in its own way.