Best International Experiences Part 4 - Netherlands and Turkey

Off to the Netherlands for a short stop and then to the culturally rich country of Turkey for this entry.

Amsterdam - Anne Frank House: Amsterdam is known for debauchery but it is also known for museums and other buildings of historical importance. Anne Frank's House is one of them. I bought tickets in advance so I didn't have to wait in line. This process is simple and worth it to get the little introduction before going into the house itself. In case you didn't already know Anne Frank is a young Jewish girl who wrote a diary of her experiences during Nazi Occupation. The house tells more on this while also providing highlights of her entire families experiences. Nothing sells you on experiences you've heard about then when you're actually in her house, along with the hidden attic where her family hid. Lastly, the true movement of emotion is when you see her real diary detailing all of her struggles and curiosities. The experience is a complete removal from the hedonism of Amsterdam it's hard to believe they exist in the same space.

Amsterdam - Red Light District, Museums, and Canals: Fact; Amsterdam is a liberated city. The Netherlands is pretty progressive overall; however, Amsterdam is basically one of the few places on the planet where you go to the red light district for a sex show, sit down at a cafe for space cake, watch a rowdy football game and drink in public...then do it all over again in a matter of hours. Furthermore, you won't even feel judged by anyone as it is seen as nonchalant everyday affairs that are all government regulated and taxed (the safety, psychological and physical care, along with education available to prostitution will throw you off at first - as will the legalities of organic drug use).  I didn't partake in any of that, which may surprise some of you, but when you have a short time you would rather see the beautiful canals that are a defining feature of the city. You will also want to rent a bike to traverse the bike lane abundant canals and roads to various museums or quirky spots like the little hovel in the middle of the city, Beginhof.

Istanbul - Sultanahmet: There are three symbolic buildings that show Turkey's most prominent eras in this section. Two of them are some of the best historic sites in the world, while the other shows just how many different cultures passed through Istanbul. Istanbul is a crossroads of culture being a bridge between Europe and Asia.  This is displayed first by Aya Sofia - harkening back to the days of when it was Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire began its foundations and buildings of this grand structure. While it is not necessarily a mosque, there are several aspects of a mosque found in it, along with an abundance of other pieces and cultures. Secondly, the Blue Mosque is one of the largest and prettiest mosque on the planet. It is one of the few mosques that everyone can enter. I personally think it's the best building in Turkey. Lastly, the Roman Cistern shows the remains of the Roman Empire in where it marched through Istanbul to Asia. As such, Sultanhmet is a treasure trove of information as you can stand in the center and look at Roman, Greek, Phoenician, Byzantine and Turkish heritages.

Istanbul -The Cultural Crossroads: The best part of Istanbul is the myriad of cultures in it. It is a city in a Muslim country, but outside of pork and mosques you might not even know it. The insane diversity of the cuisine (which might need its own experience), the freedom of alcohol, tattoos, and bare shouldered women it allows is quite progressive as they continue to want to be part of the EU. That being stated, the hustle of Istanbul rivals NYC and with its crammed streets, hookahs, backgammon and lofty bars on Istiklal street in Beyoglu. Plus, there's a Grand Bazaar where you can haggle all day for prices (I would perfect this skill in Morocco). This city becomes even more fun with friends and tour guides, but the wild push and pull along with the tranquil moments in mosques - like the Sulimaniye mosque create a living city of cultural diffusion.

Cappadocia - Balloon Rides and Exploring Fairy Caves: Cappadocia is in central Turkey and basically the other side of Turkey compared to Istanbul. There is a lot of open land, cool fairy caves (man-made) that look like phallic symbols, Mars landscapes and varied color tone Dr. Suess chimneys. Either way it is a site that sticks with you and the place is tranquil to get your hamaam and light walk on. Of course, you could also take a hot air balloon ride (scarier than you would think, i.e. I'm not doing this again with anyone) that does give you some wonderful views. Beyond that, you can take quads, motorbikes (if you're keeping count this is the 3rd time I've missed out on this) and other excursions around the area. It's beautiful to see the Byzantine work and a refreshing change from Istanbul.

Turkey - Cuisine: I honestly had to give this it's own section because of how wonderful the cuisine in this country is. While the breakfast isn't much (tomato, bread and an egg), the lunch, dinner, drink, and dessert can be different every day and you'll still have something new to try.  For dessert, turkish delight was extremely varied in style here (duh it's Turkey), the mulhebellah pudding was the best dessert anywhere, and nobody does baklava better. As for drink Yeni Rakii was the crazy anise drink that turns from clear to milky white when water is poured in it. Along with that they've got some decent pilsners like Efes.  As for the main course Kofte, lamb cooked in urns, dolmas, gozleme and doner kebabs. You'll never run out of glorious food. It remains to be possibly my favorite cuisine and it's one of many reasons why Turkey is near the top of my favorite countries of all time.