Cappadocia, Turkey // balloon-filled sunrise skies

this morning when I sat down to blog, I opened up Lightroom and asked myself: where do you want to go today? it's been a rough week. and so the answer was somewhere magical and far away.

cue: sunrise in Cappadocia. specifically, a sunrise spent watching hot air balloons sail through the sky.

a word about photo integrity: if you've been on Pinterest for 5 minutes, you've probably seen photos of hot air balloons over Cappadocia. a lot of them involve blondes with perfect hair sitting on Turkish rugs sipping coffee, while the sky is brimming with colorful orbs. and a lot of them are photoshopped.

while I sometimes use photo editing programs to bring out colors, crop people out of the frame, fix weird shadows or remove blemishes... I always try to give an accurate representation of the place I am photographing. just like I try to give an honest telling of my experiences. [because misleading blog posts are a huge pet peeve of mine.] SO I promise you that all the photos you see here will not have any additional balloons, only what was actually in the skies. end of rant. back to the balloons.

riding in a hot air balloon in Turkey was one of the most magical experiences, ever. so much that my friend and I decided once was not enough. but rather than pay the fee to fly again, we woke up before sunrise to view the balloons from a bluff we spotted during our ride.

the night before, we hiked out to assess the situation. we got there early enough to watch the balloons fire up and take off, and stayed until they landed again. in between we took a lot of photos [ok, no rug but at least I brushed my hair] and even did some yoga on a giant rock.

after the first 15 or 20 minutes, we realized that the wind was not blowing in our direction. the day we flew, our balloon had passed directly over the bluff we were standing on. but on this day they almost went straight up and down... which is why all my photos are pretty much the same angle. at one point I just put my camera down because I was taking the same shot over and over. [though apparently it was so early I forgot I had my zoom lens and only took that one close shot? oops.]

even though the balloons didn't make it very close to us, we still had a beautiful sunrise. I think if I lived in Göreme I could become a morning person - if it meant starting every day with a thermos of coffee and a sunrise hike.

is this view worth waking up at 4am for? it was for me.

eventually, what goes up must come down. the magic ends and it's time for another cup [or three] of coffee before heading out to explore some cave villages and crazy rock formations. as one does in Cappadocia.

[ps: don't worry, I'll share photos from the actual balloon ride. it was just easier to sort through these first than the 500+ I took from the air.]


7 tips for traveling with food allergies

coping with food allergies at home can be difficult - and even more of a challenge while traveling. these 7 tips will help you manage your dietary restrictions while on the road and keep you from going hungry!

I've dealt with varying levels of intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies for the last 15 years. that on it's own can be difficult. but for the past 5-ish years, I've been living in and traveling to various countries where I don't always speak the language - which is even more of a challenge.

back in my early expat days, I wrote about how I coped with allergies abroad. my symptoms have gotten worse since then [even since last year when I had my first allergy tests done] but thankfully I've developed better strategies on how to make traveling with allergies easier.

to be clear: none of my allergies are life threatening. I am able to tolerate low amounts of many things I am allergic to, and therefore can take more risks than some when dining out. but I wanted to provide advice for those with sensitivities and dietary restrictions that went beyond "print out your allergies in the local language" or "just don't eat anything." [seriously, I once found an article where someone suggested travel as a great time to fast to keep you from eating allergens. eye roll.]

do your research

wandering without a plan and just stopping to eat wherever looks good when you get hungry sounds like a fun and carefree way to travel. but if you have allergies, you know it doesn't really work that way. instead: plan ahead. I always try to look up restaurants and recipes for local dishes before I get on the plane. that way I know of a place or two I can go to eat when we arrive, what's on their menu, and which items are likely to be safe to order. it means planning ahead instead of being spontaneous [and on occasion, it means I will drag Husband across the city for a special trip to find Jamie-friendly pizza] but knowing where I can safely eat is worth it.

depending on the local cuisine and regulations, and of course your specific allergies, some destinations will be easier to navigate than others. New Zealand and Vietnam were fantastic for eating gluten free - one because of gluten free bread alternatives and the other because the food is mostly rice based. I literally cried with joy when I discovered that in Prague [and Vienna as well] the EU requires restaurants to provide you with allergen information on thier menus. not everywhere is so easy, but planning ahead can save you headaches [and stomach aches!]

be able to communicate

while you can certainly translate your allergens ahead of time to print out and bring with you for handy reference, I would also recommend springing for a simcard on your phone. as much research and planning you might do beforehand, you can't anticipate everything. being able to look up restaurants, menus, and ingredient translations on the go can be a lifesaver. the Google Translate app now allows you to take a photo and translate a menu or label [even Chinese characters] and you can type in your questions for the waitstaff. this has helped me out in so many situations!

another potentially life-saving reason for purchasing phone service while traveling: in case of emergencies. hopefully you will never need it, but knowing you have a way to contact emergency services in case you have a serious reaction can give you [or your loved ones back home] peace of mind.

take a cooking class

knowing how a dish is made, the ingredients that are commonly used, and best of all - being able to ask a chef questions - can be an invaluable experience. I've done this in Vietnam, in Bali, and almost in Turkey. [we didn't, since after explaining my allergies to the chef, I was told that I wouldn't be able to eat anything we made in the class.] most chefs are accommodating for allergies, and want to help you learn about and enjoy the local cuisine - safely. try to schedule a class at the beginning of your trip, and you'll be able to use your new knowledge throughout your stay.

go grocery shopping

booking lodgings with a kitchen isn't always practical [or affordable] but being able to cook your own food is the easiest way of controlling what you eat. even if you aren't equipped with so much as a microwave, you can still make use of the local grocery. picking up a loaf of bread and peanut butter, replenishing your snack supply, grabbing a salad or other prepared foods can take the guesswork out of restaurants. bonus: this usually saves you money too.

be prepared to face difficulties

not to be a downer, but dealing with allergies while traveling will probably not be easy as [gluten-free] pie. you will have to play 20 questions with the wait staff, the chef, and anyone who will listen. you will have to attempt to translate through language barriers and cross cultural divides that may not beleive in allergies, and deal with people who feel they are being inconvenienced by your health issues. you might have to send your dish back if it comes out wrong. and you still may end up with something in your food that you can't eat anyway.

it can be incredibly frustrating. I've had restaurants do everything from flat-out ignoring my request for no shrimp because I'm allergic [even when explained in Chinese by a local friend] to telling me "I don't think you should eat here" after I explain all of my restrictions.

and sometimes, your conflict will be with your fellow travelers. I have been talked into eating things I knew I shouldn't on many occasions - usually because I didn't want to eat granola bars for dinner when everyone else ordered pizza. know what your body's limits are and be honest about when and where or what you need to feed yourself.

pack snacks

I cannot stress enough just how essential snacks are to travel survival. I am always hungry, so even before my allergies got bad I would always carry snacks. now I bring even more. did it suck that half the weight in my pack for our month-long trip last summer was vegan protien bars and gluten-free oatmeal packets? yes. but knowing I had breakfast covered and a stash of emergency "there's nothing I can eat here" snacks was worth it. once I knew enough about local foods [or used that handy Google translate on ingredient lists] I could replenish my stash with items safe for snacking.

always bring your medication

as I mentioned before, thankfully, none of my allergies are life threatening. but I always travel with benadryl just in case. if you have an epipen, bring it. if you use pepto, immodium, lactaid, etc then pack more than you anticipate needing. don't assume you will be able to buy your usual medications [or an acceptable substitute] while traveling. better to be unnecessarily over-prepared than to find yourself trying to communicate your digestive issues in a foreign pharmacy. trust me, I've been there.

all this is not to say I've never let my dietary restrictions get in the way of my travels [or, to be honest, my life.] the truth is: ensuring my food is 100% safe is sometimes impossible, and I've had some pretty miserable days on the road when things went wrong.

however. traveling with allergies is difficult, but not impossible. despite the challenges I am willing, and thankfully able, to still travel. [even on days I have to get by on packed snacks, coffee and wine.]


Exploring Yangmingshan: QingTianGang Grasslands

The Qingtiangang Grasslands in Yangmingshan National Park is a a great area for taking a hike, enjoying a picnic, and catching views of the surrounding mountain peaks.

Yangmingshan National Park is Taipei's mountainous backyard. in fact, I can see several of the park's peaks from my bedroom window. [on a clear day. if I lean out far enough.] there are tons of trails to explore, and this is one place in Taipei I really wish I took more advantage of.

Qingtiangang Grasslands [ 擎天崗 ] is one of the more popular spots in Yangmingshan. the trail that runs around the area is maybe the easiest hike in the park, and provides you with some pretty amazing views of the surrounding peaks. some people come to see the water buffalo that graze here [Qingtiangang is also called "buffalo meadow" sometimes] and if you look closely below you can spot them napping in the sun. this area is also really popular for photo shoots. I saw at least 6 brides, one full-on "picnic" styled magazine shoot with a bicycle and balloons, a dozen kids with caps and gowns, and of course others like me just shooting the scenery.

a few weeks ago, some friends drove Luke and I up to Qingtiangang to romp around in the grass with their dogs. there is a small mountain road that runs up towards Yangmingshan from near our apartment in Tianmu, and it took us about 25 minutes to reach the grasslands parking lot. 

however. when I decided to venture back on my own, I had to take public transit. given that I live in an awkward spot for routes, and I had to take not one nor two but three buses... my journey there took me just over two hours. considering I could make it all the way to Juifen in the same amount of time [or less] I think explains why I don't spend more time in Yangmingshan. it's frustrating to have it so close and yet so complicated to get to.

that being said - getting out of the city and enjoying the mountains is never a bad idea. [even that time we tried to hike with my parents and the mountain was inside of a cloud.] by the time I made it up to Qingtiangang I was ready to eat my picnic and explore the trails. and maybe contemplate buying a car.

most visitors stick to the flat grassy areas, but a few will venture around the circular trail. the views are worth it if you have the time. the trail is "paved" with stones and involves some moderate elevation change. I would rate it a difficulty of 2 out of 10. a full circuit on the trail took me about an hour, including time for photos and frequent water breaks.

not far from the main meadow area is the Jinbaoli Gate. there is another, more challenging trail here that goes all the way to the town of Jinshan. the trail was blazed by fisherman, and used to haul their catches up and over the mountains to sell in Taipei. near the gate is another trail which goes... I'm not quite sure, actually. Yangmingshan is covered in trails. while the main routes are well marked and well maintained, there are a lot of branches and less developed paths that you could spend days and weeks exploring.

when I reached the highest point in the trail, I took a few minutes to stare at the multi-pointed peak of Mt Qixing [the highest in Yangmingshan, which I climbed back in 2015.] from this point there is another trail branch that leads to the peak of Mt. Zhugao - an old volcano with views towards Taipei. unfortunately I knew I didn't have time to take a detour if I was going to make it all the way home for dinner. next time, I will head up the mountain earlier and bring some snacks to extend my stay.

even spending 4 hours transit time for 1.5 hours in the park, I love visiting Yangmingshan. [but. I'm serious about considering a vehicle.]

how to get there

take a bus [R5 from Jiantan or 260 from Taipei Main Station] to the main Yangmingshan terminal and hop on the 108 minibus to the Qingtiangang stop. or you can squeeze on the S15 [ 小15 ] which runs from Jiantan all the way to Qingtiangang. there are restrooms, a visitor center and small shop near the parking lot. if you drive your own car or scooter, know that the parking lot is small and you may have to wait to get in if you come in the afternoon.

other yangmingshan adventures

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