A Travellerspoint blog

Seasons in the sun

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

During our spring break, with three friends, I visited Dominican Republic. Although a more trendy location to travel would have been Punta Cana, we chose to go to Puerto Plata for a relaxing holiday and booked the reservations at the local branch of Barcelo hotel chain. We had friends who had been to DR before and they gave us the number of a local driver, Pablo, whom picked us from the Santiago airport in Santiago De Los Caballeros and facilitated all the rest of the transportation from then on.

The elections were close and all the streets had posters of various candidates running for presidency. We drove through a mountainous road, eventually reaching to Puerto Plata.

Barcelo hotel was located by the Playa Dorada or the Golden Beach. The beach is not special. But because there are no limitations as to where it ends, one day we walked along the beach for more than 1.5 hours, which was so relaxing. Barcelo hotel is adjacent to Casa Colonial Beach and Spa. In case you are visiting Casa Colonial, although Casa Colonial is significantly more expensive than Barcelo, do not expect to find a private beach. On the other hand, we wanted to see Casa Colonial and it is a small luxury hotel with a fancy lobby. Barcelo is more of a chain family resort with 3-4 restaurant options and animateurs at night.

Another beach we visited was Sosua Beach. The beach itself is way better than Playa Dorada, both with regards to sea & sand, and to the general atmosphere. There are little shops around if you are looking to find souvenirs. We rented umbrellas and sunbeds, and ordered coctails served in pineapples and coconuts. Incredibly touristy and extremely delightful. (Jonathan Safran Foer anyone?)
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I think the highlight of the trip was Damajaqua Cascades (27 Waterfalls). They are a distinctive natural beauty of Dominican Republic. There are three options: You can do 7 or 12 or all 27 waterfalls. Here is the link to their website: http://www.27charcos.com/index.php

I am not the most athletic person, but I don't turn down a challenge. They basically provide you with a helmet and a life jacket at the entrance. Then, you get a guide who will be in charge of your safety and will help you climb the waterfalls and convince you to jump whenever it is necessary. As a side note, I would like give credit to our guide, Bernie, for being the hottest Dominican guy that I have seen throughout the trip. We chose to do 12 waterfalls since 7 sounded too safe and 27 too many. I had a waterproof camera with me the whole time and that just was not a smart idea with all the climbing and sliding, but at least I have proof that I endured.

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Some of the waterfalls were significantly tougher to climb. At one point there was one guide pushing my right feet from below, rope in my right hand for support to climb, my left feet was trying to find the rock, and another guide ready to catch my left hand the moment I get to push myself upwards, while fighting against the water running against me. I just made it sound so complicated, but that was just one waterfall out of the twelve that really frustrated me. However, there are many groups with many guides, so they help you all the way. No need to stress about anything unless you are morbidly obese or 70 years old. Safety-wise, our guide told us there have been only one incident in his 5+ years of experience.

After the climbing, going back and sliding and jumping is sooooo much fun. You just let go and slide from these beautiful natural holes. We also awarded ourselves with local Presidente beers at the end, not missing out any opportunities to sip on a drink.

Besides these places, we spent an afternoon visiting the Catholic Church in the town center and the fort. It was nice to walk around inside the town for a while. I am glad to have seen these places while I was there. It does not take up much time at all. Afterwards, due the ratings given online, we devoured some steaks at La Parillada Steak House. (http://www.laparrilladasteakhouse.com/)
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Some of the other things we could have done at Puerto Plata were to visit a Brugal factory, to take the teleferique and to visit a cigar factory. I believe that we consumed enough Brugal, Dominican rum, to make up for the factory visit. Because our plane also departed from Santiago, we chose to go to La Aurora cigar factory, the oldest cigar factory in DR, located in Santiago. We ended up just visiting the rolling room and buying cigars. DR is famous for its cigars such as Fuente and some of Davidoff cigars.

Now, few side notes on the downsides of the visit. Firstly, we visited DR following the earthquake in Haiti. We were informed that there was a cholera outbreak in Haiti. Dominican Republic is not a rich country, but tourism is helpful. We had several inside discussions whether the ladies that just did not fit into the atmosphere of Sosua were prostitutes or not. When we consulted to Pablo following a heated conversation, he filled us in about the rich details of prostitution in DR while confirming our suspicions. Pablo took us to a poorer district of Puerto Plata upon our request. Apparently in that part of the town, one can find a prostitute for as low as $1-2, while for the most part one can find a hooker for a price range up to $300-400. We did not leave the car, but for example, Pablo did not want us to take pictures with windows down so that nobody can just grab the camera and run. While on our way to Ocean View water park (which I did not mention because it was closed and frankly looked deserted), Pablo also pointed out cheap motel-like places on the both sides of the road, which are commonly known to be used for prostitution.

Perhaps this is not what American students ask for in their spring break. I still know that I had an amazing time, because I was in DR with great friends. It was a break and exactly what I needed at the time.

Posted by nzyucel 31.01.2012 07:04 Archived in Dominican Republic Comments (0)

Are we going to listen Yalelli's?

Lebanon

I remember that I was nodding as my grandmother asked the question above although I did not know what Yalelli meant. Apparently, in Turkish, the elderly refer to Arab music as ¨Yalelli¨which actually is a modified version of ¨Ya Leyl¨(meaning Oh, the night! in Arabic) because the lyrics of Arabic songs too often include these words. That's how my 4-day family vacation started to Lebanon in August 2011.

Unfortunately, this blog will not include much information regarding the nightlife in Beirut due to the age-restraint of the fellow passengers I was with. Same thing with Lebanese beaches. But, I believe we visited most of the tourist attractions. Before going through the list of attractions, I want to go over a few impressions.

Firstly, there are a lot of contradictions. Depending on the street, there might be luxurious magazines or building with bullet holes. Despite the limited time spent there, I felt it was the same with the people. Considering that I grew up in Turkey, we have the stereotype of Arabs being very conservative. (As I said, it is an uninformed stereotype) Yet, in Beirut, considerable number of women were dressed quite liberally (just as if you were walking down on Newbury street in Boston on a hot day, minus the flip flops, but with high heels). There were also a number of posters of the Hizbollah leaders on the streets, and the number of these posters and flags significantly increased as we got closer to the Bekaa valley to visit Baalbek.

Another issue is with taxi drivers. Gotta negotiate. There is no taximeter and quite honestly, there are not even that many traffic lights. We paid $10 each time we had a cab ride and I believe that is low for a tourist, but might be overpriced for a local.

Another interesting thing was that the taxi drivers constantly had the need to point out that it was an Armenian neighborhood or a Druze town or was a district with more conservative Muslims. Consequently, I had the impression that the extent of the social/political/religious split was beyond my comprehension.

Lastly, smoking is allowed everywhere and cigarettes are ridiculously cheap. As a smoker, yay for the cheap cigs, but again the stench of cigarettes was everywhere. We stayed at the Radisson, the people were very friendly but the hotel did not reach up to my expectations.

Now the sites:

1) Pigeon Rocks - This is one of the rare natural attractions in Beirut and therefore, everywhere it is written that this site is a must. I thought it was overrated. - No offense to Lebanese people.

2) Corniche - A sidewalk overlooking to the Mediterranean. It can be nice, depending on what you want.

3) American University of Beirut - It is obviously not a tourist attraction, but it is a beautiful school. To whomever who has ever been to Istanbul, it was interesting that AUB felt like an Arab sibling of American Robert College or Bosporus University in Istanbul. They are all American schools situated on a hill, overlooking the sea, just architecturally different.

4) Downtown - Place De L'Etoile- Souq (the marketplace) - This is the luxurious neighborhood, with all the brands and more. The jewelry shops inside the souq were breathtaking (but way beyond my price range). One night we dined at Al Balad restaurant, which had great mezes.

5) Gemmayzeh - If I was traveling with friends rather than family, I would have barhopped in this district of Beirut. A street with bars on both sides. Not the classiest neighborhood, but would be fun for a night out.

6) Jeita Grotto - Grotto means cave. There are two karstic limestone caves located on the Valley of Nahr al-Kalb (Dog River). It was gorgeous. Technically, you cannot take photos within the caves, you can leave your things at the entrance in the locker room. In one of the caves, you walk around and in the other one, you get on a little boat. Since I got friendly with the guy responsible for the boat, he allowed me to take photos with my camera without showing others and obviously without flash.
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7) Byblos - We stopped by Byblos. Nice little ancient harbour district. There are few ruins around. We sat in a cafe and enjoyed ourselves. There are little shops, if you want to buy souvenirs.

8) Harissa - A village up in the mountain. Our lady of Lebanon is there, it is a Christian pilgrimage site. There is a huge 13 ton bronze statue of Virgin Mary and there are stairs that allow the visitors to go to the top of the statue. The panorama is amazing.

9) Baalbek ruins - Gorgeous. Gorgeousss. I have been to Pergamon and Ephesus in Turkey, to Rome, Italy but these ruins are just amazing and should be advertised across the world. If you go to the shops nearby, they try to sell you little sculptures, saying that they excavated them with a certain deal with the government. With my usual cynicism I thought it is fluff, but again, I don't know. Also, we have been told that Hizbollah chose to send missiles into Israel from the town right by Baalbek with the strategy that Israel cannot hit back, because they cannot risk damaging the ruins. However, at one point Israel hit back anyways.
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10) Ksara Winery - Just stopped by the winery to pick up wines, did not do the whole tour.

11) Beiteddine Palace - It is a palace built in late 18th/early 19th century by an emir and later, used by the Ottomans. Firstly, it is not that big. When a person says palace, I start imagining something with grandeur. I can understand that it might be something interesting for a Westerner, but coming from Istanbul, it was not impressive at all. It is famous for its mosaics.

We also went to ABC Mall and Beirut Mall. Nothing too special, just regular malls. The Souq in downtown is the one to visit, but as I said, the places are pretty pricy. Obviously, eat a lot of hummus&kebab while drinking arak. I also tried date juice (don't recall the Liban name), which was too syrup like for my taste. We passed by the Buddha Bar, which is very famous and I wish I could have partied there. Also, there is a monument of Rafik Hariri overlooking his site of assassination. Probably, you will pass by it, just tell your taxi driver to point it out to you.

I would have liked to visit Muhammad al-Amin mosque, al-Omari Mosque and the national archeology museum, but did not have the time to. Also if you visit Beirut, one can easily arrange a trip to Damascus, Syria or Jordan. As for my grandmothers' yalelli request, one night we did visit a non-touristy restaurant with a singer a little north of Beirut, on the top of floor of a 6-7 story building. Unfortunately, I don't recall the name of the place. Still, glad to have that memory.

Posted by nzyucel 29.01.2012 13:55 Archived in Lebanon Comments (0)

2 weeks to the cruise

So, I have been thinking of writing a blog for the longest time. With the courtesy of my parents, I had the chance to travel a whole lotta places, from India to Guatemala. However, I have a little memory problem. I forget. I forget where I have been, what I ate, the history behind those places and how these experiences affected me. Furthermore, traveling is always an expense and time issue. Although I am 22, I will probably not get to travel some of the places that I have already been. A cruise vacation in the Mediterranean in the middle of Feb to start a travel blog sounds like a pretty lame idea, but I can proudly say that it is my first cruise and as a person who has looked down upon cruises for the longest time, I need something to hold on to cheer myself up for this trip. So better late than never, here we go.

I will be on a MSC Splendida cruise in the West Mediterranean in two weeks. The trip will begin from Genova, Italy. We are scheduled to visit Barcelona, Casablanca, Gibraltar, Valencia and Marseille. This will be my second visit to Casablanca, yet I believe it will offer me a different experience for I will be there with two girlfriends with boyfriend problems on Valentine's Day. I have been looking up info on the web and found this website for dining locations in Morocco: http://www.bestrestaurantsmaroc.com/en/

If anyone ever ends up reading this blog, I would appreciate any interesting ideas specifically for Gibraltar, since as far as I understand, it is all about the panorama and there is not much else to do there. NY Travel suggests the following places to dine/get drinks: Rib Room Restaurant, Restaurant & Tapas Bar La Barcina, Corks Wine Bar.

I will also try to remember the past trips and write notes to my future self on what I have been doing with my life. If anyone would ever want to consider donating money to this 22-year old girl with a love for traveling, please don't be shy. Definitely would save me a lot of arguments versus my household.

Posted by nzyucel 11:30 Comments (0)

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