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But what about the war?” asks an ill-informed friend, referring to my upcoming visit to Turkey.

“You mean the Turkey protests?” I ask.

The Turks have been protesting against their government this summer, and the government has responded with excessive force. A few people have been killed, but the clashes can be avoided. Of course our American news outlets have overplayed the events because drama = viewers and many Americans — in their typical xenophobic fashion — can’t bother to distinguish between the Turkey protests, the Egyptians’ attempt to overthrow their government and the Syrian civil war.

Turkey, Egypt, Syria, protest, overthrow attempt, civil war … they’re all the same!

I explain that the Turkey protests are not synonymous with Egyptian government overthrow attempts and Syrian civil war.

“Well, I don’t think you should go.” Ok.

Turkish Flag


It’s always something with travel. Seriously, in my case, it’s almost always something. One month prior to my trip to Peru this year the Shining Path threatened Americans traveling to the Sacred Valley. The year prior — same time — the Gaza-Israel clashes occurred right before I headed off to Israel. I flew in and out of Suvarnabhumi Airport multiple times mere weeks after it was shut down in 2008, the 2004 Madrid train bombing nearly coincided with my visit to the city, I diverted my destination from Prague to Budapest in 2002 when floods overtook the Czech capital, and I canceled what would have been my first trip to Turkey in response to the Cyprus Missile Crisis. My unlucky timing has become a joke.

I’m not about to let some Turkey protests stop me.


So why travel to Turkey? Why not travel to some place benign and conflict-free, like Switzerland, Lichtenstein or Andorra?

I’m sure Andorra is lovely, but I have my reasons for returning to Turkey.

Reason Number 1: The Universe seems to be pushing me in that direction. I was unfamiliar with Cappadocia until summer, 2012 and then suddenly I heard and read of no place else (a phenomenon known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon). My sister and her family visited Cappadocia that year and loved it.

Reason Number 2: I visited Istanbul in in early September, 2001 and did not especially like it: I perceived an unwelcomeness from the locals that bordered on animosity. Having heard others rave about the city since, I had wondered frequently over the past decade if the problem had actually been me instead of it. How did I dress back then? How did I project myself? What was my frame of mind? My not having liked the city feels like some sort of personal failure to me.

So that’s why I’m going to Turkey. Despite the Turkey protests by the Turks, despite the Turkey protestations by my friends and family.

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The South Bank area of London is bordered by the Thames to the west and north, Blackfriars Road to the east, and Lambeth Road to the south. A business acquaintance in Manchester tipped me off to the quirky walk along the river. Excluding stops, the walk is less than a half-hour.


Start your South Bank walk at the London Eye, the 443-foot tall observation wheel towering over the city.

London Eye South Bank

Buy London Eye tickets ($30) in advance online, or when you arrive. I visited on a mild Sunday morning in January and waited in line only a few minutes to purchase a ticket, and was in a rotating capsule less than ten minutes later. The peaceful ride lasts 25 minutes and provides views as far as 25-miles on clear days.

London Eye from Below


Continue your stroll through South Bank along The Queen’s Walk Promenade, and you’ll soon reach Southbank Centre, a world-famous collection of art venues that hosts multiple literature, music and dance performances, major art exhibitions and various events and educational forums.

Venture up the Queen Elizabeth Hall steps for a glimpse of this heartwarming mural (which bears a distinct resemblance to a striking piece of rodent street art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood).

London Street Art Rats

I especially like these soulful, long-limbed creatures painted by an artist who goes by Phlegm.

Queen Elizabeth Hall Creatures

Bizarre South Bank London Street Art

Head downstairs again, where you’ll find a colorful graffiti-covered skateboard park.


The quirkiness continued with Flame Proof Moth, who entertained the other South Bank walkers and me singing from the cold comfort of his Thames River lawn chair.

Thames River Singer


Moving onward, the Blackfriars’ Bridge to your left, you’ll leave South Bank and enter Southwark, where the massive Tate Modern museum lies to your right. Entrance is free.

A sucker for surrealism, my favorite painting was Dali’s Autumnal Cannibalism, which depicts the conflict between countrymen during the Spanish Civil War.

Dali Autumnal Cannibalism

The museum also featured neon exhibit when I visited in January.

Neon Lights Tate Modern


Having finished the quirky South Bank walk, if you’re ready for more London sightseeing, keep walking north along the Thames and cross London Bridge to London Tower, or immediately cross Blackfriar’s Bridge to West Smithfield and get an eyeful of St. Bartholomew the Great Church, London’s oldest church (next post).

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Why travel to BURMA?” is the obvious question people ask me (I call it Myanmar in my head, but people seem to recognize Burma more). I’m happy to notice that my friends, family and co-workers no longer regard me with suspicion when I tell them I’m traveling to far-flung Southeast Asia destinations and seem to have finally accepted the fact. In the past they would narrow their eyes (is she trafficking children? Smuggling opium?) and now they just shrug it off (oh, that’s just what Esme does).


“Why travel to Burma?” is a valid question. I’m going to Burma for one because, I’ve already visited most other Southeast Asia countries on my bucket list. And because I adore the warm weather, friendly people, oddly-spiced (differently-spiced, rather) food, temples and foreign-ness I find there.

My favorite comment when I told someone I was traveling to Burma: “Beware of The Triangle!” And no, the person wasn’t referring to The Golden Triangle.

Lastly … I’m pretty sure the germ of the idea to travel to Burma was planted back when I was in my teens and read Gerald A. Browne’s sexy 18 Mm Blues, a thriller/romance about the international jewel trade, a part of which took place in Rangoon. Weird how I can trace many of my choices of destinations to an obscure and seemingly-insignificant moment from my youth: a song, a book, a tv episode.


But why travel to Burma NOW? I’m traveling to Burma now because I’m under the impression that Burma has hit my Travel Sweet Spot®. The Travel Sweet Spot being the point in time that a developing country’s infrastructure has evolved to where it can support my spoiled Western style to which I’ve become accustomed, but the entire rest of the world has not yet caught on, overtaking the place and thereby ruining the very specialness that drew all of us to it originally.

I envision my thought process like this:

travel sweet spot


When planning a trip, I rely a lot upon my fellow travelers who post travel advice and reports on the Fodors and Flyertalk forums. They can sometimes be a feisty bunch (a few just seem to itch for a fight) but the contributors know their stuff, tend towards more upscale travel and have high standards.

Reading through the Burma message boards, some Fodorites assert that travel to Burma has passed the Travel Sweet Spot: the influx of tourist terrorists in recent years has already destroyed the essence of the country for us “real” travelers in search of authentic experiences.

I’ve found that my trips abroad are enhanced when I’ve established a goal for my journey and that having a focus keeps me more sane (less insane?) when traveling solo. So, I’ve identified a purpose for my upcoming travel to Burma: to assess whether those Fodorites are correct – the country HAS jumped the shark – or whether their protestations are a case of “been there, done that, before it was cool” bragging rights by the world-weary.

Is travel to Burma still in the sweet spot? Or is it past the point of no return? Inquiring minds want to know.

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