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Jumping Into Local Culture: An Interview with Lauren Studen

For most people, travel is the perfect way to explore another place. No matter what the destination, travel affords us the opportunity to experience the local culture, to get out of our comfort zone and try something new and different. At the very least, it gives us a chance to step into another life, even if it is momentary.

Here at LeafCanoe, we love talking to other travelers and hearing about why they travel. Recently, we chatted with LeafCanoer, Lauren Studen, who writes about her travels on the blog, “Girl x Departure.” Lauren is a student living and studying in Istanbul, and writes about her experiences traveling abroad. She also has some great reviews of destinations and hotels in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and provides plenty of helpful tips and resources to get you started on your own travels. Lauren’s blog has been featured on other blogs, including Tripoto and Perrero Travel. She certainly has a lot to share when it comes to travel!

local culture

In addition, Lauren has written several great leaves on the LeafCanoe app, including her most recent one, “15 Things to do in Bangkok.” In it, she shares her suggestions for temples to see and things to do, as well as the perfect place to get the best view of the city or the best street food. It’s a great leaf to refer to for anyone interested in a trip to Bangkok.

When we reached out to Lauren, we wanted to hear about what it that is she loves about travel, and how she experiences the local culture during her travels. Here’s a snippet of our interview:

When did you start to travel and get the travel bug?
I started traveling as a child due to my multinational background (my mom is from Poland and my dad is from Serbia), but I really got the travel bug after living a year abroad in the US at the age of 16.

What do you look for when you travel?
I love to get a sense of how the people actually live in their countries. I try to have a local experience by trying the country’s foods, exploring local spots and learning about their culture.

local culture

How many countries have you visited, which one is your favorite and why?
I’ve been to probably 18 countries and it’s so hard to pick a favorite. I think I have to go with Thailand and Turkey. Both countries have amazing landscapes, the nicest locals and delicious food!

What’s the most amazing travel experience you have had so far?
I really loved flying in a hot air balloon over the otherworldly scenery of Cappadocia in Turkey, bathing an elephant in Thailand, swimming with dolphins in the Red Sea and living abroad in the US and Istanbul.

What leaves can we expect next from you?
Definitely leaves about my hometown Berlin and my current location Istanbul.

We loved the insight that Lauren gave us about experiencing as much of the local culture as possible. This is most certainly the best way to learn about any country that you’re visiting. Besides her leaf about Bangkok, Lauren also has a leaf called “10 Free Things To Do in Istanbul,” as well as “Things To Do In Cappadocia, Turkey.” In these leaves, she gives us plenty of helpful suggestions to experience Turkey when you’re on a budget, as well as beautiful pictures to fuel your wanderlust for travel. To read more about these leaves, check out our posts, “How to Explore Istanbul for Free” and “The Best Way to Experience Cappadocia.”

local culture

Ready to do your own exploring? Download the LeafCanoe app to get more ideas of how to experience the local culture in your next travel destination.

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The Best Way to Experience Cappadocia

The region of Cappadocia in the country of Turkey is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and intriguing places to visit in the world. It is an area rich with cultural history, and a stunning landscape to beat. Yet it is also slightly off the beaten path, and falls largely under the radar for the average tourist. For those looking for a bit of adventure in their travels, there are a number of ways to experience Cappadocia, and see all that Turkey has to offer.

Leafcanoer, girlxdeparture, recently shared her experiences in Cappadocia in her leaf entitled, Things to do in Cappadocia, Turkey. Her leaf is full of tips and suggestions on things to do while visiting Cappadocia. For those planning a visit to the area in the near future, here is our suggestion for the best way to experience Cappadocia.

experience Cappadocia

With its tall rock formations, often called fairy chimneys, Cappadocia offers travelers a surreal landscape to enjoy. Many of these rock formations were created by volcanic eruption, formed and shaped after millions of years of erosion. The region, located on a high plateau in central Turkey, has a number of cones, pillars, pinnacles, and chimneys reaching as high as 130 meters. Trekking and climbing are popular activities in Cappadocia, and there are a number of companies that offer walking tours and climbing excursions in the area.

experience Cappadocia

In addition to being a geological wonder, the area is also a historical one, with traces of settlements going as far back as several millennium ago. Many of these early inhabitants carved tunnels and caves directly into the rock. Often these caves served as hiding places for political and religious refugees, since Cappadocia sat in the middle of two opposing empires: first the Greeks and Persians, and later, the Byzantine Empire and their rivals. In the early days of Christianity, Cappadocia served as a refuge for Christians, and many monasteries were established in these caves. These days, Cappadocia is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and travelers can visit some of these well-preserved caves to learn about the history of the area.

experience Cappadocia

The major towns and areas to visit in Cappadocia include Urgup, Goreme, Ihlara Valley, Selime, Guzelyurt, Uchisar, Avanos, and Zelve. Many visitors enjoy seeing the historic mansions and cave houses in Urgup, Goreme, Guzelyurt, and Uchisar. Also in Goreme is the Goreme Open Air Museum, which showcases the monastic communities of Cappadocia. This museum allows visitors to see more than 30 churches and chapels carved from the rock formations. Many of these churches have frescoes dating back to the 9th and 11th centuries. Even if you’re not a history buff, it’s worth exploring for the sheer uniqueness of the experience.

experience Cappadocia

Being on the ground to experience the geography and history of Cappadocia is nice, but by far the best way to experience Cappadocia is from the air. From up high, you can really appreciate the otherworldly scenery, and see the influence of humankind’s touch on this natural landscape. Hot air ballooning is a popular activity in Cappadocia, and most of the companies that offer hot air balloon tours center around the town of Goreme. The best time of year to go is from April to October, when the weather is clear and not too cold. However, there are some hot air balloon companies that offer rides during the winter.

experience Cappadocia

If you’re the kind of traveler who is up for adventure, Cappadocia is the perfect place. It offers a good balance of nature and history, while still being a beautiful place to be in. For more ideas of ways to experience Cappadocia, or to find out other places to visit in the world, download the LeafCanoe app.

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How to Explore Istanbul for Free

Istanbul is a melting pot of a city. It’s a city of both European and Asian influences. It’s also a city of contradiction, holding steady to its rich history, yet always with an eye on the future. From the religious architecture to its art museums, there are countless sites to see in this city, even for the budget conscious traveler. LeafCanoer, girlxdeparture, shared her experiences traveling in Istanbul in her leaf titled, “10 Free Things To Do In Istanbul.” As she shows in her leaf, it’s easy to experience the local culture in Istanbul without spending an arm and a leg. Here is a short list of ideas to explore Istanbul for free. Before you know it, you’ll be getting around the city like a local.

istanbul bazaar

Relax at one of the many city parks
There are many city parks in Istanbul to choose from. Some of the best parks include Ghulhane Park, Yildiz Park, Bebek Park, Emigran Park, and Belgrad Forest. Many of these parks were former gardens and palace grounds for the Ottoman Empire. Now they have been converted to public areas, still carefully maintained, but available for anyone to visit and enjoy.

Practice haggling at the bazaar
Haggling is a way of life in Istanbul. One of the best places to do it is at the Grand Bazaar, which holds over 3,000 shops. Here, you can find a wide variety of odds and ends, from high end and high quality products to cheap knick knacks. Located in the district and neighborhood of Fatih, the Grand Bazaar is one of the most visited tourists attractions in the world, with 90 million visitors annually. If shopping for spices is more your preference, you can visit the Egyptian Spice Market in the district of Eminonu. Haggling there is also encouraged.

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Take a stroll through a neighborhood
Istanbul boasts many beautiful neighborhoods, with historic homes and buildings. One of the most popular neighborhoods to visit is the Old City, which houses the Hippodrome, an ancient race track and political arena, and today serves as a public commons area. The Old City is also home to Sultanahmet Park, as well as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Other neighborhoods worth exploring are Cihangir, with its artsy vibe, and Ortakoy, known for its beautiful views of the Bosphorus straits.

cihangir

Admire the religious architecture
Arguably one of the things that Istanbul is known for are its religious buildings. The most famous are Hagia Sophia (now known as Ayasofya), Suleymaniye Mosque, and the Blue Mosque. Although Hagia Sophia is now a museum, and is no longer free to visit, Suleymaniye Mosque and the Blue Mosque are still free and open to the public to visit during non-prayer times. These two mosques are the most well-known, but other mosques worth visiting include the Yeni Valide Mosque near the Egyptian Spice Market, the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, and the Sultan Beyazit Mosque near the Grand Bazaar.

Take advantage of free nights at museums
The Istanbul Modern museum is one of the most revered art museums in the city. It houses a collection of photography, cinema, and new media art. The best part about Istanbul Modern is that admission is free every Thursday, making it an excellent choice for soaking up the local arts culture. Another great art museum to visit is the Museum of Painting and Sculpture, which was the first fine arts museum in Istanbul. The museum opens its doors to the public for free from 12-4:30 pm every day, except on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul is full of beautiful places to see and explore. The best part about it is that it’s easy to explore Istanbul for free. To read more about girlxdeparture’s adventures in Istanbul, check out her leaf by downloading the LeafCanoe app.

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Historical Sites in Turkey - Perge

Time Traveling At Historical Sites In Turkey

Not many countries have as lengthy or prominent a history as Turkey. Since the Paleolithic era, the area now known as Turkey has been inhabited by people in some way or another. In ancient times, the famous city of Troy occupied the northwestern part of Turkey. Later, the area became a part of the Greek Empire, then the Byzantine Empire, and finally the Ottoman Empire. With so many historical sites in Turkey, the country, which officially gained its independence in 1923, holds a unique place in world politics because it straddles the line between Europe and the Middle East. Turkey shares many cultural influences from both of these regions.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Antalya Old City

This amalgamation of cultures is evident in the diversity of historical sites the country has to offer. Leafcanoer, Daijie, recently shared her experiences in Turkey in her leaf titled, My Favorite Spots of Our Turkey Trip. Incorporating highlights from her trip, below is a list of historical sights in Turkey worth visiting.

Derinkuyu Underground City
The Derinkuyu Underground City was said to have initially been built by the Phrygians in the 7th and 8th centuries B.C. It was later occupied by the Christian Greeks, and was expanded to incorporate chapels and Greek inscriptions on the walls. By the time of the Byzantine era and after, the city of Derinkuyu served as a place of Christian refuge from the Muslims. Nowadays, visitors to Derinkuyu can access approximately half of the city’s underground tunnels and rooms.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Derinkuyu Underground City

Aspendos Theater
The Aspendos Theater is a Greco-Roman amphitheater in the Antalya province of Turkey. It is considered one of the best-preserved theaters of antiquity. Built in 155 by a Greek architect, the Aspendos Theater is still currently in use, with productions held there annually by the Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Aspendos Theater

Hagia Sophia
In Greek, the name, Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom”. This museum, which was constructed in 537, was initially a Greek Orthodox church, then a Roman Catholic cathedral, and then later a mosque. The museum’s structure, with its prominent dome, is a prime example of Byzantine architecture.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Hagia Sophia

Uchisar Castle
In the Cappadocia region, Uchisar Castle served as the main point of defense, occupying the highest point of the region. Built by the Byzantine army in the 15th century, the architecture of the castle is indicative of the architecture of that region, utilizing natural materials and consisting of rooms carved directly into the rock. The castle is most known for its breathtaking panoramic views of the Cappadocia region.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Uchisar Castle

Topkapi Palace
This palace was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans from 1465 to 1856. These days, it serves as a museum of the imperial era, holding Muslim holy relics, including the Prophet Muhammad’s cloak and sword. Due to its historical importance, Topkapi Palace is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, having been given the distinction in 1985.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Topkapi Palace

Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is named for the blue tiles that line the interior of the mosque. Built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmet I as a means to showcase Ottoman power, the mosque continues to be in use to this day. Visitors to the mosque come to marvel at the ceramic tile designs inside the mosque, as well as the over 200 stained glass windows.

Historical Sites in Turkey - Blue Mosque

There is no denying Turkey’s importance and influence in the history of human civilization. In the ancient world, Turkey’s prominence was exemplified by the influence of the city of Troy. And now in modern times, Turkey serves as the bridge between Europe and the Middle East. With so many historical sites in Turkey, a trip to that country is almost like a trip through time. No matter how old you are, Turkey is most certainly worth a visit.

For more insight into Daijie’s trip to Turkey, as well as travel destination suggestions and tips from other travelers around the world, check out and download the LeafCanoe App.

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