Sahlep – the winterful, wonderful street beverage of Istanbul

The magnificent Blue Mosque

There is something indescribably “Istanbul-ish” about a warm, soothing cup of sahlep as you walk around in the cool, brusque Fall and Winter air of Sultanahmet (in the Old City) any evening between November and January.

Hagia Sofia with its generations of history

The refreshing evenings in the Old City side of Istanbul during this cooler time of year, capture an ambiance that’s definitely not in existence during the sultry summer months.

Street tea vendors at night – Istanbul

During the winter, if you go out later in the day, when the crowds have quieted down, you’ll find a different, quieter city, when there’s only you and a few other souls walking around, watching the multi-coloured dancing waters of the fountain in the Center of Sultanahmet Meydani (Square), which mystically contrasts the serenity and stately grandeur of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.

Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Meydani with Hagia Sofia as the backdrop.

To add to your winter delight on the dark streets of Istanbul, if you’ve never had the wondrous experience of drinking hot sahlep on a cold night, the sensation would feel similar to this: on a horse-drawn sleighride in the crisp winter air, enjoying a nice ‘perfectly warmed’ cup of hot chocolate.

Sahlep is similar in consistency to hot chocolate, unlike warm milk chocolate, it would be akin to a cup of warm, white chocolate drink. That is sahlep! Delicious and topped with just a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg, and some crumbled pistachios to slightly enhance the flavour. Yum! Try it! You’ll like it!

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul
Sahlep and Turkish tea vendors at night in Istanbul

These types of intimate and enriching but local, cultural experiences are what we like to share with our guests when we go to Istanbul, either on a group itinerary, or privately. Let us share our love of Istanbul with you!

Blue Mosque/Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Turkish: SultanAhmet Camii)
Sahlep! Take a walk around Istanbul this winter and experience it for yourself!

Avalon Waterways – Christmas Markets River Cruise, The Markets

A Christmas Markets River Cruise is a bucket-list item for many travel aficionados. We had the good fortune to enjoy a Christmas Markets River Cruise through France and Germany in 2019, and it was nothing short of spectacular, and even more than we imagined and expected it would be!

Strasbourg Christmas Market at dusk. Wonderful!

 

This particular Christmas Markets cruise commenced in Frankfurt, where the one of the city’s largest Christmas markets is located just a short walk away from the starting location/Westin hotel, at Römerberg and St Paul’s Square. There is a huge Christmas tree that is brought to the square annually, and its truly one of the most magnificent squares that we witnessed in Germany. Who knew Frankfurt held so much magic!!??

Our group decided to take a few days before the cruise started, to sightsee in Frankfurt and drive to a few nearby Castles, since we were “in the neighborhood!” We always find this is a great way to see some of the local treasures, and enjoy the region, before commencing your actual travel itinerary.

 

 

Once we embarked on the river cruise, the celebratory ambiance and magic continued day after day, as we made our way towards Switzerland and our end port of Basel.

 

Each day we had a choice of activities and included sightseeing tours off-boat to take part in. Each passenger can choose from several different options as to which excursion they wish to take part in, or they can just walk off the ship into town to stroll leisurely on their own. The pace of these river cruises is marvelous and unhurried.

Ridiculously long sausages

One of the stops along this Christmas Markets cruise is Breisach, which some call the ‘gateway’ to Germany’s Black Forest. The markets here did not disappoint, with offerings of Black Forest ham, links and ridiculously long sausages of more meats than you can imagine, cherry cake (and EVERY every kind of cake and treat you can imagine), and cuckoo clocks galore.

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of old fashioned Christmastime scenes, Germany and France immerse you in this dreamland, with sights of sugarplum fairies dancing in the streets (no lie!), and the sweet scents of swirling smoke from the chimneys of stalls offering up both mulled wines (Glühwein) and ciders, and smoked meats from the Black Forest. It is everything you can imagine!

 

In Strasbourg, France, the ambiance is truly magic! That’s the only way to describe it. Strasbourg is home to one of the oldest and finest Christmas markets in Europe—dating back to the 16th century. Take in the aromas of mulled wine, spice cakes, and biscuits.


In Strasbourg you can partake in a tour to the ruins of Heidelberg Castle, which overlooks the city in all its magnificence. At Christmastime, the markets are spread over five town squares and include an ice skating rink at one end, for those who wish to partake. Each day in port winds down to the quiet beauty of the markets in all their twinkling glory at night. Bask in the holiday cheer with Glühwein (hot mulled wine), bratwursts, and other regional delicacies.

Colmar is yet another stop during this XMas markets cruise that is truly fabulous; Colmar’s timber frame houses will fill most passengers with delight, both at the architecture that makes this city so special and the magic of Christmas adoring every doorway!

 

Almost every building in Colmar was designed to enchant with its medieval, time-style, designed-with-love-and-christmas-magic styling!

We had plenty of opportunities for Christmas trinkets and presents, as well as talking with local tradespeople and craftspeople who design the beautiful Christmas decorations in each stop.

The Christmas Markets of Europe, is surely to be a trip you’ll not soon forget!

Let us help you decide which river cruise company is right for you!

 

Images of Greece

Images of Greece

We are Greece Specialists and have travelled to the Greek Islands many times. Here are just a few of our lovely images of Greece and Santorini Island. Please feel free to contact us to plan your trip to Greece!

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Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Escorted Tour by Cosmos Vacations

 

Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia Escorted Tour by Cosmos Vacations

April 2017

Just fresh off an amazing tour to #Croatia, #Slovenia and #Bosnia, I want to share some thoughts. I will include the daily itinerary, as well as my own notes, so you can compare, review and decide if this tour is for you!

DAY 1: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Check into your hotel (M Hotel/Ljubljana).
The rest of the day is free for you to see some of Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, with a strong alpine architectural flavor. Tonight, meet your Tour Director and fellow travelers.
Dinner

The Three Bridges of Ljubljana Three Bridges of Ljubljana

MY NOTES:
Slovenia was by far the biggest surprise, and highlight! Fresh alpine meadows, set against a backdrop of Austrian Alps makes for an incredible intro to a country. That crisp, clean air, and sights of children out playing, families out riding bikes in the newness of Spring, all served to create an instant love of this wonderful country. We spent some time today walking to the downtown (old town) area, took a canal ride for an hour or more, walked the Three Bridges of Ljubljana, and ate lunch near the main centre of this lovely downtown core.

Travellers can get to the Castle by funicular, or on foot via the ancient or more recent paths that lead from Vodnik Square (Old Square) or the Town Hall Square. One can also take a bicycle if they felt so inclined. To reach the Castle Hill, you can also use LPP – Ljubljana public transport

Canals of Ljubljana, Slovenia

 

DAY 2: Ljubljana–Postojna Caves–Zadar, Croatia
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights on this tour is a visit to the POSTOJNA CAVES. Your included visit is comprised of a TRAIN ride and a walking tour, which will allow you to see what are possibly Europe’s most extensive and best-known caves. Then, into Croatia, traveling along the coast to Zadar. Over the centuries, Zadar was ruled by Venetians, Austro/Hungarians, by Italy after WWI, and today belongs to Croatia. Find out more during the included guided tour
Breakfast, Dinner

(Regrettably it was quite difficult to get decent pictures inside Postojna Caves, so these pics are from the park site (https://www.postojnska-jama.eu/)

MY NOTES: The Postojna Caves were nothing short of spectacular, and amazing. It was like a combination of fantasy mixed with nature that is sure to astound even the most road-weary traveler who has been to ‘just about everywhere.’

Zadar was incredible at Sunset, and we had an opportunity to sit on the Sea Organ steps! Take a listen to the Zadar Sea Organ in this video (opens in new page)

 

DAY 3: Zadar–Split–Dubrovnik
Drive south to Split to visit the former hometown of Roman Emperor Diocletian, his PALACE, and JUPITER TEMPLE, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. See more of the lovely Dalmatian Coast before reaching Dubrovnik.
Breakfast

MY NOTES: My favorite spot this day is a toss-up: Split, with its Mediterranean seaside views, and the magnificent Diocletian’s Palace, were both spectacular and left me longing to see more of this area, but Dubrovnik is definitely a highlight in the Mediterranean, and a destination that everyone should experience, if given the opportunity.

 

DAY 4: Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik is the best-preserved Croatian medieval city and the liveliest in Dalmatia. Visit the FRANCISCAN MONASTERY and the RECTOR PALACES, where the Local Guide will give you a full commentary, including the history of this beautifully preserved medieval architectural wonder. Afternoon and evening optional excursions are available. Breakfast

 

DAY 5: Dubrovnik–Neretva Gorges–Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina–Sarajevo
Enjoy a scenic drive into the rugged beauty of the Neretva Valley. Stop in Mostar, where a Local Guide shows you the Turkish Quarter with the TURKISH HOUSE, the MOSQUE, and the reconstructed 16th-century bridge. On to Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and certainly the most Turkish-looking city in the Balkans—famous for its mosques, markets, and bazaars. Discover the city with a Local Guide and get acquainted with its architectural highlights, including the GAZI HUSREV-BEG MOSQUE.
Breakfast, Dinner

MY NOTES: In Mostar, we had an opportunity to visit Mostar Bridge (Stari Mostar), an originally Ottoman built bridge. This fantastic structure was blown up in 1993 during the Bosnian War and was finally rebuilt in 2004.

 

 

Images of Sarajevo

 

DAY 6: Sarajevo–Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Travel north today back into Croatia to visit the country’s famous PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK. Enjoy a walk with a Local Guide through the breathtaking scenery of this natural wonder. Its 16 lakes, wooded hills, waterfalls, and cascades make it one of Europe’s most loved national parks.
Breakfast, Dinner

MY NOTES: Sarajevo City Tour was a short stop, where a local guide gave us a one-hour walking tour through the city’s downtown core, pointing out some of the most important points of reference from the 1992 Siege of Sarajevo. The fact that it was raining this day, only added to the dreary and sad history that has befallen this lovely city. Sarajevo and Bosnia are working hard to increase tourism to this country, and if given the opportunity, one should definitely include a stop to learn of the history that this region has fought its way through.

Sarajevo Cathedral – downtown Sarajevo

 

Sarajevo Roses – red stain marks bullet holes and shrapnel spots where 1 or more lives were lost.

The spot where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated.

Stark realties of Sarajevo and Bosnia’s history

 

 

MY NOTES: Plitvice National Park is truly incredible, with crisp clean air, easy (and difficult) walking trails to choose from, one should definitely include a stop of 1-2 days in this area if possible (customized itineraries). There are 8 different trails to choose from, ranging in duration 3 hours and 8 hours. You definitely want to see Plitvice Falls as a stop on any of these walks!

Walkways and the Falls of Plitvice National Park


 

DAY 7: Plitvice–Zagreb–Ljubljana, Slovenia
Get to know Croatia’s capital on the included city tour. The city is packed with historic buildings, such as the gothic St. Marcus Church. Continue to Ljubljana, where a Local Guide will help you appreciate its imperial beauty.
Breakfast

DAY 8: Ljubljana
Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning.
Breakfast

What a beautiful vista as we leave Slovenia, the foothills of the Austrian Alps and its many memories of our travels here. Until next time Eastern Europe!

TOUR DIRECTOR
With #CosmosVacations, there’s no better way to get to know your destination than through the eyes of your Tour Director. Averaging over a decade… we’d like you to meet a Tour Director, who is representative of the type of expert that will be with you on your vacation.

VJENCESLAV ZATKOVIC
Years of Experience: 27

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“I decided to become a Tour Director in order to see the world-and lose weight. Unfortunately, the latter is impossible in Slovenia and Croatia, because the food is incredible. Still, it was worth a try! Since those early years I’ve discovered that the reality of travel is better than I ever imagined. Every day is different, and there is always something new to see and learn.”

MY NOTES:
Wentz (Vince), or many other derivatives/pronunciations of his name 🙂 was one of the best guides we have taken a tour with, and believe me, owning a travel agency, we have had opportunity to experience many, many guides over the past 13 years. Wentz kept our group punctual, engaged, excited, and well fed (maybe too well fed), as this is the first tour with walking that caused weight gain! We enthusiastically encourage anyone to take part in this tour under Wentz’s excellent guidance. His sense of humour is dry and he knows well when to laugh at himself, and also to get a good laugh out of his travel party!

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Greek Island Hopping

Greek Island Hopping

 

As Greece Vacation specialists, we’ve done Greek Island hopping itineraries in many different ways, from all-inclusive cruises between the islands, to ferries and multi-day island stays in numerous islands.

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Each of the different Greek Island Hopping types of itineraries offers a different pace, and a different value for each traveler. We work with you to determine which type of pace works best for you, and then we work out a price point that works for your budget.

Santorini is definitely a high point in every travel itinerary we’ve ever worked on for Greece, and it’s aesthetically one of the most scenic Greek Islands in our opinion. There is something lovely to capture your heart and eye around every single turn, and lots of amazing tavernas, bars, and restaurants for every budget. Definitely our love affair with Greece has never waned, and it’s never lost on us how very fortunate we have been to visit Greece and Santorini so many times.

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Whitewashed Rooftops of Santorini

 

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Unique Boutiques of Oia, Santorini

 

Mykonos is so quaint, and staying over on lovely Platos Gialos, is definitely worth your time.

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Beaches of Platys Gialos, Mykonos Greece

 

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Windmills of Old Town, Mykonos, Greece

 

Please feel free to contact us to discuss your travel plans for Greece. We are specialists in Greece Destination Weddings, Family Travel to Greece, Greece Island Hopping, and any specialty travel to Greece that you may require assistance with, we can help you map out the steps.

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Gezi Bosphorus, Istanbul Turkey (Hotel Review)

Hotel Review: Gezi Bosphorus Hotel – Istanbul, Turkey (Taksim)

Bosphorus Bridge from Gezi Bosphorus Hotel

Bosphorus View Deluxe room



I’ve now stayed in about 20 different hotels in Istanbul. 

While I don’t proclaim myself to be an expert (yet) – I’m working on that, and maybe I’ll attain Expert Status before I die. I do, however, think I’m getting a good feel for good and bad hotels in the city, and other locations around Turkey.

So this most recent visit to Istanbul, and I’ve stayed in a lovely new hotel located just off Taksim Square called Gezi Bosphorus Hotel.

I cannot say enough good things about this new boutique hotel. From the moment I arrived at 3am in the morning, to the day I departed and they helped me get my bags in the car, I’ve been astounded by the stellar service and comfort levels I experienced at this property.The view from my Deluxe Bosphorus room – Gezi Bosphorus

My bed was as comfy, no I take that back – it was even MORE comfy than my own bed at home. I could LIVE at Gezi forever I think, and I’ve become painfully particular about hotels over the years, so to say I want to “stay” in ANY hotel, is a BIG statement for me to make.

Bed that feels like heaven

  
Breakfast buffet daily was incredible with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, pure honeycombs (nice touch!) and the finest Turkish coffee.
 

Have more questions about Gezi Bosphorus Hotel or Istanbul Hotels? Feel Free to Contact Us. We specialize in Istanbul and Turkey Travel