Exploring the Vienna Woods: Mayerling, the Seegrotte, and Heiligenkreuz Abbey

Exploring the Vienna Woods

Exploring the Vienna Woods:
Mayerling, Seegrotte, and Heiligenkreuz Abbey

Villages of the Vienna Woods.

The ‘Vienna Woods‘. Rising to the northwest of Vienna atop the very first foothills of the Austrian Alps, the Wienerwald is a beautiful green belt and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve actually within the city limits of Vienna. With over 500 square miles of forest to wander through, it also makes the perfect day trip to get out of Vienna proper and do some biking or light hiking. Indeed this is one of the planned uses for the Vienna Woods, with 39 mountain biking trails and 12 hiking routes. Not feeling quite so ambitious? Vienna is ALSO the only city with proper vineyards inside the city limits as well, and you can sample the fruits of these vineries at the Heuriger restaurant/taverns in the small communities that dot the woods.

exploring the vienna woods

As a traveler in Vienna, there are really two ways to make a daytrip out into the Vienna woods.

The first (and easiest) is a day wandering through the trails that connect the small villages immediately ringing the northwest of Vienna.  Some of them, like the village of Klosterneuburg with its monastery/winery/museum offerings, justify a whole day in their own right. Others, like Cobenzl and Kahlenberg, serve more as convenient stopping points in between long walks than as destinations in themselves. These points are all connected to Vienna by public transport and by fairly bike-able roads and trails, so if you want an independent freewheeling day out of the city this is the way to go.

Exploring the Vienna Woods

Read more »

Categories: Austria, GYG Tours, Travel Tips | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

1001 Nights: An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show

1001 Nights:
Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show


An Istanbul Belly Dancing Dinner Show, I hear you asking? I was just as surprised as you are. Of all the cities I’ve worked as a photographer on these tour gigs, nowhere do I seem to end up exploring the ‘nightlife’ options as often as Istanbul. Istanbul by boat cruise, Istanbul dinner shows, and of course Istanbul dinner shows on a boat on the Bosphorus – there are agencies to organize it all and I’ve been sent out to take photos of most of them in their various mutations.

Of any of these various dance shows and Bosphorus cruises, easily the most memorable is the 1001 Nights Istanbul belly dancing show and dinner. I’d been to a belly dancing cruise in Istanbul before and a number of similar shows since, of course, but this time was somehow different. The crowd on this round was somehow WAY more into it, and to be fair the dancers were a lot more talented (ahem… and attractive) as well.

Belly Dancing Dinner Show Istanbul

Read more »

Categories: GYG Tours, Turkey | Tags: , , | 37 Comments

Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts – ZiL Ski Base

Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts ZiL Ski Base

Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts – ZiL Ski Base

There are a number of ski bases within just a few hours drive of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek. For some skiers in Bishkek, ZiL seems to be one of the favorites of local skiers for both the quality of facilities and the number of runs available. For others the place is anathema, the place where ‘the masses’ head each weekend in winter to clog up lift lines and zip perilously quickly down crowded pistes. Which meant, of course, that I had to check it out for myself!

Kyrgyzstan Ski Resorts ZiL Ski Base
Read more »

Categories: Kyrgyzstan, Travel Words | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

MonkBoughtLunch’s Year in Photos: 2015

MonkBoughtLunch | The Year in Photos: 2015

Year in Photos: 2015

The past year in photos: 2015. What a year it was. Funerals on the ghats of Varanasi, a bit of a long chat with the tourist police in Jordan, getting just a touch stranded in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, taking my first helicopter ride over the skyscrapers of Dubai, and of course a death in the family that prompted an emergency turnaround after having just left the US a day before.

I’ve chosen below not necessarily my favorite photo from a given month, but the one that most captures at a glance the tone or activity of that moment in time. Some positive, some reflective, one sort of embarrassing story. (If you’re just looking for pretty pictures I took this year, you can also see those on my Instagram or Facebook Page as I put together my Top 10 for the year.)

Before the photos, however, a few stats from 2015. Travels in 11 countries (2 of those new to me – Jordan and the UK), 151 nights in my own bed (which must actually be a record for the past few years?), 54,000 miles flown on 12 airlines  (with more than 30,000 already on the books between now and mid-April of 2016), 27,536 photos taken (of which only 4,469 made it into the archive and an even smaller sliver of that have seen the light of the web), and 7 trips to Karakoy Gulluoglu for that sweet sweet baklava goodness over 4 visits to Istanbul.

Oh right, and one more thing. Most of these photos are linked to a blog post, photo gallery, or other goodies that are worth have a look at if you want to know more about the photo or the trip that brought it to life. This was my year in photos. Give ’em a click, see if you find something you like.
January Photos India

Read more »

Categories: Photo Blogs, Travel Words | Tags: , | 16 Comments

Food in Dubai: A Traveler’s Guide

Foods in Dubai Travelers Guide

Food in Dubai:
A Traveler’s Guide

Dubai is not traditionally a backpacker favorite. Despite perceptions of being overpriced and obscenely flashy, though, I’ve come to find myself looking forward to infrequent passes through the Emirates for exactly one reason: the FOOD in Dubai.

The wealth of cuisines available in the Emirates, from to home-style US and surprisingly-good camel chocolate to the vast and delicious arrays of India and SouthEast Asia. Of course, often-neglected but actually quite good, there’s also the Emirati food option. I’ve listed a couple of my favorite cuisines in the city below, with a specific recommendation for each. Branch out and explore as well though, as there are far more types of food in Dubai than you’ll have days as a tourist in the city.

Emirati Food in Dubai: Qsheed - a traditional dish of shark meat and mixed spices.


Read more »

Categories: Travel Tips, United Arab Emirates | Tags: , , | 35 Comments

Jyrgalan Tourism Fest – Community, Culture, and Kyrgyzstan

Jyrgalan Tourism Fest

Jyrgalan Tourism Festival –
Community, Culture, and Kyrgyzstan


Kyrgyzstan is a small landlocked country in Central Asia. Try again.

Manas nomad culture of Kyrgyzstan  yurt 天山 vodka. No, not quite.

Hiking In Heavenly Mountain, Land Of The Snow Leopards. Lovely, still no.

Community. Culture. Collaboration. We’ll start there. A small village, once an important coal mining center but now a place of limited economic opportunity. A valley of verdant springs and alpine winters, located in a country that sends up to 20% of its entire population abroad to find work that brings home the equivalent of nearly one-third of the country’s GDP.

This is Jyrgalan. This too is Jyrgalan. How, then, the transition from quiet village in the hills to successful ecotourism base? Community. Culture. Collaboration.

Musicians at Jyrgalan Tourism Fest in Kyrgyzstan

Read more »

Categories: Kyrgyzstan, Travel Words | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

Lockhart BBQ: A Glutton’s Guide to The Best Barbecue in Austin and Central Texas


Lockhart BBQ:

A Glutton’s Guide to The Best
Barbecue in Austin and Central Texas


I did a bad bad thing. A thing that no man should contemplate… much less drag along a poor unsuspecting aunt and sister for. We gorged, feasted, banqueted, and chowed. A day of downright culinary debauchery… and all because of barbecue. Lockhart BBQ, to be precise.

Lockhart, Tx is the best barbecue town in Texas and, therefore, the entire world. Stalwart Texas Monthly, the thumb on the pulse of Texas culture, has been debating since the ’70s which of the small three smokehouses in town deserves the title of Texas’ best.

Lockhart BBQ Smittys Smokehouse and Kreuz Market

BBQ is a central part of Texas culture, and even arriving at the airport in Austin it’s immediately in your face: there are barbecue restaurants and a BBQ Taco Bar before you make it to baggage claim. Less than an hour from downtown Austin, then, a trip to Lockhart is a pilgrimage of sorts; and having long neglected this side of Texas I devised an idea to make the trip a defining one:

The Lockhart BBQ Challenge:
One Day, Three Barbecue Joints, Absolutely No Side Dishes Allowed.

Would it be delicious? Of course. Is it far too much? For sure. Was it even possible as, after all, I am only one man with one stomach to give. Only time would tell. The challenge had been issued, however, and now pride would allow for no turning back: a one-day trip to take in three restaurants in little Lockhart, Tx (population 13,100) to try what is reputed to be the best BBQ anywhere out there. The rules, as such, are simple:

  • Visit each of the Lockhart BBQ joints: Smitty’s Market, Black’s Barbecue, and Kreuz Market. 
  • At each restaurant sample the brisket, ribs, and sausage to compare amongst the three.
  • Decide, once and for all, which is the best barbecue in Lockhart.

Read on for a ridiculous amount of food, a review of each restaurant, and a spoiler as to which of the three is my favorite and which are worth missing. Or, if you’re planning your own Lockhart BBQ Challenge and want to make up your own mind, skip ahead to the Practical Details at the end.

Read more »

Categories: Travel Words, USA | Tags: , , | 18 Comments

MatadorU Photography Course Review

MatadorU Photography Course Review

MatadorU Photography
Course Review

(This MatadorU Photography Course review updated December 2015, originally published Dec 2011.)

There is, I think,  still value to the MatadorU program. However, you should know what you expect to gain from the program before you decide whether the cost is worth it to you and if it will help you accomplish the goals you’ve set. This MatadorU photography course review aims to do just that: give some thoughts on my experience with the program and discuss who else it may be a good fit for.

I made around $7000 last year (2014) through writing and photography contacts that I attribute to the MatU program, either through postings directly on their Access boards (which I’ll discuss below) or via contacts I made through the Matador University program. So, for me, the $350 course fee was definitely a worthwhile investment. This number doesn’t even include photography work I picked up through other channels, which I undoubtedly owe some competency credit for to the MatadorU photography course but which becomes a lot harder to assign value to.
Read more »

Categories: Travel Words | Tags: | 25 Comments