Category Archives: Mystery Snapshots

Mystery Snapshot Time

I’m wanderlust-ing pretty hard right now (is that how it works? Can we wanderlust “hard?” I am pretty sure that is what I do). It gets bad during the winter, when every time I close my eyes all I see is palm trees, sand and endless horizons. After the holidays have passed and the cold settles into the urban air, the idea of an ocean breeze combing my hair with the perfume of shells and seawater seems almost too good to be true. And for the moment, it is. But I have a few more weeks off before it’s back to dissections, muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, and veins… So — at least for the time being — I like to think anything (and by “anything” I mean “anywhere“) is still possible. I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2013 than with a little trip (please please please!), so here’s to hoping I can make the magic happen… SOON.

But first, with my wanderlust fluttering around my mind like a captured butterfly, I’ve decided to bring back an old TwT tradition: the Mystery Snapshot!

Please try and guess where this photo was taken — what city/town/village/country/hemisphere/continent/street… Do your best, and submit your guess as a comment. As always, there is a hint in the photo. All right answers will get an honorable mention in the next post (and if you’re a travel blogger, a link to your site!).  Good luck, and happy travels (or, at the very least, happy wanderlust-ing)!

Mystery Snapshot

Mystery Snapshot


Filed under Mystery Snapshots, Travel

A Brief Tour of Cairo

Time to reveal the Mystery Snapshot! But first, I want to quickly say THANK YOU to the past four weeks. My staycation has come to its inevitable end, and tomorrow I head back to school for more NYU pre-med intensity. It’s been a pleasure having a social life again, but farewell dear friends… Back into the study cave I go. (Although, I am determined to have a little more control over this semester — both academically and socially, so we’ll see how it pans out.)


The Mystery Snapshot was taken outside of Hatshepsut’s Temple, built just outside the Valley of the Kings (Cairo, Egypt). Andy, you are the official Mystery Snapshot winner. Good job! Egypt is one of those places I’ve been wanting to visit for years. Some day, I will actually get over there. For now, I’ve got this post.

Below, guest contributor, Raechel H. explains more about Hatshepsut’s Temple and about Cairo itself. (Enjoy!)

Guest Contributor Raechel H. w Sphinx and Pyramids in Egypt.

By Raechel H:

Random fact about Hatshepsut: She was the longest-reigning female ruler in Ancient Egyptian history.  She ruled for 22 years, when she took over for her husband.  Basically, her son, Tuthmosis III was supposed to take over, but Hatshepsut declared that he was too young to assume the throne. Instead, she sent him to military school abroad, and ruled herself.  Eventually, Tuthmosis III came back, took over, and then tried to erase Hatshepsut from Egyptian history.  She built tons of temples, obelisks, and other monuments to the gods, and Tuthmosis tried to destroy all of them – thankfully he did not succeed.

What’s really cool (in my opinion) is that for the longest time it was believed that Hatshepsut’s mummy was missing.  Turns out, they found the mummy of Hatshepsut’s favorite nurse in her tomb, and found a tooth in some kind of box. A few years ago, they x-rayed the box, and the tooth fit PERFECTLY in another mummy that was already in the Egyptian museum in Cairo!  So they had Hatshepsut’s mummy all along!

Foreground: courtyard of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (symbol of ancient Egypt). Background: Mubarak's National Democratic Party HQ, a symbol of Egyptian modernity

Egypt is a place I’ve wanted to visit since I was a kid, and especially during the past year (which is no surprise to the people that know me, I’m sure).  Egypt provides a fascinating juxtaposition of ancient and modern culture, in the cross-world between sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Pyramids. Cairo, Egypt. Photo by RH.

Cairo itself is an enigma of sorts; it is absolutely overflowing with people (approximately 18 million officially, but more likely close to 21 million residents), and every one of them seems to have a car. All of that on top of ancient aquaducts, pyramids at the city limits (you can see the Cairo skyline from Giza), ancient markets, and the Citadel.  Traffic in Cairo is like nothing I’ve ever experienced — absolute gridlock at all times of day, with the exception of Friday mornings when everyone is at prayer or at home.

Cairo graffiti outside voting site for Parliamentary elections. Photo by RH.

During the Revolution, I didn’t understand why my friends who live in Cairo were making such a big deal about no one being on the roads, about it being completely shut down – but now I certainly do.  The traffic itself is absolutely fascinating. Cairo drivers get into this rhythm where they’re able to find every hole in every lane as they progress down a highway or main thoroughfare, and that’s how they progress from point A to point B.  Lane lines, when present, are merely suggestions – not absolute.  And most times, you’ll see at least one car, truck, or motorbike driving the opposite direction from the rest of the traffic.  As multiple Egyptians told me, this is “democracy in action – you can drive whichever way you like. If people don’t like it, they can have another revolution!”  Crazy to hear members of the Egyptian military joke about this, but it’s a good sign that people are proud of what they’ve accomplished.

Solar boat, discovered in the 1980s. It was found buried in The Great Pyramid. Its purpose was to transport the Pharoah to the afterlife (in particular, to the Sun God, Ra). Photo by RH.

I was fortunate enough to be there during the Parliamentary elections – seeing lines of men and women at the polls was pretty inspiring.  I was able to hit up the Khan el-Khalili (the famous market), wandering around the Ali Muhammad mosque and the Citadel, meandering through Islamic Cairo, trying out fantastic restaurants, and walking through Tahrir Square (although we were discouraged to do so).

Temple of Hatshepsut. Photo by RH.

Obelisk built by Hatshepsut, which Tuthmosis III tried to destroy by essentially covering it up. Ironically, this just preserved the obelisk, leaving much of the original details visible. Photo by RH.

During my trip, I was able to check out Luxor. I left as Cairo started to get crazy again (there was a sit-in at Parliament that led to clashes between different sides), which was probably good timing.  Luxor is the complete opposite of Cairo: it’s pretty tiny, there are only a few hotels where tourists stay, and you absolutely have to take a cab to get from point A to point B.  Luxor is more restrictive than Cairo in that sense – in Cairo we could walk around a lot more (mainly because there were things close by, in Luxor that’s not really the case).  Since I was solo, I hired a guide and a driver (a friend of mine connected me with a good company), and saw Karnak and Luxor temples before exploring the Valley of the Kings and Colossi of Memnon.

Cartouche for Ramses II, the longest ruler of Ancient Egypt (this particular cartouche is engraved all over Karnak Temple in Luxor). Photo by RH.

The guide and I talked about a lot of things — the revolution in Egypt, Occupy Wall Street, the impact of everything on Egyptian tourism (tourism has obviously taken a major hit, which is problematic), the efforts that the government is making to regulate and organize things a bit more (to try and give licenses so folks can set up stalls to sell things outside of tourist areas rather than letting various people bombard tourists who are trying to enjoy what they’re seeing), and Luxor itself. After everything we discussed, I left with a bit of hope that maybe Egypt, post-election, can go back to a semi-normal state.

Mosque built at what was street level before they discovered the Luxor Temple. The mosque is still a functioning prayer site. Photo by RH.

Additions to Luxor Temple made by Alexander the Great. Photo by RH.

I definitely need to go back and see more – there are tons of sites in Luxor that I was not able to explore, and I did not make it down to Aswan or along the southern border (which I’ve been told is pretty amazing).  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make that happen soon – and I’m always looking for someone to travel with me if anyone is interested!

Luxor Temple, Egypt.

Egyptian Sunset. Photo by RH.

Raechel lives and works in Washington, DC; Raechel and Tavel met while Raechel was conducting a Fulbright Fellowship in Brussels, Belgium.  While Egypt was phenomenal, Raechel’s favorite place to travel is Rome, where she spent a year abroad. She hopes to continue to cross countries and continents off her bucket list, and will head to Costa Rica this Summer with her family.

So there ya have it – Egypt. THANK YOU Raechel for contributing to TwT!

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Filed under Africa, Contributor, Egypt, Mystery Snapshots, Travel

Mystery Snapshot Time

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Mystery Snapshot. Call it nostalgia, call it envy, or just call it Tavel-has-an-extra-bit-of-time-during-her-last-few-days-of-vacation… Whatever you call it, here’s the deal:

I may be staying put, but I’ve still got friends traveling all over the world all the time.  So, without further ado and/or rambling about how I don’t get to travel enough anymore, here is a Mystery Snapshot provided by a mystery friend who will tell us more about it in a follow-up post later this week.

For now, can you tell me:

1) The country in which this was taken

2) The city

3) The temple

4) Any other random fact related to this — whether it is from an architectural, historical, or personal perspective

The more detailed you can get, the better. If you’ve been – tell us. If you’ve written about it, link to that post. As always, the winners will get an honorable mention and linkage to their blog (if that’s your thing) in the next post. Or if you prefer, I can just tell everyone that you are very sexy. Happy Wanderlust-ing.

Jan 2012 Mystery Snapshot



Filed under Mystery Snapshots, Travel

Putting the “I” in Istanbul

Yes Allison, Lisa and Robo, the Mystery Snapshot was from Istanbul, Turkey — one of my favorite cities in the world. The truth is, I am Turkish. Well, it’s hard to say exactly how much. I am Sephardic. My mom’s ancestors were Spanish Jews who spoke Ladino (this includes my mom’s parents, and she remembers many old sayings in Ladino from her childhood) and were exiled from Spain during the Inquisition. After leaving Spain, they ended up in Macedonia and Turkey. For almost 500 years they lived in a Spanish-speaking Jewish community in Turkey. Half my grandfather’s (abuelo’s) siblings were born in Turkey and half were born in Argentina. My grandmother (abuela) was born in Argentina, but was first generation. My mom was then born in Argentina, and ended up falling in love in the Big Apple. So, when we say that we are half-Argentine, the truth is we are really Spanish by blood, with some Turkish mixed in, and then technically Argentine. And then there’s my dad’s family — his father was born in Russia and spoke Yiddish, and his mother was first generation American, with a family from the capital of current Lithuania, which was – at the time – ruled by Poland. You tell me what I am.

Perhaps in a way, all my traveling is subconsciously about figuring that out. Where do I belong? Where do I feel most at home? What does home even mean to me? Home has been apartments, cities, and countries. But most of all, home has been certain people…

Turkish Flag. Bosphorus. Istanbul, Turkey

Tram crashes into car. Street life in Beyoglu. Istanbul, Turkey.

Side entrance to Dolmabahce Palace. Istanbul, Turkey.

View with Mosques from Galata Tower. Istanbul, Turkey.

If you’ve ever been to Istanbul, feel free to chime in. Basically, I found it to be incredibly cool and surprisingly edgy. The food was absolutely incredible (ummm, hello baklava every meal) and the salesmen were oddly sassy (“Hello, pretty lady. Come look at my rugs. They are very expensive!”). I was asked for directions in Turkish a couple of times, and found myself barefoot with a scarf wrapped around my head more often than I expected. The blending of old ruins and modern infrastructure make it one of those wonderful time-warp cities like Rome, where you feel constantly like you’re about to trip over an archaeologist’s dream-find yet sufficiently taken care of by modern amenities.

Every time I remember my trip to Istanbul four years ago, I wonder how and when I will go back. There is SO much to see in Turkey that one trip, unless it’s very long, will only scratch the surface. And wow, so much has happened in life since then. At the same time, some things haven’t changed… I would rather not admit those.

As I keep alluding, my days of constant trips have been delayed and, at least for a little while, I will only be able to visit Turkey through my own memories, along with a few scattered Facebook albums and blog postings. But hey, I’ll take what I can get. Especially when “what I can get” includes some pretty delicious baklava right here in my hometown, Manhattan.


Filed under Mystery Snapshots

Happy 15,000 Hits to TwT!

Today is a special day.

My baby, Travels with Tavel, has made it to 15,000 hits — thanks to YOU! I don’t know what that means (probably very little) but hey, I’m proud of this vague achievement. Ah yes, a lot of those hits came from accidental Googling by people in India and Ecuador. I do have the pleasure of seeing exactly what searches lead to my blog, and I find it very interesting to analyze.

To give you an idea, here are a few of the recent Google searches that somehow led people from around the world (you can see where exactly on the Cluster Map to the right) to random TwT posts: “farewell tavel,” “strange things,” “are gringas attracted to Ecuadorian men?” “Die Echten Reber Mozart Kugelin” [this is actually the number one search that leads people to my blog, besides numerous searches with typos of the word “travel” without the “r”], “how to become normal,” “the two paths of darkness,” “gun stores in Quito,” “huge rubber boots,” “why are bus seats in Ecuador so uncomfortable” and “why do Lucky Charms make my stomach hurt?” So, as you can see, not everyone is LOOKING for TwT, but I like to think that at least a few of my accidental readers are happy when they get here.

15,000 is a lovely number, so I will celebrate with a good ol’ fashioned MYSTERY SNAPSHOT! A lot of you have been asking me “what happened to the Mystery Snapshots?!” and I’m sorry they ever disappeared. I will be bringing those back, and accepting submissions (yes, please email me,, your submission and get a shout-out on my blog!). Afterall, you can only tolerate so much of my thoughts on life…

Here is the Mystery Snapshot. Can anyone out there tell me what city and/or what country this might be?

Mystery Snapshot Dec 2010

THANK YOU for helping me pass the 15,000th -hit mark. I couldn’t have done it without all of you (yes, that includes you accidental Googlers) and I hope you continue to tune-in as I shoot to have an interesting enough life to earn the next 15,000 hits.


Filed under Mystery Snapshots


As some of you figured out, the Mystery Snapshot I posted is a photograph I took in January 2005 of Las Cataratas de Iguazu, more fondly known as Iguazu Falls. I took the photo from Argentina, but it is technically the point at which Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all meet. For a steep fee, Americans can buy a one-day Visa, cross a little bridge, and see the waterfalls from the Brazilian side, but EVERYONE knows that it’s a much better view (and there are more trails and beautiful things to see, of course) from the ARGENTINEAN side. (Argentines are proud? What?! I don’t know what you’re talking about…)

Approaching Iguazu Falls, Argentina.

Visiting the falls in January is visiting them in the dead of summer, when they are at their fullest and the Amazon is bursting like a wet sponge with humidity. My friends Kerry, Molly and I flew in from Mendoza, Argentina. I vividly remember seeing this mist rising from an endless patch of lush green tree tops as the plane descended. It was a mist created by the crashing falls, and it was so powerful and grand that it could be seen from thousands of feet in the air.

Iguazu Mist, Argentina.

My photographs of Iguazu are alright, but you should definitely Google images of the falls to get a better idea of how impressive they are. The one thing I should mention is the sound. Imagine the constant ROAR of rushing, angry, powerful, water that constantly moans from beyond the trees. It’s so loud when you’re nearby that it’s hard to hear anything else. This YouTube video captures the sound pretty well, and tells you a little more about Iguazu.

Iguazu Falls, Argentina

Mas Cataratas, Iguazu.

While sometimes you can look UP at the waterfalls, there are also some lookout points where you are literally above them looking down and INTO the falls, like you’re doing a strep throat test of a wild monster foaming at the mouth. One of the waterfalls (the longest in height, at almost 300 feet) is aptly called La Garganta del Diablo or “the Throat of the Devil,” which I think captures the scary yet beautiful power of the falls.

Garganta del Diablo, Iguazu. Argentina.

The Throat of the Devil. Iguazu, Argentina.

Along with elevated trails above the water, hikes through the Amazon, and beautiful paths and lookout points to enjoy as you approach the many falls, I also recommend taking a boat (as many people do) in and out of a couple of the safer falls. It’s one thing to hear and see the falls, but it’s another thing to dash through them and let them pour over you, if only temporarily.

Waterfalls, Iguazu.

Do feel free to share your experience with the falls if you’ve had one. There is much more I could say about them, but I’m a little pressed for time. They are absolutely beautiful, though. And even though Iguazu is a bit of a deadbeat town, a short weekend trip to Iguazu is completely worth it. The “almost” World Wonder is truly an amazing sight.

Iguazu Falls in the distance, Argentina.

Tonight, I head to Buenos Aires for a month where I’ll be on a writing assignment for VIVA Guides (joined by my friend Shannon). Whoohoo! About one week after the trip, I move to Quito for my new job and adventure. Right now, I feel a bit like I’m caught in the current of one of these waterfalls. Life is rushing and roaring around me and I’m completely in the middle of lots of noise, change, and maybe a bit of chaos. But, I’ve gotta say… it’s all pretty beautiful.

It’s time to see things from the Argentine side of the noise, again.


Filed under Mystery Snapshots


In honor of the end of the Olympics (and wrapping up three years at one job, or maybe that’s a stretch?), I’m going to be patriotic and bring us back to the US for this week’s Mystery Snapshot.

First, how dramatic were the Olympics this year, eh? The heartbreaks, the dreams coming true, the surprises, the relief… I think most things happened as they should have in the end. MOST things. Canada won hockey but we Americans were allowed that moment in the last 25 seconds of the game before overtime that reminded us “miracles” can happen (again). For about 15 minutes, we had won something. We felt everything we needed to feel. While one more goal would determine the gold medalist,  we had gotten something very American out of the game:  hope — that belief in the dream, that reminder that incredible things are always possible, even when improbable. Meanwhile, Russia’s president has asked all of its coaches to resign (offering to “help them” if necessary) after the country’s disappointing medal haul leading up to their big moment as hosts of the 2014 Olympics. Two heartbreaking deaths — the Georgian luger and mother of the Canadian figure skater — created a scene of palpable emotion, making these Olympic games, once again, about much more than winning gold.

Part of the reason we watch the Olympics is because we know, with each event, anything can happen. We know that four years –an entire lifetime– of training can all come down to as little as 30-seconds on the ice, and what happens during that 30+ seconds is a beautiful range of disappointment and happiness. It’s life, condensed into a sporting event. We watch, because each person’s story becomes a moment of glory or tragedy. The stakes are SO high, but those moments are what define us. One announcer, describing the ice dancers, said that to be an ice dancer or a figure skater, you have to be prepared to fall. You have to be ready to land hard on that ice, over and over again. If you’re not willing to fall, you’ll never fly. I think, in many ways, I’m an ice dancer right now. No matter how hard that landing might be, I want to encourage others to be ice dancers as well.

Have I mentioned how much I LOVE THE OLYMPICS? OK, back to our Mystery Snapshot!

Today’s image comes to us from contributor Tom H, and it is our very first panoramic photo. Whoohoo! Aren’t panoramic photographs awesome? A slightly wider image immediately creates a powerful effect, a slightly stronger sense of BEING there in the hills, not just looking at them…

Tell me where in the US this is. You know the rules: specifics if you can, general if you can’t. What does it look like? Have you been somewhere similar?

Tom H. Hilly Panorama

Just to explain the title of this blog entry, “Panoramalamabangbang”, I want to share a video. Every time I say or write the word “panorama,” I think of this song I love by Roisin Murphy called “Ramalama Bang Bang.” I noticed that there is a pretty cool and creepy performance from the show (which I do not watch, although I LOVE DANCE) called “So You Think You Can Dance.” I’m posting this purely for the song and for the song’s connection to the word panorama, but some of you might enjoy the dance performance as well.


Filed under Contributor, Mystery Snapshots