#LolasMRJourney – Week Two

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Moving on in my Mongol Rally adventures, our team went from Europe to Asia this week. Turkey & Georgia were the two countries we passed through. I really enjoyed Turkey and will definitely spend more time there in the future. We decided to take a couple of days to regroup, do laundry and let loose in Istanbul. It was a fantastic small taste of a fabulous city. I enjoyed a quick tour of the Old City while getting our laundry done. Of course, if you don’t already know, this is where I met the infamous Adam, who was quite smitten with me. He was one cute, fun and funny guy! In the evenings, we spent our time discovering little gems in Taksim. I was so surprised by how late that area stayed open and also how many children were up well past midnight.

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From Istanbul we spent our time in Turkey making our way toward Georgia. We stopped off in Cappadocia seeing the cool caves and other rock formations. It was beautiful and we had a lovely day there. We had some fun camping adventures here too. One morning waking up to a sheep drive. The second camping experience found us by a picturesque reservoir where our convoying team got stuck in the mud only to be towed out by a kind Turkish family who then invited us all to have tea. We enjoyed an evening making a campfire, drinking & dancing and I slept under the stars. The next morning the friendly Turkish family returned to fish for the day but sent us off with blessings.

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Our final night in Turkey, we stayed in Trabzon, a decent sized city where we were able to get some parts/work done on our vehicles. We also managed to find a couple of bars, which isn’t an easy feat in Turkey. Drinking alcohol isn’t popular there. Of course, the only late night beer joint, literally called ‘Beer House’ was a brothel of some sort with karaoke. Very interesting experience!

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From there we moved on to Georgia and met our first crazy border crossing experience. Hours later we were on the other side and easily drinking beers right at the crossing waiting for the other teams to get through. Talk about a night and day alcohol experience! Georgia wasn’t my favorite. It’s poor and very dirty.  Granted, we only camped one evening and drove straight through the second. We never made it to Tbilisi, which I’m sure was a worthwhile stop. Our nicest Georgian food experience was McDonalds. Had we stayed longer, I’m sure we could have found a better option. As we made our way to Russia, we stopped off at a police station to pick up another rallier’s wallet, who was already well ahead. It got turned in after being left at a bar. If you can believe, ALL the money was still in it! So perhaps, even if Georgia is dirty, maybe it’s full of honest people. How refreshing!

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#IcelandStopover Best of the West

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I had the good fortune of visiting Iceland for a second time this year. I just love that country & cannot get enough. This trip, I took advantage of the Icelandair Stopover Program that’s simply brilliant. (I’ll be using that travel strategy again for sure) I had a few extra days before I needed to get to London and so I visited my lovely friend Inga, of Tiny Iceland, and we went on a road trip to the West of Iceland. A part of the country I didn’t see in March. I’m sure all of Iceland is gorgeous in the summertime but WOW, West Iceland is out of this world.

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What you can expect to see in West Iceland are fantastic views of mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes as well as fjords and picturesque bays. In the summer, the animals are left to roam freely only to be collected again in the fall. It makes for interesting driving with the random sheep crossing but it’s really fun too. West Iceland is also known as Sagaland because most of the Icelandic Sagas were written there. So you can imagine West Iceland is full of wonderful folklore and tales of adventure!

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Here’s some of the eye candy that West Iceland offers!

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Beautiful fjords

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Sheep roaming free in the fields AND roads

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Gorgeous mountains

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PUFFINS!!

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Erik the Red’s hideout island

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Beloved Icelandic horses

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Majestic waterfalls

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Amazing vistas

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Precious ancient Icelandic goats

This visit was sponsored by Sixt Iceland, Icelandair, Icelandair Hotels, Hotel Edda, Fontana Spa BUT as you know, I love Iceland and no sponsorship in the world will change that!

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#LolasMRJourney – Week One

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Mix a bit of chaos with things that are familiar and that’s the Mongol Rally journey through western Europe into eastern Europe. Seeing the countryside is really great and not something you often do when you fly in and out of big cities. Revisiting some of the major cities and capitals has also been lovely albeit very brief.

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Driving is a hoot especially going into small town restaurants and gas stations. Surprisingly, so many people have spoken English and are so friendly. It helps to be nice to them too. Smiling or offering a compliment has definitely won me a few new friends.

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Spending long periods of time in a car is easy for me and very difficult at the same time. I don’t mind the idle time but it’s stressful on teammates and can cause snippy remarks, me included. One thing I would stress is how important it is to take into consideration everyone’s wishes. I just conceded to missing out on the beach party on the Black Sea and am very disappointed but it isn’t just me to consider here. Hopefully, down the road, whether it’s this roadtrip or another, teammates will concede to something that is important to me.

photo 1-10So to all you current and future ralliers, be good to your teammates. There’s gonna be lots of days and nights ahead where it’s just you and your team. And when anyone starts to bug you, remember some thoughtful gesture or concession they made on your behalf. Try to stay positive. That’s exactly what I’m doing right now to get on my OM.

Sending light and love to all making this journey. Safe travels. LOLA

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Discovering Istanbul

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Istanbul, the bridge between Europe and Asia, can be considered as one of the best cities to visit worldwide. From the beautiful mosques perched over the Bosphorus strait to the incredible Grand Bazaar, Istanbul has a mix of cultures all coming together in one place. There is no lack of awe inspiring sites to see, the only problem is seeing them all if you a have a limited time in the city. Here are some tips on how to get the best of the old Byzantine and Ottoman Empire capital.

There are many great areas to stay in Istanbul, but one of the best is around the Galata tower or in the Karakoy neighborhood. Should you be searching for accommodation in these areas of Istanbul, you can do it online, because booking providers such as Venere.com do a search by city zone possible. After you have found your place to stay, these two areas are a must see before you hit the landmarks on the other side of the strait. The Galata tower is a Romanesque 14th century tower that has an incredible view of the city and houses a great restaurant and night club at the top. It was once used to spot fires for the Ottomans but now is used to get a stunning look at the Blue Mosque and Topkapi palace from the other side of the strait. From there you can make your way down the winding streets to the bridge that takes you across. It is called the Galata Bridge, and here you can dine underneath the structure. Here they literally catch fish and put it directly from the line onto the grill, be sure to go here for a truly unique experience and amazing seafood.

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Photo credit: Istanbul Spice Market by Jason Persse (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Across the strait you can first visit the Topkapi palace that used to house the Ottoman sultans. Sitting on top of a beautiful park, the palace has incredible gardens and museums where you can see the ancient treasures of the once mighty empire. Next, go to Aya Sofia or Hagia Sofia, the enormous church turned mosque that was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It has some beautiful mosaics, but honestly not much else. It is even better to see from the outside. The best site of the city is easily the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque. It stands out on the skyline of Istanbul because of its blue colored stone work and immense dome accompanied by six minarets. Inside with its hanging lights, is truly a religious experience because of its tranquility. It is also still used as a mosque today, so watching the prayer is something you might want to see.

Lastly, the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul Spice Market are great places to wander around. The bazaar has gorgeous tiles and artwork, as it was the main market during Ottoman times. However, the actual shops are a bit touristy. The Spice Market has a more authentic experience and you can try endless types of Turkish delights from the many vendors making it fresh! Be careful in these areas though, because pickpockets target tourists in large crowds. But other than that Istanbul is a safe and incredible city to visit.

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Why the Mongol Rally? #LolasMRJourney

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I’m setting off on what is surely the biggest adventure of my life so far. And as excited as I am I’m also nervous. It’s hard to say goodbye to all that you know to go into a world of unknowns. It’s also thrilling. I’m opening myself up to any possibility and letting my story unfold.

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Meeting new people and experiencing new things is one of the most exciting parts of life for me. I know this adventure will change me in ways I don’t even know. It’s partially why I’m doing it. I believe in getting out there and living.

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But I know leaving my life behind, even if only for an extended period, that things will change with that too. But I guess you never grow if you aren’t open to change. My friends say I’m brave. I’m not sure about that. I just need to do what I need to do.

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Someone said recently that I have high hopes and I hear that if you have “low expectations then you’ll be happy” but I respectfully disagree. I think you should live life looking forward to great things. You should have high hopes. For the good that’s out there. For what you are and what you’ll become.

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Living life with low expectations is sad in my opinion. Maybe you don’t get disappointed but you also don’t raise the bar for the world to rise to. Maybe you don’t get hurt by things but you also don’t feel the great potential in it all.

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Besides seeking a life of adventure, I’ll be looking for all the joy in the journey. The little things that give me hope and set my expectations for something greater. The world is too wonderful not to believe in it to its full potential. For me, the Mongol Rally isn’t just about reaching Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. It’s about “the journey is the destination” more than ever.

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I’m going places I never expected to go. I will be meeting people and learning things I never expected to learn. And I feel so lucky! Lucky to explore. Discovery in myself and the outside world has never led me wrong. I hope you enjoy the ride. The insight. The funny moments. The mishaps. The wonder. The reasons to have dreams and high hopes!

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I’ll be posting on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as often as I can with the hashtag #LolasMRJourney

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