SOTM Tour: Month Two of Twelve

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Kate and Mario in Istanbul

Mario and I have been on the road for two months now! From Malta to Dubai, here is the best and worst of Month Two of the SOTM Tour.

Countries Visited

Malta, Turkey, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Romania, United Arab Emirates

Lake Ohrid

Favorite Destinations

Ohrid, Macedonia — What a nice, beautiful, fun, and dirt-cheap summer resort town! I’d love to come back and spend a month here, just enjoying the beauty and the chillness.

Istanbul — On my second trip to Istanbul, I had more time, a better attitude, and a better camera than the first time. I got into the colorful, adventure-filled city, and enjoyed it so much more.

Dubai — Wow. Was I ever prepared to hate Dubai. And I LOVED every minute there. The cleanliness, the futuristic architecture, the amazing service.

Kate Turns 29 in Dubai


Turning 29 in Dubai was a lot of fun — I had a wonderful day with lounging by the pool, dinner at the excellent Blue Jade at the Ritz-Carlton, drinks on top of the Burj Khalifa — the world’s tallest building — and a stay at the fabulous Kempinski Mall of the Emirates.

And I achieved a travel dream by finally visiting the Burj al Arab, one of the world’s most luxurious hotels, running around one of their fanciest suites, and having afternoon tea while overlooking “The World” — the country-shaped man-made islands in the distance.

It’s strange, but learning Cyrillic was a HUGE highlight! As soon as I got to Macedonia, I learned that they actually do use Cyrillic (though not exclusively). I went in knowing only that the letters in TOMAKE were the same in Cyrillic, and I purposely never looked at a guide or dictionary, preferring to learn organically.

For a week, I started sounding out words and failing. Eventually, I sounded out бладимир on a street sign and eventually whispered, “Vladimir!” I had done it! I couldn’t stop grinning.

Other adventures? Gozo, the little island off Malta, was so similar and yet different from Malta, and I loved spending a day there.

The people from this month were wonderful, too. I ran into a few readers in Macedonia and Bulgaria, Istanbul was made amazing with Katrinka and Tom, and we had a wonderful stay in Dubai with new friends Simon and Sarah, who were wonderful and endlessly hospitable.

Ever fantasized about a homeless man?

Memorable SOTM Pic

While none of the SOTM pictures taken during the past month have gone online yet, several from the first month have gone live recently. This one is one of my favorites!

At long last, I finally met my good friend Josh’s mom in Augsburg — and learned that the apple does not fall far from the tree. I LOVE her quote and picture! Find out who said this to her here.

Amazing Cherry Meatballs

Best Thing I Ate

It’s so tough to narrow it down to just one thing — but if there’s one item that I’m still dreaming about, it’s the cherry-stuffed meatballs I had at Çiya Sofrası in the Kadikoy neighborhood of Istanbul. This restaurant, one of the best on the Asian side, serves traditional Turkish cuisine and they take a lot of chances. Meatballs and cherries together — when done right, they’re amazing!

Two Pillows Orange Room

Best Place I Stayed

Another easy one — Two Pillows in Sliema, Malta. It was just so NICE, so COMFORTABLE, great value, and in the perfect location. Mario and I loved this place so much, we’ve decided to stay here when we return to Malta — which we plan to do quite a bit!



I had one of my worst travel experiences ever this month. I had to take a train from Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, to Bucharest, Romania. It turned out that this train was a tiny four-car operation with temperatures of about 110 degrees (40 C). No fans, no air conditioning, no power sockets, and one of the top 3 most disgusting public bathrooms I’ve ever seen.

The heat was so bad that I burst into tears and cried for an hour straight. While that was something that took up hour #1, the train got stuck in the middle of nowhere and took seven hours in total. I showed up at my Bucharest hostel and the first thing the guy at reception said to me was, “You can take a shower if you want.”

This month was also very tough for me work-wise. I had my busiest freelancing month to date, which was great financially (well, it will be eventually, as I’m still waiting to be paid, as one of the joys of freelancing is that it often takes awhile to get paid), but it meant that I didn’t get to enjoy my two-week Eastern Europe trip very much. I spent the bulk of it on my computer.

Beyond that, I’m not happy that I’ve fallen approximately one month behind in time on blog posts. I’m going to try to charge through the past month quickly, saving some post ideas for next year, so that I can be more caught up. As always, you can catch my real-time updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But to end this happily, one of last month’s challenges got resolved. Remember how I mentioned that my Kindle broke? I bought a new one in Tokyo. I saw a Kindle Paperwhite (wifi, no “special offers” or ads) for 7810 yen, or $78, and I thought that price seemed reasonable, so I bought it.

To my great surprise, I later found out that this Kindle currently retails on Amazon for $139. SCORE!

Van Cat, Istanbul

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

This photo got 189 likes. What can I say? The internet loves cats.

Istanbul is filled with stray cats (and I wrote about this a few years ago), but I was surprised to find that this gorgeous Van Cat in Sultanahmet didn’t have a home. How amazing are those eyes?

Tokyo Friends

Coming Up in Month Three

Mario and I began our third month on the road by leaving the UAE and flying to Japan! Oh my God, Japan is UNBELIEVABLE. This is a country that surprises and stimulates you every moment possible.

I’m writing this post from Kyoto, and our trip will just be in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hakone — maybe with a day trip to Nara or Kobe. We lost a day after getting stuck in China for 24 hours (and THAT is a story for next month’s “Challenges” section), so we had to rearrange our schedule a bit.

After Japan, we head to Korea for two weeks. We plan to spend at least a week on work lockdown in Seoul, then moving on to explore more of the country.

After Korea? No idea. Possibly Hong Kong; possibly somewhere else. We’ll have to wait and see.

Any suggestions for month three? Let me know!

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69 thoughts on “SOTM Tour: Month Two of Twelve”

  1. Yay Kate! I’m glad the meatballs win first prize this month. Heaven. And again, I’m glad you had such a lovely time in Istanbul. Let’s do it again 🙂
    I’ve also started to get the hang of Cyrillic, after three consecutive countries that use it, and it feels like such a huge accomplishment. I’ve been walking around and sounding out street signs for the last week.

  2. I can’t wait to see what your next month brings! Hearing how you learned Cryillic is wonderful. Organically is really the best way to learn a language (maybe anything!), I think. And while I can understand the sense of accomplishment at figuring out a word, Cryillic looks baffling to me. So your accomplishment was probably even more awesome than I can imagine. 😉 Best travels on your next leg of this journey!

  3. Sounds like a great adventure! You probably single-handedly got me interested in traveling by myself. I am saving money for a Kate adventure, hopefully I will be ready by next summer! =)

  4. Those meatballs are making my mouth water! Which makes me think that if you can, you really should try to get to Kobe – I had a life altering moment eating the Kobe beef there (details here: It’s not even close to cheap but I had no problem handing over my Yen when I’d tasted food that good. Nara is also cute though the deer upset me a bit – they had bald spots from all the people petting them 🙁 That said, they seemed happy to trade the hair loss for the pet biscuits the tourists were feeding them!

  5. What a month! If you think about it, it’s almost insane that you would be stuck in a crappy, hot Eastern European train and have drinks at one of the world’s priciest hotels in the exact same month!
    Have a fantastic time in Japan — I can’t wait to read all about it!

    1. I always love the example of my Faroe Islands trip — one night, I stayed on the bottom of a triple-decker bunk bed for 12 pounds a night in London. The next night, I stayed in the hotel that hosted Bill Clinton.

  6. Wow, what a fantastic overview. I’m so looking forward to reading more of your adventures. Also, I absolutely love my Kindle Paperwhite. You definitely scored a great deal!

    Happy travels 🙂

  7. After Japan and Korea, if you can, go to Beijing. Climb the Great Wall, walk through the Forbidden City and stroll through the streets. I guarantee you will not be disappointed, I’ve done it twice I love it so much!

    1. I just looked at signs that had the English translation as well and thought, “All right, the chair-shaped letter is a D” and would use this to try to sound out new words. Or words where I could guess the missing letters — seeing “апотека” on top of a pharmacy would tell me that п is a P.

  8. Beautiful picture of the cat, though as a kitty lover I’d end up wanting to smuggle him/her away in my backpack!

    Absolutely cannot wait to hear about Japan!

  9. That meal looks amazing! I’m hoping to get to Istanbul in the Spring, as I’ve read on your blog and heard from others what a great city it is.

  10. It’s great read to how life is treating you since we first met at TBU Rotterdam. Keep up the good work! Dubai has been on my travel list for a long time now. Will be sure to reference your blog post when I do eventually visit.

    1. Thanks, Michael! Dubai was great — I’ll be doing a post soon on the best ways to celebrate a special occasion in Dubai, as it’s a country that lends itself to spending money…

  11. Ok, where to start…I so want to go to all 3 of your favorite destinations so far – soon! Also, can you please tell me how I can acquire that amazing cat? Last thing, if you end up coming to Hong Kong this fall we should meet up! I spent 3 months living there this spring & looks like am headed back this fall (I LOVE that city 🙂

  12. Month Two certainly sounds like it had some major ups and downs for you! I’m still interested to hear what you thought of Eastern Europe. And of course Dubai! I really want to read about Dubai now.

  13. Kate! Can you do a post about working while traveling – but a job that is NOT blogging or teaching English?? THANK YOU!!!!!

  14. Japan, being the first country I ever traveled to, will always remain one of my favorites.

    That being said, I also love Hong Kong and consider here home. If your schedule allows, you should definitely come visit here 🙂

  15. That hotel in Malto looks stunning! And that cat has easily the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. I hope Japan is still treating you well. I just just back from Tokyo where I must have lost my body weight in sweat! I really recommend you go to Nara if you can. I was there last week and really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’ll be going back later in the year.

  16. We were just in Serbia and they use Cyrillic. And it was so confusing! We just kind of went like this: do you see the upside down L with the A and the sailboat letter? That’s our street we need to walk down.

    But it was still so fun 🙂

  17. Turning 29 in Dubai? Sounds like a fantastic way to celebrate a special birthday. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your adventures and I absolutely adore the kitty photo!

  18. Such an amazing journey! I just recently found this blog but I already bookmarked it and check back every day to see where you are going next! If you’re looking for exciting places to travel later this year, I recommend Morocco- I studied abroad there while in college and am so glad I went! It’s so incredibly different than the US (and every other Western country I’ve been to) and every day I learned something new. I would say be careful about being by yourself as a woman there and do bring lots of long skirts/pants and shirts that will cover you down to your elbows to be respectful and also not get heckled too much.

    1. Thanks for reading, Stephanie! I must say that Morocco hasn’t called to me quite as much as other destinations have. Mario is really intent on visiting the Sahara, though, so I’m sure we’ll end up in Morocco in the next few years.

  19. Love your blog. It was the blog I read every day while I was deployed to Afghanistan and it is still a blog I read now.

    I am living in Seoul (for work) and I definitely recommend you see the Changing of the Guard at Gyeongbokgung Palace, hiking in Bukhansan National Park, and take a tour to the DMZ. You can’t go wrong with gogigui (Korean BBQ – you cook it at your table) and soju for dinner. I would love to meet up if you have time between your blogging and traveling.

  20. What an adventure you are having and this is just month 2/12. Everything seemed so wonderful but that is really hot on the train to be traveling in. Geez no fans? Hopefully all of the great things more than made up for the rest though. Thats one beautiful cat! Happy belated 29th birthday!

  21. Funny I’m not a cat person, but that cat is strikingly attractive….and cherries with meatballs, I’ll have to visit that restaurant and I go to Istanbul this Oct…although it just might be canned cherries by that time….looking forward to your Japan posts!

  22. It looks like you are having an amazing time on your big trip Kate! I’m so happy that you loved Dubai, what a great place to spend your birthday! I found Dubai to be such a fascinating travel destination. A place where East really does meet West!

  23. Sounds like an interesting trip!
    After Korea, go to China, Beijing or Shanghai are easy to travel at least, you have not really been to eastern Asia otherwise, stuck at the airport doesn’t count.

    1. We’ve pushed China to the spring for a few reasons, Judy. One is that we don’t have a lot of time right now and since the visa is so expensive for me as an American ($150) that I plan to get a lot out of my time there.

      That said — Japan and South Korea are both part of East Asia as well.

  24. Hey Kate,

    I was just wondering when you say you’re a month behind in blogs….do you write bullet points or a rough draft after the day? How do you remember everything that you wanted to convey from that destination?

    🙂 just intrigued

    1. Sometimes I take notes when I want to have access to details that may be tough to track down later. Most of the time, though, it’s just based on memories combined with internet research when necessary.

  25. Hi, Kate! I’m from Romania and I was very excited to see that you visited my country, until I read the entire article. I’m sorry you had a hard time on the train, I know what you mean, but Romania is much more than that. It has beautiful nature, wild mountains, a vast culture and nice people, you just have to visit the right places. Please give it a second chance! You won’t regret it. Btw, I love your blog and your writing style. You have a great personality and you put a smile on my face every time I read your posts.

  26. Hi, Kate!
    I’m also from Romania and I’m glad you got to see Bucharest (although I imagine it was a very short trip). You should definitely come back and visit other regions as well, such as Transylvania with all the beautiful castles and fortified churches or Bucovina. You ‘ll fall in love with it, I promise! As for the train, well, sadly I must say nothing uch has changed in the last couple of years, so you have to arm yourself with a lt of patience if you travel by train. But it will be worth it!

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