The mysterious golden key of travel. No one really knows what it is but when you stumble across it, you feel that this one thing opened up an aspect of a particular place, culture, or event to you. It allows you to get a glimpse of something deeper, to gain somewhat of an understanding of the life around you, the one of which you are just a visitor. Golden keys are highly subjective and personal and they’ll never unlock everything about something. But if you do find one on a trip, it makes you feel like you managed to make a connection of some sort rather than solely skimming the surface as you go. Here are four Golden Keys I discovered in my travels over the years:

A cup of çay?

Pierre Loti (3)The ubiquitous offer of çay (tea), both free and not free, is something to look forward to during a trip to Turkey. It’s pretty much only not free when it is a waiter offering it to you in a restaurant – everywhere else, feel free to accept the offer since the çay is…well…free. The cynic would say that someone is only offering you çay because they want you to let your defenses down and buy something. But what this cynic learned in Turkey is that for the most part, it really is an offer of tea with no strings attached. I’ve been offered çay by random people, tour offices, shops even if I’m not buying anything, and even in the Grand Bazaar at a random antique shop. Hospitality truly is part of the Turkish culture. If you are in the touristy parts of Istanbul or in areas such as Cappadocia, they are used to tourists drinking the ‘apple tea’ (which is vile; I don’t know how anyone likes that stuff) and will automatically offer that to you. If you ask for Turkish tea (black tea), you tend to get a smile and a better tasting cup of tea (no really, the apple stuff is disgusting…and it’s powdered so who knows what is in it). So, drink up and experience a piece of Turkish culture!

Feed me!!cuba street food

Generally speaking, you can tell who spent their time in Cuba on a resort and those who did not by asking one simple question: how was the food? The key to experiencing Cuba on the gastronomical level is to not eat at the resort. It upsets me when people bash Cuban food when they haven’t eaten Cuban food, which actually is fantastic. It’s so simple –the rice, beans, vegetables, meat, and fresh fruits were every day foods – but it was so flavourful. Doing a local tour or staying in a casa particulares can give you the opportunity to try local food and I highly suggest that you do – your taste buds will thank you.

Don’t follow the main path!

Eunate (18)When walking the Camino Frances, most people tend to ignore the alternative routes because of tiredness, physical pain, or the rush for a bed. I believe that to add a deeper layer to the walk, going off the main trail is imperative. It gives you the chance to further learn the history of the area, chances to walk original portions of the trail, and more opportunities to interact with people who are not necessarily shaped by the modern business-focused Camino Frances. It allows you to experience something a little more unique which definitely is the aim of hunting for a travel golden key!


Trini to de bone

Some may want to say that Carnival is the golden key to Trinidad – in my opinion, once upon a time it may have been but now that costumes are primarily some string and beads, it’s not so much anymore. To me, a quest to understanding Trinidad starts with its music. If you want to know about its social history, listen to some kaiso / calypso. It documented history, politics, scandals, gossip – to the point where there were times during Trini musicits colonial days, certain songs were banned! I’m sure you can tell by now I’m not talking about songs like Day-O or Hot, Hot, Hot (two songs that make me want to stab myself in the eye – by the way, the songs aren’t Trini…the latter is from Montserrat and the former from Jamaica). While there have been many, two classic artists to check out are Lord Kitchener and Sparrow. Modernized calypso (kind of) is called soca and that is the stuff we hear today. Trinidad soca lyrics retain some of what calypso used to do but for the most part, it is the same innuendo-laced crap that makes up a lot of Western music. Though, sometimes, there is one that gives you an idea how Trinis generally don’t take anything seriously – case in point, the new song floating around Trinidad called No Ebola. So so wrong but…