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Sample of some of Kirsten Koza's writing

Prepare to Write Dangerously

I have been hired by The Writers’ Community of York Region (Newmarket, Ontario) to host a workshop (which is being offered to participants for free). If you are interested, you do need to register, though, as seating is limited. (CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS OR TO SIGN UP).

Also, for anyone in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond, who is interested in joining one of my writing workshops abroad, this is a great opportunity to get a taste for one of my writing adventures, in a three-hour binge-writing gulp.

So, leave your safety nets at home and prepare to write dangerously. We’ll be employing techniques used by method actors on stage, except we’ll be using our pens on the page, in a creative exploration of making nonfiction read like fiction. You’ll be improvising through genres to find the most exciting way to present the truth and your lead character—you. You don’t have to go on an adventure to take your readers on an action-packed head trip, and during this workshop we’ll delve into those head trips.

WCYR get creative with nonfiction

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Temple of the Four Winds, at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.

Decency Be Damned: a seven-day roving writing workshop across Yorkshire, England, hosted by Writers’ Expeditions and Exploring York – from May 25-31, 2020.

We only take ten participants on this creative adventure and are currently sold out. If you’d like to be put on the waiting list for a possible cancellation, just email us. We host Decency Be Damned annually, so this workshop will run again, in May, 2021. However, we will also be posting (in a couple of days) the information about a second writing workshop that we’re offering, in September, 2020, on the car-free Isle of Sark (English Channel).

(Scroll down for itinerary and prices for Decency Be Damned, 2020.)

The North Yorkshire Moors steam train we'll take to Whitby, where we'll stay in Lewis Carroll's Yorkshire home.
The North Yorkshire Moors steam train we’ll take to Whitby, where we’ll stay for a night in Lewis Carroll’s Yorkshire home, now a seaside boutique hotel with exotic themed rooms.

Writers of any genre of fiction and nonfiction: You are invited to leave your safety nets at home and join us for a rollicking week of writing across Yorkshire, where you’ll be encouraged—and enabled!—to go beyond the bounds of decency. You’ll acquire techniques and exercises used by actors on the stage and apply them to the page. With your pen or keyboard, you’ll improvise, method act and perform dangerous feats. Inspiration will be gleaned from the activities we’ve planned and places we’ll stay. We’ll brave a ghost walk in Europe’s most haunted city, devour an orgasm of chocolates, and hunker down in the very hotel where Agatha Christie hid during the national manhunt for her. We’ll plot mayhem at the Guy Fawkes Inn, sample beer made by sixth generation brewers, and feast on the exploits of the Vikings and Romans—of course, all the while, delighting in English countryside, seaside villages, and stately homes.

Writer’s block be damned! Decency be damned! This workshop is a daring adventure of storytelling and writing!

The Stoker is one of the themed rooms at La Rosa boutique hotel (formerly Lewis Carroll's Yorkshire home). The view of the sea and Whitby Abbey (seen from that bed) inspired Bram Stoker to write "Dracula." (Photo courtesy of La Rosa)
The Stoker is one of the fabulous themed hotel rooms (and we’ve booked them all) at La Rosa boutique hotel (formerly Lewis Carroll’s Yorkshire home). The view of the sea and Whitby Abbey (seen from that bed) inspired Bram Stoker to write “Dracula.” (Photo courtesy of La Rosa)

(Scroll down for itinerary, prices, and hosts’ bios. If you contact us, please know that we respond quickly by email: writers-expeditions@mail.com, and if you don’t hear back, either we didn’t receive your email, or our reply is possibly in your spam bin. We can also be messaged from our Writers’ Expeditions Facebook page, which seems to work without fail.)  

Yorkshire tea. (photo taken during our 2018 expedition by your workshop host, Kirsten Koza)
Yorkshire tea (Photo taken during our 2018 expedition by your workshop host, Kirsten Koza)

TOUR ITINERARY 

Monday, May 25th, 2020

2:00 pm: check in at our hotel (owned by Hilton) at Monk Bar, which is a 14th century gate (not a bar) and is also the largest and most ornate entrance to the walled city.

Afternoon & Evening: meet & greet at our warm-up writing workshop, in the hotel bar (an actual bar and one with an extensive gin menu), before we head to dine at the Guy Fawkes Inn. This medieval inn is the birthplace of the infamous plotter, Guido Fawkes.

Guy Fawkes painting by Henry Perronet Briggs (c. 1823) titled Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (public domain)
Guy Fawkes painting by Henry Perronet Briggs (c. 1823) titled Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot (public domain)

9:00 pm - Ghost Tour: York is home to some of the world’s more notorious ghosts. It was named the most haunted city in Europe, and tonight our guide promises to give us the creeps as he reveals York’s spooky secrets around each dark corner of the cobbled streets.

The Shambles, at night, York (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Our 2019 participants strolling The Shambles, at night, on our private ghost tour of York. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

(Dinner, Overnight in York)

Tuesday, May 26th

Morning: After enjoying an English breakfast (or something lighter if you prefer), our guide will take us on a tour (imbued with quirky trivia) of York Minster, the world’s third largest medieval gothic cathedral and York’s most acclaimed historical site.

Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, York Minster.
Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, York Minster

Then we’ll indulge in York’s Chocolate Story. Chocolate has resulted in renown and fortune for York for near 300 years. We’ll learn the art of the chocolatier and how to eat chocolate too – yes, we’ll receive a chocolate eating lesson. (Free time for writing and lunch.)

Yorkshire rarebit, in York. (photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Yorkshire rarebit, in York (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)
Yorkshire Fat Rascals (Photo by our local guide and expert Matthew Greenwood, Exploring York)
Yorkshire Fat Rascals (Photo by our local guide and expert Matthew Greenwood, Exploring York)

Afternoon: We’ll meander the  streets and alleyways of the walled city with our guide. Roman York became the birthplace of Western Christianity, but the Romans’ achievements were brutally exsanguinated when the Vikings transformed Jorvik into an international trading hub centuries ahead of its time, making Medieval York the capital of the North. We’ll visit the Jorvik Viking Centre, where we’ll ride a Jurassic Park-like theme ride through a life-size diorama of Viking Jorvik, complete with an authentic whiff of Viking life and ending in a museum of artifacts, including entire skeletons that are visibly afflicted with the ailments of the era, and a ginormous Viking coprolite (as in a fossilized Viking poop that has been compared to the crown jewels for its significance).

Cocktail Hour Writing Assignment:  free time for dinner, to explore more of York, and to write.

(Breakfast, entrances to the Minster, Chocolate Story and tasting, and Viking museum, Overnight in York)

Wednesday, May 27th (pack your steamer trunk this morning, because today we take the steam train to the seaside where you’ll be writing yourself into scenes from Dracula and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass while staying in Lewis Carroll’s Yorkshire home)

Goathland's train station was a film location for the train station at Hogwarts. (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Goathland’s train station was a film location for the train station at Hogwarts. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Whitby, Yorkshire (photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Whitby, Yorkshire (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

Morning: breakfast – and then we’ll take the steam train along the North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering through Goathland (film location for the Hogwarts Express train station at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry), and of course we’ll discuss the success of J.K. Rowling – the whys and hows – and how this relates to stories going viral on the Internet, and then we’ll continue our train ride to Whitby.

Afternoon: We’ll visit the coastal town of Whitby, the birthplace of Captain Cook. But, also, it was while visiting Whitby, after an exhausting theatrical tour, that Bram Stoker got inspiration for Dracula. Then it’s down (or should we go up?) the 199 steps from Whitby’s gothic abbey, culminating in the reward of award winning fish and chips (gluten free, vegetarian, and vegan options available).

Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire. (photo by the fabulous George Hodan)
Whitby Abbey, Yorkshire (Photo by the fabulous George Hodan)
Cod & Chips at The Magpie (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Cod & Chips at The Magpie (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Then we check in at La Rosa boutique hotel where they describe themselves as “more boudoir than boutique.”

Evening: You’ll be given a writing prompt for the evening, and then you have free time in Whitby to dine, explore, and write.

(Breakfast, Steam Train, Lunch, Whitby Abbey Tickets, Overnight at La Rosa in Whitby)

La Rosa, another one of the themed boudoirs at the hotel (Photo courtesy of La Rosa Hotel)
La Rosa, another one of the themed boudoirs, with a sea view, at the hotel. (Photo courtesy of La Rosa Hotel)
And just one more themed room to tease you and show you how varied they all are - this is the Lewis, inspired by Lewis Carroll's study. (Photo courtesy of La Rosa Hotel)
And just one more themed room, with sea view, to tease you and show you how varied they all are – this is the Lewis, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s study. (Photo courtesy of La Rosa Hotel)

Thursday, May 28th

Morning: breakfast will be delivered to you in a hamper in your room this morning! Then we’ll check out of our hotel and travel through the countryside to Castle Howard where you’ll be given a “Decency Be Damned” writing assignment.

Castle Howard
Castle Howard, North Yorkshire

This Yorkshire stately home is one of Britain’s finest. It’s resplendent in world famous art and opulent architecture. You might recognize Castle Howard as it was used in both the TV and film adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s book Brideshead Revisited.

Writing time outside on Castle Howard’s spectacular grounds or at one of its indoor or outdoor patio cafes.

Temple of the Four Winds, at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
Temple of the Four Winds, at Castle Howard, Yorkshire

Afternoon: We’ll take our private mini bus to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where we’ll be dining and spending the night at The Buck Inn, in the perfect picture-postcard village of Malham. At this evening’s workshop, if you have bladder issues, you might want to wear Depends, because you’ll be laughing so hard you won’t just be crying.

The Buck Inn, Malham. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
The Buck Inn, Malham. We’ve booked the entire inn for Decency Be Damned, again! (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)
Malham Cove was a film location used in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and is in walking distance from our lodgings.(Photo by George Hodan)
Malham Cove was a film location used in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and is in walking distance from our lodgings.  (Photo by George Hodan)

(Breakfast, Dinner, Castle Howard Entrance, Overnight at The Buck Inn/Malham)

Friday, May 29th 

We have an exciting creative adventure planned for you today. Our writing workshop will be held in the courtyard of Richard III’s ruined castle.

Middleham, Yorkshire, So English (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Middleham, Yorkshire – so English (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

We’ll have lunch at a country pub, and (in our private mini-bus) we’ll traverse the limestone scenery and the unique valleys known as dales. You’ll see stone-built villages, field barns, drystone walls, Swaledale sheep, flower-laden meadows, plus the Aysgarth Falls (you might remember these waterfalls from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), and the North Yorkshire village of Kettlewell (of Calendar Girls fame).

Kettlewell, Yorkshire (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Kettlewell, Yorkshire (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Evening: We’ll check in at the Old Swan Harrogate which is surrounded by idyllic English gardens and is just a three-minute walk from the spa town’s centre. Our hotel “combines Victorian splendour with contemporary luxury.” It was here where Agatha Christie hid in 1926, resulting in an 11-day national manhunt for her.

Our views of North Yorkshire. (Photo by George Hodan)
Our views while exploring North Yorkshire (Photo by George Hodan)

Free time for writing and dinner in Harrogate. Your hosts are both foodies and will happily make recommendations.

(Breakfast, Overnight at the Old Swan in Harrogate)

Saturday, May 30th

Morning: breakfast in the Old Swan’s glass-ceilinged Wedgwood dining room – and then we’ll travel to a secluded valley to explore Fountains Abbey, one of the biggest and best preserved ruined (which sounds like an oxymoron) Cistercian monasteries in England.

Yorkshire, Fountains Abbey (photo by George Hodan)
Yorkshire, Fountains Abbey (Photo by George Hodan)
Fountains Abbey (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Fountains Abbey (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

 Afternoon: pub lunch – followed by battle of the breweries in Masham. We’ll pitt the beers of Black Sheep against T&R Theakston in our own private tasting with our guide, so we can enjoy the bitterness of an internal family feud along with their brews.

2019's participants at the 2nd of the breweries. There was a definite winner, but we're not going to reveal. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Some of 2019′s Decency Be Damned participants at the 2nd of the breweries. There was a definite winner of our battle of the breweries, but we’re not going to reveal. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Evening: three course dinner in Harrogate, and readings back at the Old Swan.

(Breakfast, Beer Tasting, Dinner, Overnight at Old Swan in Harrogate)

Sunday, May 31st

Morning: breakfast in the Wedgwood – followed by our farewell writing workshop in the library.

(Breakfast)

BIOS OF HOSTS – FOLLOWED BY PRICES

Kirsten Koza at "Wake Up and Smell the Shit" book launch at Book Passage, in San FranciscoKirsten Koza (writing workshop host): is the author of the book, Lost in Moscow, published by Turnstone and dubbed by CBC radio Canada “the ultimate what-I-did-last-summer essay ever.” Kirsten edited the Travelers’ Tales (USA) humour anthology, Wake Up and Smell the Shit, and read thousands of stories for that book before narrowing it down to the 31 writers she selected for the volume. She’s had over 75 stories published in books, magazines and newspapers around the world and has repeatedly been invited to speak at the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual conference in New York, on the power of social media for writers and making stories go viral.

Kirsten has taught both postgraduate and 3rd year acting at the University of East London and East 15 Acting School (famous for method acting), in England. She did her BA in theatre at Dalhousie University, in Canada, and her postgrad in the UK at E-15. The final production of her postgrad was staged in Yorkshire. Prior to becoming a professional writer, she worked in theatres across Canada and was the Artistic Director of Canada’s oldest professional summer theatre. Her theatre background has had a massive impact on how she writes, and she looks forward to sharing these methods and other tips with you on the Decency be Damned writing workshop, in Yorkshire.

You can read a couple of her adventures (published in books and magazines) by following these links, and you’ll probably surmise why the management at Travelers’ Tales publishing house affectionately call Kirsten “the Canadian lunatic”: “Chasing Tornadoes” published in the ninth volume of The Best Women’s Travel Writing books, and “The Mountain Men Who Don’t Exist in Kyrgyzstan” published by Perceptive Travel magazine.

Matthew Greenwood of Exploring YorkMatthew Greenwood (your local guide & expert): created his tour company, Exploring York, in 2004, out of a love for his native county of Yorkshire and his lifelong passion for travel. He has guided a wide variety of groups ranging from policemen from Sudan to venture capitalists from New Mexico and adores showing visitors from around the globe his home city and county.

When Matthew was a child he wanted to be a hotel manager and had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of international hotel chains. His interest in all things travel continued through life. He says the reason we embark on journeys is for the unknown, to make discoveries outside our realm of imagination. His own travels have circled the planet. A chance-meeting with a charity worker led to a lifetime dream-trip to Rwanda where he walked among the mountain gorillas, something he couldn’t have imagined coming true when watching Gorillas in the Mist as a child. That trip also fed Matthew’s appetite for learning about war and atrocities and how humanity can endure and overcome. This passion has led to him taking self-study trips (what he calls holidays) to Bosnia, Serbia, Cambodia and Vietnam, where he and Kirsten met in Hanoi outside Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.

Matthew has a keen interest and knowledge in all aspects of history, British and American politics and world affairs.

PRICES AND INCLUSIONS: prices include hotel accommodations – full breakfasts daily – three three-course dinners -  one lunch – daily tours and transportation while on tours – private guide – tastings – and writing workshops.

The price per person based upon a twin shared room is £1695. If you prefer a single room – there is a £150 single supplement for the entire trip duration.

deposit of £300 reserves your place. Canadians and Americans can pay the deposit in dollars (CAD and US) – the currency conversion will be calculated on the day you make the payment.

The group size for this trip is just 10 participants! Please email Kirsten at  writers-expeditions@mail.com (and to make sure we get it please cc kirstenkoza@gmail.com), or message from the Writers’ Expeditions Facebook page with any questions you might have. We respond quickly, so if you don’t hear back from one of those, please do try an alternate, and please check your spam bin for our reply.

EXCLUSIONS: international flights and transportation to and from the first and last hotels – alcohol except where listed in itinerary

Bettys Cafe Tea Room, and that's not a typo - Bettys has no apostrophe however much you'd like to add one (photo by our guide, Matthew Greenwood, Exploring York)
Bettys Cafe Tea Room, and that’s not a typo – Bettys has no apostrophe however much you’d like to add one. (Photo by our guide, Matthew Greenwood, Exploring York)
2019's Decency Be Damned participants on the steam train. (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Some of 2019′s Decency Be Damned participants on the adult version of the “Hogwarts Express.” (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Yorkshire Dales (Photo by George Hodan)
Yorkshire Dales (Photo by George Hodan)
2018's participants reading their indecencies at the Old Swan (photo by Kirsten Koza)
2018′s participants reading their indecencies at the Old Swan (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Decency Be Damned participants during our ghost walk in 2019 (Photo by Kirsten Koza).
Decency Be Damned participants during our ghost walk in 2019 (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
Driving through the Yorkshire Countryside in the Spring (photo by Kirsten Koza)
Driving through the Yorkshire countryside in the spring (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

 

 

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I realized we were doing the full crossing of the mountain chain. Tian/Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

There’s a Plunder of Uranium in Them Thar Hills

story and photos by Kirsten Koza

(first published in Perceptive Travel Magazine – USA)

My travel insurance provider said Kyrgyzstan was a “no-fly zone” due to the revolution. Sergey, who’d been organizing my mountain bike ride across the Tian Shan Mountains, looked out his window in Bishkek and declared he couldn’t see a revolution. Regardless, media showed it to be gruesome, so nobody from North America would join me. My Kyrgyzstani cycling guide and I had spent the first two days cut off from our support vehicle and supplies by rockslides. We felt lucky to be alive and were now reunited with our driver and translator.

 Nearing Chok-Tal Mountain and 13,000 feet above sea level in Kyrgyzstan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Alexey turned the 4×4 onto a dirt track but Kyrgyz nomads surrounded us, blocking our path. The nomads’ Mongol features were all malformed, faces too narrow, impossibly close set eyes; one of them in a crisp white shirt and tweed vest surely had Down syndrome. He shoved his head through Alexey’s open window and inspected my petite, blonde bike guide in the passenger seat and then, Cholpon, my pretty, young, Kyrgyz translator in the back beside me. His small eyes finally seized me. These men weren’t leering; they were sizing up livestock at a market. I hid my middle-aged breasts behind my knapsack and reached for my camera. If something was going to happen, I wanted to capture it. I was still haunted by the parting words of a magazine editor a few years back who’d threatened me as I left for Easter Island with, “No picture; no story.”

“No, don’t,” Cholpon covered my camera. “Alexey, please put up your window.” She transitioned from English to Russian to talk to Alexey and Yena and then back to English. “There’s something wrong with these men. They only speak rough Kyrgyz—they have just a rudimentary knowledge of language.” Kyrgyzstan had formerly been part of the USSR and most people spoke Russian, but these men didn’t, and apparently they barely had a grasp of Kyrgyz.

Alexey revved the engine. Alexey had grown up in Soviet times. His parents were rebels, so, instead of speaking to him in Russian when he was a baby, they only spoke to him in English. Two nights ago, between vodka shots, he’d asked me to imagine his first day at school—a Russian kid from Kyrgyzstan, in the USSR, and English was his first and only language.

Alexey had grown up during Soviet times. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

The nomads ignored the urging from Alexey’s engine.

Cholpon was panicking. “Please, let’s get out of here. They’re primitive.”

This wasn’t just primitive. Why would every single one of them have obvious mental and physical afflictions? We were in the middle of nowhere Kyrgyzstan.

“Alexey, we need to go!” Cholpon hissed in my ear.

Two of the men banged the hood. They wanted us to take a tire up the mountain. Alexey indicated that the Toyota was packed with our camping gear and bikes and said “no.” He coaxed two deformed heads out of the window with the automatic window button. He nudged forward, pushing them and then gunned it leaving the primitive men and their wheel.

Ak-Köl, Lake of Secrets

Cholpon babbled about how terrifying they were as we drove through streams and gullies and swamps and headed up the tricky track until we reached a mind-blowing emerald, turquoise, and copper-green lake. Lake Ak-Köl hadn’t been on any of my maps, so Alexey marked it for me. The water shimmered like a chameleon as it reflected both the sky and the red, mineral-laden mountains that were dotted with trees. There was a plunder of riches in these hills. As we rounded the lake we came upon a ghost town of matching, dilapidated wooden houses with boarded windows. Alexey made a U-turn, and we headed back a short distance to set up camp on a patch of grass at the water’s edge.

Lake Ak Kol, Kyrgyzstan (Photo by Kirsten Koza)As we unloaded the gear, Cholpon seized my hand with an eagle claw grip. She pointed speechless with her other hand. Where had he come from? Marching past, looking dead ahead, in his crisp white shirt and tweed vest was the man with Down syndrome. He hadn’t even broken a sweat climbing the mountain on foot as fast as we had done in a 4×4. We all stared. His shirt still looked freshly ironed. Cholpon pleaded with Alexey and Yena that we leave. They told her to stop being silly.

I decided to take photos of the lake and find a bush to pee behind while my guides argued. Alexey and Yena were irritated with Cholpon. They said she was overreacting. Cholpon was assigning supernatural powers to the man with Down syndrome. I didn’t like how he’d suddenly appeared. It should have taken him hours. I peed and looked across the lake as the distinct feeling of being watched crept along my arms with a gaggle of goose pimples. Then I heard voices from the far shore. No, maybe closer. There was laughter. I struggled to pull up my pants. I used my camera like binoculars but couldn’t see anyone.

Kyrgyzstan, Cholpon chops chicken at Lake Ak-Kol  (Photo by Kirsten Koza)I rushed back to camp. Cholpon was crying and chopping up a chicken. Alexey was pumping up his air mattress in the van. Yena was erecting the tents. I poured myself a glass of wine and grabbed my laptop. “Yena, what’s up with Cholpon?” I asked.

“Pfft,” Yena dismissed. “She thinks she is going to be kidnapped bride, like her sister.” I pictured Cholpon being carried away by a village of deformed men.

Cholpon had told me about her sister just minutes after she and Sergey had met me at the airport. Cholpon’s sister had attempted suicide to escape the family of nomads who’d kidnapped her. The nomads thankfully had brought her to a hospital which was how she got away. Sergey had seen my concern and assured me I had nothing to worry about because the nomads liked docile women (not me) who could also make kumis, fermented mares’ milk, and I couldn’t even milk a horse. He was kind not to point out that I was also too old.

Two men approached from the abandoned mining town, which I was suspecting, although boarded up, was far from abandoned. I hadn’t seen a sign of a woman. But they had to be here—doing laundry maybe? I wondered if they all shared the same mother and how many generations of incest this was. The men were asking Alexey for cigarettes. I took a photo.

“No!” Yena whispered motioning me to put my camera down. “And hide your laptop.” She dropped her jacket on my equipment.

The men stumbled back to the village. They looked like they’d been imbibing in something stronger than horse milk. They were met with whoops and war cries.

“Have you ever seen the movie, Deliverance?” I asked my guides. Alexey had a huge stack of DVDs of international films which he watched in the van while Yena and I biked. None of them had seen Deliverance. Dueling banjos dueled in my head. “It’s about a camping trip that goes wrong.” I chose not to tell Cholpon about the sodomy scene.

We ate, and Cholpon wiped a steady stream of tears from her face and actually drank some of my wine, which she didn’t do normally, being Muslim. This rule didn’t seem to apply to Kyrgyz men. Many embraced the Russian tradition; if you open the bottle of vodka, you finish the bottle of vodka.

Darkness devoured the landscape. And soon as it did the howls and cries of mounting excitement from the ghost town started to move in the blackness. We heard wolf cries and then lights flickered—lanterns had been lit as if on cue and were bobbing as they were carried from the village in single file along the far shore. Another line of lights snaked towards us. They were going to surround us. Maybe someone would be killed and then I’d have something to write about. Did I just think that?!

A Night Escape

“We’re going!” Alexey was pulling tent pegs. I could stop him. Sergey had said my guides were to do whatever I wanted. The villagers were circling. If I gave the order to stay, I’d definitely have something to write about. What would happen? Rape, murder? Cholpon was sobbing. She threw pots in boxes. A sensible wave of terror swept over me. What was I going to do, just stand there and take photos of a massacre on a mountain? Yena and I pulled down a tent.

“Hurry,” Alexey panted. “Don’t remove the tent poles. Throw it in the van. We’ll deal with it later. Don’t worry about the garbage!” That wasn’t like Alexey. “Fucking leave it for them.”

Their screams and lights were all around us. Yena and Alexey jumped into the front and Cholpon and I had to lie on Alexey’s air mattress in the back with the chaos of tents and gear. He spun the tires. We frantically locked the doors.

“Don’t get stuck, Alexey,” Cholpon cried and held my hand. That was my big fear too. We’d made our way through rivers and sucking mud in the daylight. This was treacherous at night. Nobody else knew where we were. We’d changed our route because of the landslides. There wasn’t cell service. Cholpon whispered in my ear, “Do you think they’ll rape us?” Yeah, I actually figured that might be the best case scenario. It was the murdering that had me even more worried.

I was exhausted the next morning. I sat with my feet in icy rapids. The water here too had a mineral rich hue. I’d hardly slept. Even though Alexey assured us we’d driven far enough from the not-so-abandoned mining town and its horror film of inhabitants, I couldn’t stop thinking about how the man with Down’s could appear from nowhere. Maybe there were shortcuts they knew. Yena handed me a cup of coffee. “Yikes,” I looked at the curdled artificial creamer.

Kyrgyzstan, river near Kyzyl-oi (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

“Yes, I don’t know why it do this,” she said.

It looked disgusting, but I drank it anyway. I was still perturbed by my dangerous urge of last night. I’d actually fantasized someone dying for writing fodder. Sure, there was a lot of competition out there for an exciting story, and not many of us were unfortunate (or fortunate) enough to have to hack off an arm to survive, or be taken hostage in Afghanistan, but for me to wish for something like that was as gross as the paparazzi who took photos of J.K. Rowling’s crotch when she was enjoying a day at the beach. No, maybe not that gross, because I’d never take a photo of a children’s author’s privates…perhaps John Grisham or Dan Brown in a Speedo—but not to sell.

I went for a second cup of coffee. I sniffed the powdered creamer. Could anything even go wrong with the stuff? I spooned it into the cup of instant coffee. It curdled. I sipped it again. It tasted okay. Perhaps it was the PH of the antifreeze-green water. Cholpon had filled our water containers at Ak-Köl.

“Nobody Lives There”

Map of Kyrgyzstan on t-shirt (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Yena and I had been biking all day along a two-track. We were lost. Somehow we were going to have to find Cholpon and Alexey with no cell service. Just ahead was a red Mercedes and several generations of Kyrgyz males packing up their fishing tackle. They agreed to give us a lift. As we took the wheels off our bikes to fit them in the trunk, they wanted to know where I lived in Canada and why I was here during a revolution.

Asking for directions (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

One of the men was an executive at a Belgian mining company. Yena told him about Ak-Köl. He kept saying, “No.” The rest was Russian. I looked at Yena to translate.

“He said nobody lives at Ak-Köl. He said it’s closed. The lake is contaminated with uranium.”

Visions of my curdled coffee swirled before me. I’d been drinking uranium while imagining taking dirty photos of John Grisham and Dan Brown.

Four years later, Cholpon, Sergey and I are sitting in an exotic, tented restaurant in Bishkek. The white fabric billows in the summer breeze which carries the scent of grilled meat and fresh bread. I’m back. I’m here to photograph Kyrgyz nomadic life—the horse games, eagle hunters, markets, yurts, and food.

Woman milks a horse. I was back in Kyrgyzstan to take photos of nomadic life (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

“When I teach tourism classes in the winter, I always tell the story of Ak-Köl.” Cholpon hands me a skewer of sheep meat. “Nobody believes me.”

“That’s weird,” I agree, “because when I’ve told the story, I’ve had people deny that anyone lives there and even say there is no such lake. Maybe I should return. The lake is killing people. That’s got to be why they’re all deformed.”

“You can’t,” Sergey says. “It’s forbidden. It’s closed. Nobody lives there.”

I have the distinct feeling that people do still live there. My pulse quickens. They are hiding in the hills, camouflaged like their toxic chameleon of a lake.

 _____

Kirsten Koza is an author, humorist, and journalist. She edited the Travelers’ Tales anthology Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets and a Demon Dildo, and she is the author of Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR. Always looking for her next adventure, Kirsten has covered topics (for newspapers, magazines and anthologies worldwide) such as tornado chasing, cannibalism, insect eating, mummies, Putin, gluten, and body disposal. See more at www.kirstenkoza.com.

 

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Petra candles at night, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)

We’ve made the reservations, and you just need to bring your appetite for our epic epicurean adventure crossing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, from the Dead to the Red Sea and back. Petra, Indiana Jones, Wadi Rum desert, Lawrence of Arabia, jeep tours, camping with Bedouin, night photography, camels, a hot air balloon ride, floating in the Dead Sea (you couldn’t sink if you tried), scented spice markets, an orgasm of food, hookah pipes, wine & something far stronger–this is just a taste of what you’ll be experiencing.

Scroll down for full itinerary, prices, and your hosts’ biographies.

Expedition Dates: November 6-13, 2019

Group Size: maximum 12 (there are just two spots left)

You’ll get pro photography tips from Christopher Campbell (Chatelaine, Spa Magazine, Food Network TV). He took this photo while at the Dana Biosphere Preserve on our 2014 expedition and where we’ll once again be hiking and spending the night in 2019. (Writers’ Expeditions)
Royal tombs at Petra, Jordan (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Royal tombs at Petra, Jordan (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
A giant platter of Jordanian mezze. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, your photography host on this expedition)
A giant platter of Jordanian mezze. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, your photography host on this expedition)
Jordan: you'll feel the history as you walk through the siq leading to Petra. It might look like a film set, but it's not, however, Indiana Jones fans will remember the scene shot here. (photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Jordan: you’ll feel the history as you walk through the siq leading to Petra. It might look like a film set, but it’s not, however, Indiana Jones fans will remember the scene shot here. (photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

Raiders of the Last Platter – Jordanian food adventure – itinerary

Wednesday, November 6, Day 1: Welcome to Amman! After you’ve checked into our hotel in the heart of downtown Amman, at the very edge of the historic old town, we’ll start our epicurean adventures in the suq at a restaurant famous for its falafels and hummus, followed by indulging in kunafa at a long-time family-run sweet shop, and then we’ll venture into an infamous hookah/shisha lounge to smoke pipes (or if you’d prefer, you can just take photos of your new friends smoking) and to enjoy Jordanian wine and sample potent Araq (or you can just have tea or coffee)–but we’re not done yet, because then we’ll be going to a bakery so we can counteract the effects of the potent Araq. We’ll be swimming in the Dead Sea tomorrow, but don’t worry; you can’t sink.

Dinner, Tastings, Overnight in Amman*** (with 4.5 star reviews, wifi)

Jordanian sweets. (Photo by Christopher Campbell Writers' Expeditions)
Jordanian sweets. (Photo by Christopher Campbell Writers’ Expeditions)
 (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Citadel ruins – located downtown Amman, Jordan (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

November 7, Day 2 – Dead Sea and Petra – for someone somewhere this is a day of multiple bucket list items to be ticked: After breakfast we’ll drive to the Dead Sea, of which the surface and surrounding shore are about 1,400 feet below sea level. This is the lowest place on land on the planet. We’ll change into our swimsuits to float and soak in the salty waters. The water is 9.6 times saltier than the ocean making a human being insanely, hysterically, buoyant like a cork.  We’ll lunch at the seaside before driving to Petra, stopping on route for a baklava break.

The Dead Sea, Jordan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
The Dead Sea, Jordan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

We’ll check in at our hotel right by the entrance to Petra, the sandstone, rose city, which is far more vast than you probably anticipate, since many have only seen a few of the most famous buildings on documentaries, in books, and in movies– Petra, an archaeological wonder, is about 60 square kilometres. Before our candlelit adventure into Petra at night, we’ll have a hands on culinary experience using local fresh ingredients. For millennia Petra was the heart and soul of the spice trade, and this evening a family of local chefs will guide us.

Breakfast, Lunch, Baklava, Dinner, Overnight Petra*** (pool, wifi) – we’ll be spending two nights at this hotel

We'll experience Petra by candlelight and will get to experiment with night photography. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
We’ll experience Petra by candlelight and will get to experiment with night photography. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

 November  8, Day 3 – Petra: This morning we’ll time our walk through the siq to catch the perfect light for photos.  You’ll quickly realize why this ancient city is a World Wonder. We’ll have lunch at one of the restaurants within the Petra site. If anyone gets tired during the day, you can hire a horse or camel or donkey to get out of Petra and re-visit after a nap.

The Treasury, Petra. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
The Treasury, Petra. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
A Bedouin kid at Petra. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
A Bedouin kid at Petra. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

We’ll freshen up before dinner and then we’ll head out to a local restaurant, and for any who aren’t totally wiped after we dine, we’ll go to the oldest bar in the world which is inside a cave that is a 2000-year-old Nabataean tomb!

There are 850 steps leading to the monastery at Petra. It's optional, but we do recommend it. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
There are 850 steps leading to the monastery at Petra. It’s optional, but we do recommend it. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
Looking down on Petra's treasury. (photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Looking down on Petra’s treasury. (photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Overnight Petra Palace

November 9, Day 4 – Dana nature preserve – hiking and camping:

Dana reserve, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Dana reserve, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Today we’ll transfer to meet our local adventure guide at Feynan and will hike and scramble over rocky terrain along the rim of Wadi Shagg al Kelbe, and round the steep slopes of Wadi Dana. The trail leads into the terraced gardens of Dana Village, where villagers cultivate fruits and herbs, and where you can see old Ottoman houses and traditional lifestyles. Tonight we’ll camp in the 380 square kilometre biosphere.

Our 2014 participants and local host, at the camp in Dana, roasting marshmallows around the fire. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Our 2014 participants and local host, at the camp in Dana, roasting marshmallows around the fire. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
Maqluba is a traditional dish in Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Maqluba is a traditional dish in Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Overnight camping

November 10, Day 5 – Wadi Rum, glamping with Bedouin -  eat like a sheik – it’s Lawrence of Arabia time: This afternoon Salem and his team will greet us in Rum village and will drive us across the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum to to their camp where we’ll be spending the next two nights. As we drive across the desert sands it might remind you of the majestic sweeping landscape shots from Lawrence of Arabia because that’s exactly where we’ll be, in the footsteps, or camel tracks, of Lawrence (and Peter O’Toole too).

Our Bedouin campsite is at a secluded location deep in the desert. We’ll settle down and will feast on dishes such as ‘Zarb’—a traditional Bedouin dish of meat and vegetables cooked in a sand oven. We’ll gather around the campfire, banter with our hosts and will become acquainted with the extraordinary people who are the Bedouin of Wadi Rum.

This is how we'll roll in Wadi Rum. That's Salem, our Bedouin host leaning out of his truck window. And that's Chris, your photography host, wearing his red and white keffiyeh in the back. (Photo taken by Kirsten Koza, your expedition host, standing in the back of another truck.)
This is how we’ll roll in Wadi Rum. That’s Salem, our Bedouin host leaning out of his truck window. And that’s Chris, your photography host, wearing his red and white keffiyeh in the back. (Photo taken by Kirsten Koza, your expedition host, standing in the back of another truck.)
We’ll explore and play on the sand dunes of Wadi Rum. (photo by Kirsten Koza, adventure travel writer)

Sleeping in the desert: you’ll have the option of snoozing in your traditional Bedouin tent made of goat hair, or you can take your mattress out for a night under a starry sky with zero light interference.

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Overnight in Bedouin camp

Bedouin tents made of goat hair at magic hour - you'll get to take some beauty photos at Salem's camp. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Bedouin tents made of goat hair at magic hour – you’ll get to take some beauty photos at Salem’s camp. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
Night photography outing at Wadi Rum. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Night photography outing at Wadi Rum. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

November 11, Day 6 -  camel trek and traditional lunch with Bedouin family at their home:

Your camel awaits - Wadi Rum. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Your camel awaits – Wadi Rum. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

After breakfast we’ll ride camels to Rum village where we’ll partake in an authentic lunch experience. This is going to be full-on cultural immersion, and it’s an honour for us to have been extended this invitation.

Wadi Rum, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Wadi Rum, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Overnight Bedouin Camp

November 12, Day 7 – hot air balloon ride over Wadi Rum, swimming in the Red Sea, old suqs of Aqaba: 

One of our Bedouin hosts leaps on this natural Wadi Rum rock formation. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
One of our Bedouin hosts leaps on this natural Wadi Rum rock formation. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

We will rise early this morning for our hot air balloon adventure.

Inside the massive hot air balloon as it fills. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Inside the massive hot air balloon as it fills. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
Setting up the hot air balloon in the early morning - Wadi Rum. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Setting up the hot air balloon in the early morning – Wadi Rum. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

Then we’ll drive to Aqaba to swim in the Red Sea.

The Red Sea - boats with eyes. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
The Red Sea – boats with eyes. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Then we’ll lunch and sniff our way through spice shops in the old suqs of Aqaba before heading to ancient Madaba and to your host’s favourite restaurant in this town once ruled by both the Roman and Byzantine empires.

Spice merchant in Aqaba. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
Spice merchant in Aqaba. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

Breakfast, Hot Air Balloon Ride, Lunch, Dinner, Overnight in Madaba (pool, wifi, beautiful bar)

November  13, Day 8: - Breakfast, then farewell, and if you are leaving Jordan today we will transfer you to the airport. The hotel is about twenty minutes from the airport.

Prices, Inclusions, and Exclusions followed by your hosts’ bios

Price per person is US$2660 in double room accommodations. Single price supplement for solo travellers requesting a private room is US$160 (so if you snore, or are a light sleeper, or get farty from falafels, it’s money well spent).

A $350 USD deposit per person reserves your spot and can be made by credit card. This of course is subtracted from your total. The payments are broken down into three instalments.

Please contact us with questions or to make a booking at: writers-expeditions@mail.com (and also CC kirstenkoza@gmail.com to make sure we get it). You can also reach us in a private message from our Writers’ Expeditions Facebook page. We respond quickly so if you don’t hear back from us, please check your spam bin.

Inclusions:

Accommodation: 4nts in 3-star hotels, 2nts in a Bedouin camp, and 1nt in an eco camp

Meals: all meals while on tour – 7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches, 7 Dinners – plus treats throughout the trip

Guides: licensed English-speaking Jordanian guide throughout the trip, local hiking guide in Dana, local Bedouin guides in Wadi Rum

Digital professional photographs of your adventure and assistance with yours

Transportation: in a private air-conditioned bus, by camels, hot air balloon, and open-air military-style Land Cruisers in Wadi Rum

Entrance Fees: Dead Sea beach access, Petra 2-day pass, Wadi Rum, Aqaba beach access

Activities:  photography, sightseeing, tastings, camping, hiking, swimming, culture, cooking class, hot air balloon (should weather be unsuitable for a hot air balloon ride this will be refunded), and for anyone interested in travel or memoir writing – your host is always available to give you tips

Exclusions:

Flights to Jordan

Jordanian visa (single entry) which you obtain at the airport and is 40JD (about 56USD)

Travel Insurance

Drinks (except where listed in the itinerary)

Tips to local Jordanian guides

Your Hosts and Expedition Designers Described by Kirsten

Kirsten Koza at "Wake Up and Smell the Shit" book launch at Book Passage, in San FranciscoKirsten Koza: I’m your host and expedition designer and am a professional adventure travel writer, author, humourist and journalist. I ruthlessly pretest the Writers’ Expeditions trips to find the best local guides, tour operators, and unique adventures, so you can have a great experience. I’ve had more than seventy stories published in books, magazines, and newspapers around the world, on topics as varied as going inside the largest Syrian refugee camp, bullfighting, cannibalism, tornado chasing, mountain biking, dildos, dictators, Putin, gluten, mutants, and politics.  I’ve even made the front page of Kyrgyzstan’s national newspaper. I’m the author of Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR and edited the Traveler’s Tales anthology Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets, and a Demon Dildo.

Christopher Campbell (professional photographer)Christopher Campbell: once again I’ve invited one of my favourite photographers (and one of the best travel companions you’ll ever meet) to lead our photographic adventures and share a lifetime of tips, tricks & technique. You have probably seen his images displayed on TV’s Food Network cooking shows or in publications as varied as ChatelaineSpa Magazine, or Harper Collins cookbooks–and most definitely in ads–he’s the one you can blame for making you crave Absolut Vodka, Kahlua, that dew dripping glass of Gordon’s gin, Florida oranges, late night fast food at Wendy’s or McDonald’s (blame him for that), or test driving a Mercedes—that’s Christopher Campbell’s fault too. This is the seventh photography expedition he’s hosted for Writers’ Expeditions and his second for us in Jordan.

Rakan Rakan Mehyar: After first doing a Dead to Red Sea mountain biking tour with Rakan Mehyar’s Jordanian company, and falling in love with both the place and his team, I then asked him to organize an epic eating fest and expedition (with no bicycles), which we first ran in 2014. Rakan received his training at the Cesar Ritz in Switzerland and thus was the perfect man to arrange our activity packed adventure.

And we now leave you with some more images from our past adventures in Jordan and hope you can join us in 2019.

Salem, your Bedouin host, Wadi Rum. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)

Chasm at Petra. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Jordanian sweets. (photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)At Petra, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Our 2014 participants having a picnic in Wadi Rum. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)

Street food, Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Dead Sea, Jordan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)A cup of cardamon coffee. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Dates in Jordan. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Driving across the sands of Wadi Rum. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)The King's Highway, Jordan (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Setting sun reflects off the dunes in Jordan. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)

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Writers' Expeditions annual Vlad Dracula Halloween expedition cover photo 2019

You’re invited to join our annual Vlad Dracula Expedition – a seven-day dinner party through Romania celebrating both Halloween and then Day of the Dead, as we explore the life of Vlad the Impaler!

This trip was previously sold out, but we just had a cancellation and can take one more participant now. Because the participant had the 2017 rate for this trip – we’ll give that same rate to anyone who fills their spot – so that’s 100 Euros off the price. Scroll down for all the details.

Expedition dates: October 28th – November 3rd, 2019 (We’ll be running this adventure again in 2020)

(Maximum group-size for this expedition is 12)

Scroll down past the itinerary for prices, inclusions, and the hosts’ biographies.

When we entered the cemetery in Sighisoara (the birthplace of Vlad Dracula) we were greeted by an Alfred Hitchcock sky. (Photo by Writers' Expeditions's photography host Christopher Campbell).
When we entered the cemetery in Sighisoara (the birthplace of Vlad Dracula) we were greeted by an Alfred Hitchcock sky. (Photo by Writers’ Expeditions’s photography host Christopher Campbell).

We’ve made all the reservations–you just need to pack a costume and your inner child (or demon) for this howling Halloween party across Romania. Our seven-day (small group) expedition includes dining on October 31st in the chamber where real-life Dracula, Vlad Drăculea (known as Vlad the Impaler), was born in 1431. We’ll be sleeping that night, across the square, in an inn of similar vintage, inside the (UNESCO) medieval walled city of Sighisoara. We were the first people (and are the only) to ever host a dinner party in the room where Dracula was born, and each year we barely make it through cocktails before we are regaling each other with spine-tingling experiences from our lives. We’ll also be celebrating Day of the Dead, on November 2nd, at the ultimate costume party, inside Bran Castle (known as Dracula’s Castle, built circa 1377) which was owned by Vlad’s grandfather (Mircea the Old) and was possibly attacked by Vlad in 1460.

We'll dine in the room where Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
We’ll dine in the room where Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
The ruins of Poenari (AKA Dracula's Vulture's Nest) Transylvania, Romania. (Photo by our local Romanian guide and expert)
The ruins of Poenari (AKA Dracula’s Vulture’s Nest) Transylvania, Romania. (Photo by our local Romanian guide and expert)

Our Transylvanian guide (with whom I explored Romania extensively) and I have designed a journey that will take us to the best local haunts: medieval castles with gruesome history, torture chambers, moody cemeteries, all contrasted with one of the most beautiful times of year to visit Romania which will be glowing in autumn colours. And Christopher Campbell, professional photographer (Chatelaine, Food Network, Harper Collins), will be guiding you during our escapades to capture photos of a lifetime, whether you’re using a mobile device, point & shoot, or a DSLR with multiple lenses. Plus he’ll be providing you (throughout the expedition and when you get back home) with digital images of your adventures.

Corvin Castle. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Corvin Castle. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)
You'll see horse wagons like this on our scenic drive through Transylvania's Carpathian mountains (photo by your host, Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)
You’ll see horse wagons like this on our scenic drive through Transylvania’s Carpathian mountains (photo by your host, Kirsten Koza, Writers’ Expeditions)

Included in the 1590 1490 Euro price for this seven-day cultural adventure: all meals which you order from the full restaurant menus (you can go on a diet when you get home), 4 star accommodation, licensed Transylvanian (tour operator) guide and translator, activities/entrance fees, some booze, pro photos, and our private vehicle and driver while on this phenomenal tour. (You can reserve your spot with a 250 Euro deposit.)

Day 1:  October 28th  - Pickup at Otopeni Airport outside Bucharest (we’ll also greet you at the airport if you arrive a day in advance). -Next door to our hotel are the ruins of the Princely Palace, the castle that Dracula built in celebration of his own greatness or evilness. In the evening we’ll explore the historic pedways of the old town of Bucharest which was first settled in 70 BC and by the 1400s was the wealthiest city in Eastern Europe. Then we’ll dine at The Beer Chariot, a dazzling 19th century restaurant which is always packed with locals and boasts an extensive menu of tasty Romanian dishes. - Dinner. Palinca shots. Overnight at Europa Royale Bucharest Hotel ****

The Beer Chariot, Bucharest. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, photography host for The Dracula Expedition)
The Beer Chariot, Bucharest. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, photography host for The Dracula Expedition)
A beautiful cathedral with a dark secret, at the monastery of Curtea de Arges. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)
A beautiful cathedral with a dark secret, at the monastery of Curtea de Arges. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)

Day 2: October 29th - After a hot buffet breakfast in the hotel’s award winning restaurant, we’ll visit the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (following the Pentagon), and a legacy of a more recent “Dracula,” the communist dictator Ceausescu (executed in 1989). Then we’ll break out the treat bags for our scenic drive to Targoviste. The townsfolk of Targoviste were blamed by Vlad for their involvement in the assassination of his brother by the Turks. Vlad killed nobles and enslaved the townsfolk to build his castle at Poenari. Breakfast, Lunch, DinnerOvernight in Curtea de Arges****

Vlad the Impaler was a master at psychological warfare. The Ottoman army returned to Constantinople when they encountered 20,000 (or possibly more) impaled corpses outside Vlad's home, Targoviste.
Vlad the Impaler was a master at psychological warfare. The Ottoman army retreated back to Constantinople after they encountered 20,000 (or possibly more) impaled corpses outside Vlad’s home, Targoviste.

Day 3: October 30th – Dracula’s Fortress (where Vlad’s first wife plunged to her death off a cliff to avoid capture by an enemy army) and then to the mind-blowing Transfăgărășan - The ruins of Poenari Castle (Dracula’s Fortress) are perched high on a rugged crag above the Arges river gorge. There are 1,480 stairs to Dracula’s “vulture nest.” One of our previous participants worked it out to being 100 storeys. Now, if you really think you can’t make the climb–there’s a lovely lodge and restaurant down the road from the first step. Following our hike, we’ll cross the Carpathian Mountains on the Transfăgărășan Highway.

Crossing the Carpathians on the Transfagarasan Highway. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
Crossing the Carpathians on the Transfagarasan Highway. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

We continue on our Vlad Dracula quest, stopping in Sibiu, a town steeped in legend and named by Forbes magazine as one of the 10 most idyllic places to live in Europe. It was here that Mihnea the Evil, Dracula’s son, was murdered in front of the cathedral.

(A small sample of food on our expedition. We can cater to omnivores, vegetarians, vegans, vampires and carnivores.)

Papanasi - Romanian dessert (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions

Romanian beans - photo by Christopher Campbell - Writers' ExpeditionsThe tomatoes in Romania are divine. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Romanian cabbage rolls and polenta. (photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)A typical salad in Romania is beyond typical. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)

Mushrooms and polenta, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Ribs in Sibiu, Romania (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

Pasta at Werk, across from Corvin Castle, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)

 

 

Romanian pretzels in Transylvania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then plunge further west into Transylvania to Corvin Castle where Vlad Dracula was fugitive, or some argue prisoner. This is one of the largest castles in Europe and has been host to many paranormal investigative television shows from around the world. You’ll see why, or maybe some of you will feel it. - Breakfast, lunch, dinner – Overnight in Hunedoara ****

Corvin Castle, Hunedoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Corvin Castle, Hunedoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Day 4:  October 31st – Halloween – tonight we have a private dinner party in the room where Vlad Dracula was born in 1431! After exploring Corvin Castle and the grisly torture chambers at its gates, we’ll take a picturesque drive to Sighisoara, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Night shot on the cobbled medieval streets of Sighisoara, Romania. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, travel author and host of the Vlad Dracula Expedition)
Night shot on the cobbled medieval streets of Sighisoara, Romania. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, travel author and host of the Vlad Dracula Expedition)

We’ll be spending the night inside this preserved walled town, in a medieval hotel, across the square from the house where Vlad Dracula was born in 1431, which is where we’ll be dining this Hallows’ Eve. After scaring each other with spine-tingling stories around the dinner table, we’ll also pay a nighttime visit to the cemetery. If anyone doesn’t think they can take that, they can head to Club B (we think the B stands for blood). - Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Palinca tasting. Overnight in hotel which is over 500 years old!

Day 5:  November 1st (more fabulous food and night photography in a rural hillside cemetery)

Sighisoara, Romania. (Photo by our local guide and expert - Writers' Expeditions)
Sighisoara, Romania. (Photo by our local guide and expert – Writers’ Expeditions)
Medieval covered staircase leading to the spectacular cemetery, in Sighisoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
Medieval covered staircase leading to the spectacular cemetery, in Sighisoara. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

We’ll revisit the cemetery by day and will explore the rest of the fortified Saxon town before heading to Moecui. We’ll be spending the next two nights in the mountains near Bran Castle (“Dracula’s Castle”), at our guide’s rural, family-run inn, where we’ll have a bountiful, seasonal, home-cooked Romanian dinner and two breakfasts. Tonight (for those who’d like an adventure) we’ll walk to a hillside cemetery with chained crypts (perhaps to keep people out – or perhaps to keep them in) to take night shots.

We'll be staying at our guide's family's lodge in Moecui, just 15 minutes from Dracula's castle. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)
We’ll be staying at our guide’s family’s lodge in Moecui, just 15 minutes from Dracula’s castle. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)

Breakfast, lunch, dinner – tonight and tomorrow night are at our guide’s mountain lodge. The setting is rustic; the chalet is new (private ensuite bathrooms, wifi).

Bran Castle, known as "Dracula's Castle." (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)
Bran Castle, known as “Dracula’s Castle.” (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers’ Expeditions)

Day 6: November the 2nd – Day of the Dead! – costume party at Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle)

After a hearty farm breakfast (or lighter if you wish) we’ll drive to Brasov where we’ll conquer the medieval ramparts, watchtowers, and Saxon churches (if they don’t conquer us). But best of all, this walled city boasts one of the narrowest streets in Europe. From Brasov to Prejmer: also an UNESCO site. It’s the largest fortified church in Europe and although was besieged some fifty times was only taken once.

Then, tonight is the ultimate costume party -  at Dracula’s castle. Adults of all ages come from around the world for this festival. Every year they decorate the castle differently. You’ll get to photograph some fantastic costumes. Whoever wants to stay to dance into the night is welcome to do so. If anyone would rather return to the inn, they’ll be driven back to Moeciu.

We'll go to the costume party at Bran Castle, AKA Dracula's Castle. (photo by our Romanian guide, Writers' Expeditions)
We’ll go to the costume party at Bran Castle, AKA Dracula’s Castle. (photo by our Romanian guide, Writers’ Expeditions)

Breakfast, lunch, dinner – we spend the night again at our guide’s mountain chalet. Wine is on Dracula tonight.

Halloween party goers at Bran Castle (Dracula's castle), Transylvania, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell for Writers' Expeditions)
Halloween party goers at Bran Castle (Dracula’s castle), Transylvania, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell for Writers’ Expeditions)

Day 7: November 3rd – (we visit Dracula’s grave in an exquisite monastery, on an island)

We’ll have an easy morning (so you can sleep a little longer and have breakfast later) before visiting Rasnov, the 13th century, breathtaking, mountaintop fortress, built by Teutonic Knights. We’ll then drive back from Transylvania towards Bucharest, stopping for the climax of Vlad’s life – his death – and unusual burial wishes.

Farewell: We’ll then drop you off at the airport, or your Bucharest area or airport hotel, or the train station for the next leg of your journey. - Breakfast, lunch

PRICES AND INCLUSIONS (FOLLOWED BY HOST BIOS): This trip includes tons so scroll down to inclusions – it is 1590 (we’re taking 100 Euros off, as that is the 2017 price that the person who had to cancel had) 1490 Euros if you’d share a room with the solo traveller who is looking for a roommate now - if you want a single room and don’t want to share, the single room supplement (to have your own burp and fart space) is 200 Euros for the entire trip, which is nothing more than the extra cost to have that single room. A deposit (which comes off your total) of 250 Euros reserves your spot (Canadians and Americans can make the first two payments in dollars CAD and USD, at the exchange rate on the day you pay). Anyone from around the world is welcome, and you can check the currency conversion from Euros to yours in a quick google search. Please contact us with questions at:  writers-expeditions@mail.com (we respond quickly, so if you don’t hear back in 24 hours, please try kirstenkoza@gmail.com). You can also message us at our Writers’ Expeditions Facebook Page.

Inclusions:

  • All accommodation (the delightful inns are small and unique – four star, with private bath, and wifi)
  • All meals (don’t blame us if you gain weight – the food in Romania is fabulous, and you’re the one ordering what you want from the menus)
  • Some alcohol (see itinerary)
  • Photography sessions for those who wish
  • Professional digital images of your journey
  • Writing tips for any who wish
  • All transfers and transportation on tours
  • English-speaking, Transylvanian guide
  • Our own driver and private vehicle
  • All entrance fees to castles and museums

Exclusions:

  • Airfare
  • Alcohol (unless listed on the itinerary)
  • Visa (not something for North Americans or Europeans to worry about)

Kirsten describes your hosts:

Christopher Campbell (professional photographer)Christopher Campbell: once again I’ve invited one of my favourite photographers (and one of the best travel companions you’ll ever meet) to lead our photographic adventures and share a lifetime of tips, tricks & technique. You have probably seen his images displayed on TV’s Food Network cooking shows or in publications as varied as ChatelaineSpa Magazine, or Harper Collins cookbooks–and most definitely in ads–he’s the one you can blame for making you crave Absolut Vodka, Kahlua, that dew dripping glass of Gordon’s gin, Florida oranges, late night fast food at Wendy’s or McDonald’s (blame him for that), or test driving a Mercedes—that’s Christopher Campbell’s fault too. This is Chris’s fifth year hosting our Dracula Expedition. He’s also been our photography host in Jordan and Vietnam.

Kirsten Koza at "Wake Up and Smell the Shit" book launch at Book Passage, in San FranciscoKirsten Koza: I’m your host and expedition designer and am a professional adventure travel writer, author, humourist and journalist. I ruthlessly pretest the Writers’ Expeditions trips to find the best local guides, tour operators, and unique adventures, so you can have a great experience.  I’ve had more than seventy stories published in books, magazines, and newspapers around the world, on topics as varied as going inside the largest Syrian refugee camp, bullfighting, cannibalism, tornado chasing, mountain biking, dildos, dictators, Putin, gluten, mutants, and politics.  I’ve even made the front page of Kyrgyzstan’s national newspaper. I’m the author of Lost in Moscow: A Brat in the USSR and edited the Traveler’s Tales anthology Wake Up and Smell the Shit: Hilarious Travel Disasters, Monstrous Toilets, and a Demon Dildo.

And we leave you with some photos of Halloween costumes, food and fun from past expeditions (just click on images to expand) and a three-minute documentary made by a participant from a previous expedition. Turn up your speakers for it! The Dracula Expedition Video!

Beer at the Beer Chariot, Bucharest. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)Bat boots on the cobbled streets, Vlad Dracula Expeditions. (Writers' Expeditions)Fountains in Sibiu - past Writers' Expeditions participants. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Picturesque drive in Romania. (Photo by Kirsten Koza of Writers' Expeditions)Sibiu, Romania. (photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Romanian cheese dish. (Writers' Expeditions)A trio of sister participants from our 2018 expedition at Bran Castle's Halloween party. (Writers' Expeditions)One lei note, Curtea de Arges. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)2017 participants outside at Dracula's Castle. (Writers' Expeditions)Romania, 2018, view from Rasnov. (Photo by Kirsten Koza, Writers' Expeditions)Is that Gary Oldman at Dracula's party, Bran Castle, Transylvania? (Writers' Expeditions)Glasses of palinca, Bucharest. (Writers' Expeditions)Bram Stoker's Dracula at Vlad Dracula's costume party with a 2016 participant. (Writers' Expeditions)Just another awesome seasonal fresh salad in Romania. (Writers' Expeditions)We're invited into a gypsy home for fun and drinks. (Writers' Expeditions)Romanian flag at Poenari. (Writers' Expeditions)Outside the torture exhibit, Vlad Dracula Expedition. (Writers' Expeditions)Hashtag sausages, Romania. (Writers' Expeditions)Just another awesome dessert, Romania. (Writers' Expeditions)The tomatoes in Romania are out of this world. (Writers' Expeditions)Night falls at the cemetery in Sighisoara, Romania (Photo by Christopher Campbell)2017 Vlad Dracula Expedition participant in Sighisoara. (Writers' Expeditions)Palinca tasting in Sighisoara. (Writers' Expeditions)Repeating pattern, photography tips, at Curtea de Arges, 2018 (Writers' Expeditions - Christopher Campbell)Our Romanian guide (left) and a gypsy artisan we visit every year for drinks in his family's home. (Writers' Expeditions)Autumn colours and snow capped Carpathians. (Photo by Kirsten Koza)Romanian grilled veg and stuffed chicken. (Writers' Expeditions)Pink waffle truck, Brasov, Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Our Vlad Dracula Expedition group, from 2015, getting ready for the Halloween party at Bran Castle, Transylvania. (Writers' Expeditions)Climbing the stairs to Dracula's fortress. (Photo by Christopher Campbell, Writers' Expeditions)Bran Castle courtyard during the Halloween party (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Bucharest police patrolling on Segways - Romania. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Chris and Kirsten, your Vlad Dracula expedition hosts (Writers' Expeditions)Transylvania, Romania, Heroes' Cross, Caraiman Peak (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Halloween group shot 2016 (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Local made Romanian cheese aged in tree bark. (Photo by Christopher Campbell)Halloween party 2017 group shot. (Writers' Expeditions)Sighisoara, Romania - this medieval walled city is a UNESCO site (Photo by Christopher Campbell for Writers' Expeditions)2018 Writers' Expeditions group shot after getting ready to go to the halloween party at Bran Castle. A Roma tinsmith, Romania (Photo by Christopher Campbell)2018 Vlad Dracula participants in their vampire costumes.

Full moon over Bucharest. (Writers' Expeditions)

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