Here's the travel blogging catch-22. Most people are looking for information about places they plan to visit. So, millions of people search for things about Tuscany, Paris or Amsterdam's canals. The most amazing place on earth won't receive much traffic if nobody knows about it. The problem is, the more popular a place is, the more bloggers there are writing about it. The chance that someone reads your post about the Acropolis? Slim.
Predicting which of our 700 (plus) posts would get read was almost impossible. Some of the best things we wrote didn't even get read by our own parents. Some of our silliest or worst-written bits have became enormously (and embarrassingly) popular.
Our 10 most popular posts (based on Google analytics data and Blogger.com traffic reports) are a mixed bag. Some are good (number one, thankfully), some began their online life as throwaways (see number nine), some are just weird (number five). Only one of these posts was specifically designed to attract traffic (number two).
Sometimes we just hit upon something. Cihangir is a hip, young Istanbul neighborhood. It reminded us of a Turkish Williamsburg and confirmed our belief that renting an apartment is the best way to see a city. The best neighborhoods are often the best because they don't have any hotels. Don't get us wrong, the center of Istanbul is as gobsmacking is you'd expect and we never tired of tooling around in search of balik ekmek or The Mussel Man (who we wind up finding in Cihangir anyway). But the best cities are great because of their ever-changing qualities, their momentum and the neighborhoods defined by the young people there at a given time.
As bloggers, we found ourselves in a jam. Here we were in Vatican City, two whole weeks of posting about a very, very small microstate and the pièce de résistance was off limits. No photos in the Sistine Chapel. Seriously? If this were a rule decreed by the pope, the security guards would probably have worked a little harder - or at all - to enforce it. As it turns out, a Japanese TV company owns the exclusive rights to some of the art world's most famous images because they funded its restoration. (This is after NBC turned down the deal. Probably because they were too busy fine-tuning Joey, the Friends spin-off). Anyway, the whole thing was ridiculous, made only more so by the fact that everyone. was. taking. pictures. So, we decided to half break the rules and snap some shots, too. Just not of the ceiling. We're sure this gets traffic because people are searching to see if photos are allowed in the Sistine Chapel. Not that finding out is going to stop them.Georgian Food
We can vouch for the fact that it is very difficult to search for anything about Georgia, in English, without being directed to the state instead of the country. Using the word "Georgian" helps matters a lot. This one makes us happy because Georgian food really did feel like a revelation. The textures and flavors were consistently surprising and delicious. Pomegranate seeds, crushed walnuts, cilantro, the best bread of our lives. And then there were khinkali, the soup dumpling like concoctions pictured above. In the tiny town of Mestia, at the time the most remote place we'd been, the only restaurant in town basically only served khinkali We discovered, quickly, that they are so delicious you don't need anything more.
Amazingly, this is only our second most-popular Albanian post (see below!)
Sometimes we know exactly why people are reading a specific post. After a TED Blog writer used our photos of Tirana's painted buildings we got a sudden surge of visitors.
The story of Edi Rama (painter turned Minister of Culture turned mayor) and his brilliant idea to transform ugly communist-era cement blocks into bold, bright works of art is a great one. It's no wonder it's garnered some attention. We're just happy that our own piece focuses more on the story of the city today and of Malvin, a young man who served us dinner one night and was showing us around the next. Maybe he'll stumble upon the post himself and shoot us an email. We wonder if he ever made it to that bioengineering school in Canada.Castle Hunting: Trakai Castle
Island castles are a little bit of a trend (see number 4).
We remember this castle most for the speeding ticket we got nearby. Lithuanian police take road safety very seriously. For the record, if you should ever find yourself stopped by an officer in Lithuania, be prepared to pay your fine in cash on the spot. If you don't have the money, he/she will drive you to the nearest bank to withdraw the amount. Don't be scared. This is absolutely normal. Well, you can still be scared. As we were.
Sleeping In Soviet Style
This little Belarusian piece has always baffled us. For almost a year it was our number two most-viewed post, second only to this, about Belarusian tractors (which now ranks about 12th). It would make sense if people were only landing here while looking for lodging in Belarus - which is hard to find - but that didn't seem to be the case. Inexplicably, thousands of people showed up after searching for "armenian elevator buttons." The internet is a weird, weird place.
(Thanks to one visitor, we learned that what we thought was a very cool smoke detector was actually an even cooler single-channel radio from the Soviet age).
We were never even supposed to be there in Kizkalesi, but we were finding it a little difficult to catch a boat to northern Cyprus, and we needed a place to stay. For a Turkish seaside town, it's a little drab. People visit for the "floating" castle (and visit our blog for pictures of it). We stayed in an empty hotel, run by a very nice Kurdish man who took us to the nearby Caves of Heaven and Hell and invited us to watch a televised NBA game with him in the evening.Lithuanian Food
For a long time, Lithuanian Food was the most viewed post on the blog. It features grainy, unappealing photos of cepelinai, blyneliai and various other cheesy, gloppy dishes. This is a poorly-lit shot of kiaulės audis, which is smoked pig's ear. We had no idea - as we crunched cartilage on that dark night in the Žemaitija National Park - that so many people would find this stuff interesting. Then, again, we may not have ordered the smoked pig's ear if we didn't at least hope they would.
Montenegro's Best Beaches
Some day soon, this will be the most read merlinandrebecca.com post. It's been popular since day one, and it does really well around every vacation time. Montenegro is newly independent and popular, so there isn't as much written about it as, say, Croatia. We think that's why readers end up on our site. This one feels a little bittersweet, though, because we created it while thinking "this will get so much traffic!" But, hey, the hope is that then you stumble upon something like this. The other hope is that more people will look beyond the big resorts that are threatening to destroy the coastline and find those little places that remain untouched… for now.
While it's not too surprising that 3 of our 10 most popular posts are about food, Albania sneaking in for the win is a bit of a shock. Here's our theory: there's simply not much information available online about Albanian food. So, unlike a search for "Italian food," you're more likely to stumble upon us. In fact, googling those two words right now, we're right there behind wikipedia, food.com, ask.com and pinterest (which may or may not have even existed when we published this post). If the title had been "Frogs Legs and Lamb's Head" - as I'm sure at least one of us wanted it to be - there's no way this would be our number one. But… hey… we learned a few traffic tips along the way. Now, add the fact that Albania was named Lonely Planet's Top Destination for 2011 and you've got yourself a winner!