RSS

The short life of Doodlez

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I absolutely love being able to see into people’s lives (or the little that they share with the world), and personally I am the babbling brook and always have the urge to share my joys with the world. I do get irritated by some people’s posts and am cautious about the plethora of news articles and sponsored posts on Facebook. Facebook keeps feeding you with similar interests, so there is a risk that you never ‘stumble’ across the other side of the story…

In recent months Facebook started the ‘Share your memories’ initiative. And for now, I am loving it. Admittedly, in those earlier Facebook years the posts were a bit fewer and further in between, but still every now and then there is a beauty. And so it comes that I was reminded of another precious Anya story. The story of Doodlez, the goldfish.

In 2011, my friend Annie promised Anya (then 9 years old) a goldfish. I cannot remember if it was meant to be a belated birthday gift or just because she felt like treating Anya, but in September 2011, we started making plans to get together to purchase this goldfish. By the way, Anya is tenacious when it comes to promises, and will remember and remind you constantly. So, a warning…don’t ever promise her something that you don’t intend following through on!

The first post about this little adventure emerged on 19 September. She was trying to decide on a name for her goldfish…as you do, and decided that the best way to choose between all the names that was going through her mind, was to get her class at school to vote!doodlez 1And in the end…the chosen name was Bubbles, as it clearly received the most votes! But in the couple of weeks leading up to the actual purchase of the fish,planning and arranging to meet at the pet shop, she must have had a change of plans, because the next post is on 29 September 2011…

doodlez 2

I wish I took pictures of the poster she made to welcome Doodlez in our family, or the fishbowl that we assembled. Special water had to be purchased, the fish had to be floated in a plastic bag inside the fish bowl for hours to acclimatise them to the water. And special oxygen tablets had to be chucked in the water to ensure that the poor fish don’t die of a lack of oxygen.

In the end, they decided to buy two fish and the second one was named Bubbles.

The next post still makes me smile, on 30 September…

doodlez 3

I kid you not! I found her sitting by the fish bowl, reading The Soul Bird from Michal Snunit to the fish. I bought the book for Anya when I was going through a divorce 4 years before and it is a beautiful little book about the soul that lives inside all of us and how the soul files all our innermost secrets in little drawers, where we can draw on its strength and sorrow, with the message that we shouldn’t forget to sit still from time to time and make sure we don’t lose touch with our souls. The most educated and enlightened fish in the world!

Sadly, the next post was posted on 13 October…doodlez 4

Rest their souls…

A proper burial was arranged and Anya even roped in some of the kids from the complex to ensure that it was done properly. They were dutifully laid to rest in the back of the garden.

But…that was not the end of the story. By now, Anya was totally fixated by fish and were adamant that she can do this better…the next time around.

So, we went off to the pet shop again, this time buying a proper fish tank, with a blower, a thermostat and all. And she googled how much food goldfish really need, where the tank ought to stand in a room, what type of fish should be kept together, etc. But I’m a bit technologically challenged when it comes to these things, so the next post on 17 October reminded me of my lack of skills…

doodlez 5

Towards the end of October, the last post about these fish was posted when Anya went on a school camp for a couple of days…

doodlez 6

She was clearly paranoid that I was going to forget to feed the fish, so to ensure that I don’t forget, she posted this poster in my room, at my basin, where I brush my teeth and wash my face, so there was no chance I was going to forget!

And with that, the posts ended. However, it was by far not the end of the journey. Unfortunately not a very successful journey, but subsequent fish burials were a bit less ceremoniously and I think the last fish that died about a year later was flushed down the toilet…

But for a while there, Anya was utterly focused on ensuring some goldfish survive and I am so glad Facebook reminded me of this little episode that made me smile in a time that was clouded by many tough choices and an emotional roller coaster.

And, Bianca just told me that her little half brother just got a fish and that she thinks we should donate the fish tank to him. I wonder of the souls of Doodlez and Bubbles will make another child happy!

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 1, 2015 in Kids

 

Tags: ,

A Turkish delight (final part)

A Turkish delight (final part)

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The first thing I did this morning was check my swollen feet…all the walking on cobble streets, up and down hills, took its toll on me the previous day. But icing and some anti-inflammatories seem to have had the desired effect. And we had a bit of a different day planned…a Bosphorus cruise.

The Bosphorus is the strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara in Istanbul and it separates the Asian and European continents. Ideally, if we had more time in Istanbul, we would have loved to make a trip inland. There is so much to see in Turkey, but alas we didn’t have the time. But we were definitely going to do a cruise on the Bosphorus! We needed a little bit more of a relaxing day after two extremely busy days and decided to take the Şehir Hatları cruise, the official ferry company. They offer several Bosphorus cruises, and we chose the full Bosphorus cruise, which takes an hour and 45 minutes, to its final stop in Anadolu Kavaği, the last port before the Black Sea. If we left at 10:35am, we would arrive in Anadolu Kavaği just after 12:00pm, which would give us sufficient time to have a look about and have some lunch, before the return journey at 15:00pm. And we would be back in Istanbul in time to still do something else. Perfect!

We left the apartment and stopped for a traditional Turkish breakfast at Istanbul Travel Café, en route from our accommodation to the tram station.

Another traditional Turkish breakfast...

Another traditional Turkish breakfast…

We took the tram to the Eminönü harbour and bought a return ticket for TL25. We also decided to rent guided tour headsets and settled inside the ferry. The guided tour was interesting and came with a booklet and gave lots of information about the many large homes and palaces (yalı) on the banks of the Bosphorus. There was a map (much more detailed than the picture below!) accompanying the headsets, and we had much fun trying to identify the houses from the pictures…not always so easy.

The Bosporus tour route

The Şehir Hatları Bosporus tour route

The ferry stops at a few ports along the way, but not long enough to disembark. The Bosphorus is quite a sight and it was clear why this strait has fascinated so many over the centuries. The legend goes that the Greek God Zeus had an affair with a beautiful woman named Io.  When Hera, his wife, discovered his infidelity, she turned Io into a cow and created a horsefly to sting her on the rump. Io jumped clear across the strait. And hence the name, as bous (cow) and poros (crossing place) was combined to form Bosphorus or the crossing place of the cow…

Crossing under the first bridge on the Bosphorus cruise

Crossing under the first bridge on the Bosphorus cruise

 

Putting our feet up...

Putting our feet up…

 

At Kanlıca, one of the final stops on the cruise

At Kanlıca, one of the final stops on the cruise

 

First views of the Black Sea

First views of the Black Sea

 

Anadolu Kavağı harbour

Anadolu Kavağı harbour – the final stop

 

Anya trying to take a picture of a jellyfish

Anya trying to take a picture of a jellyfish

 

At Ana

At Anadolu Kavağı

 

Sitting high on the hills overlooking Anadolu Kavağı and the Black Sea is the Yorus Fortress, built by the Byzantines in the same spot where Phoenician and Greek ruins from hundreds of years BC are being excavated today. It was the perfect position with views in all directions.We saw the fortress from the ferry and wanted to walk up, but I must admit we underestimated the climb quite a bit, but it was definitely worth it! The views over the Black Sea were magnificent!

The hike to the Yorus fortress

The hike to the Yorus fortress

 

The Yorus fortress

The Yorus fortress

 

Anya taking a breather...

Anya taking a breather…

 

At the Yorus fortress, overlooking the Black Sea

At the Yorus fortress, overlooking the Black Sea

 

Another picture of the stunning view...

Another picture of the stunning view…

Back at the harbour, we had a fantastic lunch of local produce and fish (of course).

Quite a spread for lunch!

Quite a spread for lunch!

 

Anya battling with her prawns...

Anya battling with her prawns…

After lunch, we made a move on the ferry as we wanted to have good seats on the way back. While we were waiting for the ferry to depart we enjoyed the views and scenes, including local afternoon activities!

A local taking a swim at the harbour

A local taking a swim at the harbour

The return trip was relaxing and we had beautiful views over the European banks and even had a glimpse of the Dolmabahçe Palace.

The Dolmabahçe Palace from the Bosphorus

The Dolmabahçe Palace from the Bosphorus

 

The Ortaköy Mosque from the Bosphorus

The Ortaköy Mosque from the Bosphorus

 

View of the Bosphorus bridge with the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge in background

View of the Bosphorus bridge with the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge in background

We disembarked at the Karaköy harbour and took the tram to Taksim Square, at the northern end of the most famous shopping street, İstiklal Caddesi, our next place to explore…We had a coffee at Starbucks, as you do with a teenager on tow, and set off to explore. İstiklal is a pedestrian road and reminiscent of many European and British shopping streets with the likes of H&M and many other high street stores dotted with family owned Turkish shops. It was quite a sight. There is also a historical tram running down the street.

The historic tram on İstiklal Caddesi

The historic tram on İstiklal Caddesi

 

İstiklal street

İstiklal street

As this was almost the last day in Istanbul, we did a little bit of shopping, before we finally rested our tired feet at a local Kebab restaurant. Joining just as the locals were breaking their fast, we were astonished at the sizes of some of the feasts being consumed around us! After dinner, we walked the last bit to our apartment, and fell into bed exhausted!

Friday, 3 July 2015

It was our last full day in Istanbul…and we could not believe it. Our days in Istanbul were packed to the brim and we had seen and experienced so much, but we were not done yet, and we wanted to get the most out of our final day. Which meant we had a very full day planned, mainly shopping. Anya made lists of everyone we still needed to get gifts for and saved it on my iPad. We had leftovers for breakfast and made our way to the Eminönü district.

First stop the Spice Market! I bought spices and Anya bought some of her loved Apple tea, Then we made our way, as we did with Cammie on Tuesday, past the sweet shop, stopping for tulumba and onwards to Altan Sekerleme, for some sweets and Turkish delight.

Spices galore in the Mısır Çarşısı or Spice Market

Spices galore in the Mısır Çarşısı or Spice Market

 

And sweets to die for...

And sweets to die for…

 

Anya tucking in to a tulumba (Turkish koeksister...)

Anya tucking in to a tulumba (Turkish koeksister…)

Our next stop was at the Yeni Cami or New Mosque where we met Cammie the first day. We were given cloaks to cover ourselves and entered. It was prayer time, and we traipsed around quietly while taking in the beauty.

The inside of the Yeni Cami mosque

The inside of the Yeni Cami mosque

We made our way to the Suleymaniye area, because there were one other thing we definitely wanted to do and that was to visit a Turkish bath. And there was a Turkish bath in the Suleymaniye district, and we decided it would be the perfect stop after our next escapade, the Grand Bazaar! We made a reservation and went to the Grand Bazaar or Büyük Çarşı. It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets, with construction started in 1455! And who says shopping is a new hobby??

The Grand Bazaar or Büyük Çarşı

The Grand Bazaar or Büyük Çarşı

 

A sensory overload at the Grand Bazaar

A sensory overload at the Grand Bazaar

Our bartering skills were tested at the bazaar and on more than a few occasions, we would walk away wondering whether you got a good deal or not, but it was a fantastic experience and we managed to spend a fair amount of Turkish Lira…!

One of the many streets in the Grand Bazaar

One of the many streets in the Grand Bazaar

At the end of the day, we were exhausted and as we made our way to the Suleymaniye Hamam, we were looking forward to a pampering session! The Suleymaniye Hamam was commissioned by the Sultan Suleyman the Great and was built in 1557. It is a small hamam and caters for families and couples as opposed to most of the hamams in the city that separates men and women.

And pampering it was…As you enter the hamam, you are given a bikini set made from material and a Turkish towel, as well as wooden slippers. The routine starts off with a sauna session on a large slab in the centre of the domed hamam. You then proceed to one of the rooms leading off from the sauna area where you are scrubbed and foamed from head to toe! They even wash your hair if you so wish. After the 15-20 minute scrubbing session, you are given dry towels to wrap yourself in and are led of to a small lounge, where you can order refreshments while you wait to dry completely.

Anya in the 'after' towel wraps...

Anya in the ‘after’ towel wraps…

Of course, with all the shopping, and snacking all day long, both Anya and I had not eaten much during the day and it was already 16:00 by the time our hamam experience started, and we both got headaches from dehydration. I would definitely recommend making sure you are properly hydrated before going to a hamam!

After getting dressed (there are even hairdryers), we relaxed for a while in the common loung area, before starting to make our way back to our apartment with all our shopping!

The lounge area of the haman

The lounge area of the haman

I took a headache tablet on an empty stomach at the hamam, and this resulted in nausea, so I needed to lie down for a little bit. The lie down was fairly short though, because there was one more item on our list of things to do…dinner on the Asian side.

We made our way back to the Eminönü and caught another ferry to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul. We made it to Kadıköy just in time to view our final sunset and what a sunset it was! The view of the Hagia Sophia from a completely different continent was mind blowing. There was an live band playing music and people walking around in traditional clothes.

 

From the ferry, looking back over the large city

From the ferry, looking back over the large city

A sunset concert

A sunset concert at Kadıköy

Our final sunset view over Istanbul from Kadikoy

Our final sunset view over Istanbul from Kadıköy

 

A sunset to remember from Kadikoy

A sunset to remember from Kadıköy

We made our way to the Ciya Sofrasi restaurant, another recommendation from Cammie. As they were not allowing English menus during Ramadan, it was a bit of a confusing effort to order dinner, but we managed eventually and had a good meal.

As we made our way back to the apartment, knowing that we didn’t have much time for anything other than packing the next day, we had mixed feelings. We wished that we had a few more days in Istanbul or even enough time to go and see a bit more of Turkey, but also looking forward to sleeping in our own beds again.

Istanbul was an experience that transcended anything that I was expecting. The indisputable place where east and west meet, in the architecture, the food and the people. I would love to go back one day and spend more time in this city with new experiences around each corner. And maybe venture into the rest of the country.

Until we meet again!

(if you missed the first two parts of this journey, click here)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 10, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

A Turkish delight! (part 2)

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

I woke up this morning with a bubble of excitement in my stomach. We were planning to just spend a relaxing day in the Sulthanahmet district, visiting the Topkapı palace and the Archeological museum.

And I have also been reading quite a lot about local things do see and do and one of the things that I sort of wrote off was a whirling dervishes ceremony. Now if, like me, you’ve never heard of this before, the whirling dervishes practice a religious ritual called a Sema, which is rooted in Sufism, an Islamic order started by the famous poet, Mevlâna Rumi in the thirteenth century. And…I managed to track down a Mevlana order in Istanbul where they perform these rituals every day and made a booking!

By the time Anya eventually woke up (she was reading Harry Potter long past the time I fell asleep…), we were quite hungry. Our Airbnb hostess, Hanife, was making french toast and offered us some. With feta cheese (of course) and olives, because that is the way they do it in Turkey…It was delicious.

When we finally made our way to the Topkapı palace it was past 11:00am already and there was a bit of a queue getting into the palace. The large palace, nestled on the banks of the Bosphorus, was the main residence of the Ottoman sultans for about 400 years and it is a UNESCO world heritage site. It also contain many Islamic relics, including the cloak and sword of the prophet Mohammed (which we saw, but no pictures were allowed…).

Once you enter the Imperial Gate, a large courtyard with big trees open up in front of you with the Babüsselam Gate at the far end. There was a band marching down on the right hand side and lots of people milling around in the green gardens.

The first courtyard withe the Imperial Gate at the far end

The second courtyard with the Babüsselam Gate at the far end

We veered to the right and entered the Palace Kitchens, where there were beautiful exhibitions of kitchen implements and the most glorious porcelain crockery. It was evident that the Turkish love of sweets was practiced extensively in these kitchens for the benefit of the Sultans…

The palace kitchens

The palace kitchens

Next we entered through the Babüssaade gate, through the Dormitory of the Akagalar or Audience Chamber, into the third courtyard with the Chamber of Petitions in front of you. There was a very large queue waiting to enter the treasury, so we decided to give this one a skip. By now Anya was complaining that she was starving (in all honesty, so was I), so we were quite relieved when we saw a sign indicating the way to the Restaurant. We decided to eat at the Konyalı Restaurant, which was probably not the cheapest option, but by far had the most stunning view over the Marmara Sea.

The Audience Chamber, right behind the Babüsselam gate

The Audience Chamber, right behind the Babüsselam gate

 

The view over the lush gardens of the third courtyard, with the people queuing to enter the treasury on the far right

The view over the lush gardens of the third courtyard, with the people queuing to enter the treasury on the far end

 

Anya in front of the Chamber of Petitions

Anya in front of the Chamber of Petitions

 

Lunch with a stunning view over the Marmara sea!

Lunch with a stunning view over the Marmara sea!

Tummies filled, and even sharing a dessert plate, we set of again. The fourth courtyard is quite magnificent and contains the Sofa Mosque, the Baghdad Kiosk and the Marble terrace.

Stunning views over the Marmara sea from the Mecidiye Kiosk, also known as the Grand Kiosk

Stunning views over the Marmara sea from the Mecidiye Kiosk, also known as the Grand Kiosk

 

The beautiful gardens in the fourth courtyard

The beautiful gardens in the fourth courtyard

 

The upper terrace with the fountain

The upper terrace with the fountain

 

The Marble terrace

The Marble terrace

 

The Baghdad kiosk

The Baghdad kiosk

 

Inside the Baghdad kiosk

Inside the Baghdad kiosk

Retreating from the fourth courtyard back to the third courtyard, we visited the Privy Chamber, that contained the cloak and sword of the Prophet Mohammed, as well as the Staff of Moses, the turban of Joseph. We were not allowed to take pictures inside, and it was clearly a holy place, with recitations from the Qur’an taking place in the background.

Next we entered the Dormitory of the Royal pages, with portraits of the Ottoman Sultans, the Inkwell chamber or the clocks’ section and finally the Mosque of the Ağas, the largest mosque on the palace grounds. Everywhere, there were İznik tiles and we found that we were dragging our weary feet along to try and see as much as possible.

We also visited the Harem of the Sultans (an additional fee) with its more than 400 rooms and it was quite an eye opener. I don’t really know that much about the Ottoman Sultans, but it was quite extraordinary to read about and see all the apartments for the concubines, the queen mother, the princes and the favourites. Once again the rooms were gilded and decorated with the most spectacular İznik tiles everywhere.

View from the Harem

View from the Harem

 

Anya at the entrance to the Harem...

Anya in the Hall of Ablution

 

14-IMG_9538

The Imperial Hall inside the Harem

 

13-IMG_9527

Gilded inscriptions and İznik tiles abound

The view of the Tower of Justice from the second courtyard, on our way out

The view of the Tower of Justice from the second courtyard, on our way out

After our visit to the Topkapi, we went to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which actually consists of three museums, the archaeology museum, the museum of Islamic art (the Tiled Kiosk) and the museum of Ancient Orient. We were quite exhausted by this time and sat down for a while at the cafe in the courtyard of the museums.

The archaeology museum was fascinating, with outlines of the history of the whole Turkish region back to the Archaic period, the Roman period, the Byzantine period and the Ottoman era and more. The Tiled Kiosk had an impressive collection of the finest İznik tiles and the Ancient Orient museum had an impressive collection of artifacts from pre-Greek Anatolia and Mesopotamia. I was too tired to take many pictures by now…just soaking up the art and atmosphere (in between stops to rest my feet…).

Glazed brick panels from the Ishtar gate in Ancient Babylon

Glazed brick panels from the Ishtar gate in Ancient Babylon

 

The street view outside the Archaeology museum

The street view outside the Archaeology museum

After our visit to the Archaeology Museum, we started making our way to the Sirkeci train station to collect our tickets for the Whirling Dervishes ceremony later that evening. We walked to the train station and picked up our tickets. After a little rest and ice cream at the harbour, we made our way across the Galata bridge towards the Galata Tower.

The view over the Eminönü harbour

The view over the Eminönü harbour

 

Fishermen on the Galata bridge

Fishermen on the Galata bridge

 

The Galata Tower

The Galata Tower

 

At a cafe next to the Galata Tower

At a cafe next to the Galata Tower

At the Galata Tower, we sat down for a while, having a drink and taking in the surroundings. (Did I mention we had to climb another one of the seven hills to make it to the Tower??)

We then started making our way back towards the station for the ceremony.

The local hardware stores on the Beyoğlu side of the Galata bridge

The local hardware stores on the Beyoğlu side of the Galata bridge

The Whirling Dervishes ceremony took place in the Sirkeci Events Hall at the Sirkeci train station. On arrival, we were offered a complimentary drink and we settled down to wait for the ceremony to start. The hall filled up slowly and eventually, just after 7:00pm, the ceremony commenced with the entrance of 4 men with a few strange looking instruments playing Sufi music.

Anya sipping on her apple tea (a firm favourite by now) while we wait for the ceremony to start

Anya sipping on her apple tea (a firm favourite by now) while we wait for the ceremony to start

After a while, they exit and then enter again. Finally one of the dervishes enter, lay down a red rug, and exit again. When the 4 dervishes enter together, they all have black over coats over their white dresses and the start the ritual. Initially they just move in circles and reunite on the side, and eventually the whirling starts, slower and then faster. There are breaks in-between each set of whirling. It was fascinating! They start whirling with their arms crossed over their breasts and as they start whirling (with closed eyes), their arms loosen and they eventually whirl with arms outstretched. I cannot describe it properly at all, so I have posted a youtube link of the video I took with my phone.

The Whirling dervishes of Istanbul

The Whirling dervishes of Istanbul

The ceremony is clearly a religious ceremony and the aim of the whirling is to reach some sort of a trance, I suppose similar to a meditative trance. To some extent you almost feel a little bit like an intruder, but I am very happy we did this. I think it is such an integral part of the culture of Istanbul that I certainly think we would have missed out had we not attended this.

I was intrigued as I saw whirling dances in Egypt many years ago, but with multicoloured dresses and it was much more of an entertainment act than this ceremony. I did a little research and the whirling dances in Egypt are definitely related to this Sufi ceremony, but most of the whirling dances you will see in Egypt are done as part of an entertainment package, often with belly dancers so they are not Sema ceremonies.

After the ceremony, it was time to look for some dinner. It was Ramadan when we were in Istanbul, and I did a little research and found out that the place to be at breaking fast time in Istanbul is the Hippodrome. We decided to walk to the Hippodrome, instead of taking the tram and got a bit tangled up in the roads around the station, so had to cross roads like the locals, anywhere, to get where we wanted to be. It reminded me of Cammie telling us the previous day that her mom, when she hesitates walking across a road, tells her she has been in England too long!

Snacking on simit, a local favourite you can buy anywhere on the streets, with Nutella en route

Snacking on simit, a local favourite you can buy anywhere on the streets, with Nutella en route

During Ramadan, Istanbul residents gather at the Hippodrome to break their fast. There are wooden benches and a little market (reminiscent of German markets in Europe over Christmas) and Istanbul residents bring their food from home and gather as large families at the wooden benches and have their meals together. We loved the atmosphere.

The Ramadan market at the Hippodrome

The Ramadan market at the Hippodrome

Enjoying a coffee after our dinner of döner kebap

Enjoying a coffee after our dinner of döner kebap

The Hippodrome packed with locals breaking their fast together

The Hippodrome packed with locals breaking their fast together

(apologies for last few pictures’ quality…camera’s batteries gave up, thank goodness for iPhone!)

There was also live entertainment at the amphitheatre and we peeked at the show over the shoulders of the many locals watching…It was already after 10:00pm when we started making our way back towards our accommodation (but not before we tasted the most divine chocolate baklava ever!) and the area was packed.

We finally collapsed in our beds that evening (my swollen, sore feet elevated on a cushion) with much satisfaction. FYI, according to my iPhone, we walked 18.83km on that day alone, and apparently climbed the equivalent of 19 floors, mostly cobblestones, so I guess it was no wonder my feet needed a little TLC!

Our plan for the next day was a Bosphorus tour, with a little stroll around the Beyoğlu area afterwards.

But, that is a story for another day!

G x

(Ps: If you missed part 1 of this trip, click here…)

 
3 Comments

Posted by on August 5, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , ,

A Turkish delight! (part 1)

A secret…I’m not much of a computer whizz…but I guess you know that. And if you received my post about Istanbul via mail and clicked on the link, you would have gotten to a blank post!

For that, I apologise profusely! When you take your time to write a post, like I do, WordPress tends to post date when you started the draft and not when you actually publish it, so I thought I ‘fixed’ my post!

So, this is to all my email followers…enjoy!

justcallmegertie

Monday, 29 June 2015

After our extended layover in Cairo, in which time we managed to do a tour to the Pyramids, we finally arrived in Istanbul at 5:30pm on the Monday afternoon. Getting through the airport didn’t take too long, and we decided to take the Metro and tram to our Airbnb accommodation in Beyoğlu, in the new part of Istanbul. The tram took us through the Sultanhamet area (old area) of Istanbul and we were literally craning our necks to try and spot the first glimpses of the Hagia Sophia and other attractions. By 7:30pm we checked into our accommodation after a very eventful taxi ride from the tram station. It was clear that drivIng a car in Istanbul requires a LOT of patience and preferably a verA Turkish delight! (part 1)y small car!

Our room was fairly small, but clean and comfortable, and since we were in…

View original post 2,239 more words

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

A Turkish delight! (part 1)

A Turkish delight! (part 1)

Monday, 29 June 2015

After our extended layover in Cairo, in which time we managed to do a tour to the Pyramids, we finally arrived in Istanbul at 5:30pm on the Monday afternoon. Getting through the airport didn’t take too long, and we decided to take the Metro and tram to our Airbnb accommodation in Beyoğlu, in the new part of Istanbul. The tram took us through the Sultanhamet area (old area) of Istanbul and we were literally craning our necks to try and spot the first glimpses of the Hagia Sophia and other attractions. By 7:30pm we checked into our accommodation after a very eventful taxi ride from the tram station. It was clear that drivIng a car in Istanbul requires a LOT of patience and preferably a verA Turkish delight! (part 1)y small car!

Our room was fairly small, but clean and comfortable, and since we were in time to catch the sunset, we decided to explore the view from the rooftop of our apartment block. And as promised, we were rewarded with a magnificent view over Istanbul.

View over Istanbul from the roof of our apartment

View over Istanbul from the roof of our apartment

The view of the Galata Tower from our rooftop

The view of the Galata Tower from our rooftop

After unpacking our suitcases, we took a walk to the Karaköy area to find a spot for dinner. We initially wanted to get a view over the Bosphorus, but there is a wall that extends from shortly after the Karaköy quay and we weren’t sure exactly how far it goes down. We ended up in a lively little street with chairs on the sidewalk and took a peek at the menu at Pim Karaköy, and were immediately told by some American visitors that it was the ‘best restaurant’ in Istanbul. That settled it. Anya had pasta and I had the sausage pita and I had my first cup of tea in Istanbul. We were exhausted and started making our way back to the apartment, which meant experiencing another first in Istanbul…walking up one one of the seven hills the city was built on!

The view of the streets where we had dinner

The view of the streets where we had dinner

Anya exhausted over dinner :-)

Anya exhausted over dinner🙂

At least we could sleep in a bit the next day, as we had a walking tour booked for 10:00am and it seemed like a hop, skip and jump to get there. Our first day of our holiday came to a exhausted end!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

As usual, I woke up quite some time before Anya and had to contain my excitement, and let her sleep in a bit after travelling most of the day before. Our scheduled walking tour was booked with Istanbul Food Walks and we had to meet our guide, Cammie, on the steps in front of the Yeni Cami Mosque, in Eminönü district, just across the Galata Bridge.

After a bit of regrouping (my instructions were old, and Cammie was waiting for us inside the courtyard of the mosque), we found each other and realised that this was going to be a bonus private tour, as it was just us and Cammie.

This tour was by far the best thing we planned upfront and we spent a delightful few hours with Cammie (an Australian born, Istanbul bred girl with a degree in architecture from a college in England) who has a passion for the history of Istanbul, especially the history that the predominantly Muslim population would rather not remember. Cammie told us that she is starting her own business doing walking tours in Istanbul, and that ‘starting a business as a woman in Istanbul’ is very difficult, quoting from “New York, New York”, saying if you can make it in Istanbul (as a woman), you can make it anywhere…

The walk started out at the entrance of the Spice Bazaar, the Mısır Çarşısı, or the Egyptian Bazaar, where we had a traditional Turkish breakfast, or kahvaltı. It consisted of a platter with dried meat (I think it was pastırma, a cured beef), tomatoes, cucumber, green and black olives, and three types of cheeses, tulum peynir, stringy kaşer and a cheese similar to an aged cheddar cheese. With this we had some fried pastries, sourdough bread and some simit that Cammie picked up on the way from one of the many stalls in Istanbul. With this we had Turkish tea, because the Turks do not drink coffee for breakfast! It was delicious and we could have spent a delightful few hours sipping tea and nibbling on snacks at this sidewalk cafe, but it was time to continue our tour.

A traditional Turkish breakfast

A traditional Turkish breakfast

Entering the bazaar is a sensory overload! The smell of spices and herbs mingle with the sweet smell of sweets and tea in the air and transports you to a different world…

Inside the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian bazaar) with Cammie

Inside the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian bazaar) with Cammie

Our first stop in the market was Ebcin Spice Centre (no 68) and we were treated with a platter of the most delightful Turkish delight rolls, dried fruits, nuts and of course, Turkish tea! Anya also had her first taste of apple tea which she instantly fell in love with. Of course we had to buy some Turkish delight which was carefully vacuum packed for us to take home.

A fantastic spread...just for us

A fantastic spread…just for us

The next stop was a little dessert shop just outside the bazaar where we sat down and sampled the baklava and tulumba (it very similar to churros, but is crispy and soaked in a lemony syrup). Incidentally, we have a typical dessert in South Africa, called koeksisters, which is also fried and dipped in syrup, but the dough is normally plaited or rolled, so we immediately christened the tulumba as Turkish koeksisters

Tulumba and Baklava...sweet heaven!

Tulumba and Baklava…sweet heaven!

We briefly visited the Rüstem Pasha Mosque on the western side of the bazaar, a 16th century Ottoman Mosque, famous for its beautiful İznik tiles from Western Anatolia.

The Rastham

The Rüstem Pasha Mosque

The next stop on our tour was Altan Sekerleme, a traditional Ottoman era confectionary shop, which has been run as a family business for four generations. They claim to make the best Turkish delight (lokum) in Istanbul and they certainly make the most delicious hard boiled candies (akide), which can only be described as heaven in your mouth! Cammie also bought some halva, which she kept to have with afternoon coffee…

The shop window of Altam Sekerleme

The shop window of Altam Sekerleme

Around the corner was Mevlana Pide,another little family owned cafe where we sampled a yoghurt soup, yayla çorbası, spiced with mint, slow cooked beef in a broth and ayran, a very popular drink made with cold yoghurt and salt (it almost taste a bit like diluted buttermilk), with a head of froth. You can even find ayran at McDonalds in Turkey! We both agreed that it is probably an acquired taste, but certainly is quite refreshing…

Anya enjoying

Anya enjoying the yoghurt soup…

And the Aryan

And the Aryan

After climbing another one of the seven hills in Istanbul, past the Istanbul University, we stopped for lunch (as if we needed any more food!) at Ali Baba Kanaat Lokantası. A lokantası is a very traditional restaurant serving Turkish dishes and we were treated with a spread of butter beans, pickles, olives, bread and of course Turkish tea… The restaurant is in the vicinity of the Suleymaniye Mosque and was bustling at lunch time (despite the fact that it was Ramadan or Ramazan as it is called in Turkey). By now, we could hardly eat anymore, but the conversation was fantastic and we learned so much.

The Suleymaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque

View over the Bosphorus from the Suleymaniye Mosque

View over the Bosphorus from the Suleymaniye Mosque

Our final stop of the tour was Darüzziyafe, a restaurant set in the most magnificent gardens just a short walk down the street. Cammie told us that she did a course to learn how to read someone’s fortune in their coffee cup and we were being treated to a complimentary reading, a Kahve Falı. We sat down in the garden and ordered our coffees.

I must admit that I was a bit scared of the coffee, which I have been told is very strong and is served in tiny cups. Cammie recommended adding a bit of sugar to it, and it wasn’t bad at all. It almost tasted chocolatey. It does take some getting used to as the coffee is unfiltered and the grounds are left in the bottom of the cup, which is then used for the fortune telling! We had the coffee with the halva that Cammie bought earlier, which was delicious. When you are done with your coffee, you put the saucer at the top of the cup, turn it around, and then turn the cup back to its normal position. My cup showed a dolphin (apparently a fish represents money, therefore a dolphin represents a lot of money?), an old cat lady, three men (that’s right!!) and a trip to a place with a volcano (maybe Ecuador??). All and all my cup was declared a peaceful cup with no rough storms, thank goodness! Anya’s cup was a bit more anxious and filled with lots of friends and some ball game or something. It was all very exciting.

Dar

Darüzziyafe cafe in the shadow of the Suleymaniye Mosque

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee

The dolphin in my cup...

The dolphin in my cup…

We loved Cammie and had a fantastic day, and was very sad when it came to an end. I would definitely recommend a walking tour with Cammie, so if you are planning on travelling to Istanbul, be sure to check out her website, Cornucopia Walks. If we had more time in Istanbul, I would have loved to have done a Levantine History walk with her. She also gave us lots of tips for places to sea, to eat and visit.

After all that excitement, the sun was still high up in the sky and we still had several hours before sunset, so we decided to go to the Hagia Sophia, or the Ayasofya as the locals call it. The Hagia Sophia is a perfect example of where the Byzantine empire and the Ottoman empire merge and I was very excited to see it.

It was built in 537 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was once the seat of Constantinople. It was the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years until the Seville Cathedral was built. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, it was converted to a mosque, removing the bells, altar and other relics, plastering over the golden mosaics and adding Islamic features such as the 4 minarets. It remained a mosque for many centuries until 1931, when it was secularised and converted to a museum. 

Inside the dome of the Hagia Sophia

Inside the dome of the Hagia Sophia, with the Virgin and child in the right mini dome

The vast inside of the Hagia Sophia

The vast inside of the Hagia Sophia

One of the many examples of early Christian mosaic depictions uncovered during restorations

One of the many examples of early Christian mosaic depictions uncovered during restorations

During a major restoration in the 19th century, the mosaics were uncovered and the plaster removed, however it was then painted over. The inside of the building has a strange feeling to it, with the Islamic features still playing the most significant role, but in places the restorations have uncovered complete sections with Christian iconography. It is quite extraordinary.

Unfortunately, major restorations are currently underway, so the left hand section of the dome was covered with scaffolding, but there was still enough to feast our eyes on. We hired a tour guide outside the building and he was very knowledgeable about the history.

After the visit, our tour guide offered to take us to his brother’s shop where we can see carpets and pottery. Actually, in hindsight, I am sure he promised to show us how they make pottery, but that never happened. It was still our first full day in Istanbul so we obliged…

Inside the shop, we were offered tea (and we’ve been told it is rude not to accept tea when offered). I was curious about the carpets (and since I have been dreaming about a new Persian rug for my lounge…), I left Anya downstairs and followed them upstairs to look at the carpets. What beauty. I was hesitant to show too much enthusiasm and had absolutely no idea what carpets costs, so after some to and fro he told me what the price was on a particular carpet. Which was way out of my budget! I told him I can’t afford that and that I can pay half a year’s school fees with that money and proceeded to move towards the stairs. And…bartering ensued…

In the end of the day, I did buy a carpet (I think that was what Cammie saw in my coffee cup – the money I was going to spend, not make..), but I am happy that I paid what I was willing to pay. With the carpet in a small bag, and promises that we will be able to take it on board as hand luggage (heavy hand luggage, I may add!), we left the shop and that brought an end to our sightseeing for the day.

We made our way back to the apartment, carrying the carpet up one of the seven hills, while I was all the way thinking about how we are going to get the carpet home! In the end, we managed to fit it into a small suitcase on roller wheels and it is now on proud display in my lounge!

The suitcase...

The suitcase…

And the carpet...in its rightful place!

And the carpet…in its rightful place! Definitely worth the effort!

That evening, we decided to take another stroll to the Bosphorus harbour and with a bit more orientation, a GPS and more light we made our way to the quay.

We had a lovely stroll down the quay, doing the touristy think and drinking Starbucks coffee with a view over the Bosphorus, and eventually had a late dinner at a little restaurant overlooking the river.

Sipping Starbucks coffee, overlooking the Bosphorus

Sipping Starbucks coffee, overlooking the Bosphorus

The view over the Bosphorus (Golden Horn) of the Hagia Sophia at night

The view over the Bosphorus (Golden Horn) of the Hagia Sophia at night

It was a magical day, and we have done so much already. We fell into bed utterly exhausted that evening, with much excitement about the days to follow. Istanbul was under our skins and I was already worrying about how we were going to fit all we wanted to do into the remaining days!

Until later!

Gertie x

(the next post for this trip can be found here)

 
6 Comments

Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

Tags: , , , , ,

A layover visit to Cairo

A layover visit to Cairo

Sunday, 28 June 2015

I woke up a little nervous this morning, mainly because I had not started to pack at all. I also wanted to pack as light as possible on account of all the shopping we were planning to do in Istanbul! And that is always a difficult thing for someone with an inherent fear of running out of T-shirts, or underwear or not having my own hairdryer at hand!

But we managed! We used 1 medium sized suitcase and 1 small one for all our checked in luggage and a small roller bag and backpack for carry-on luggage. In the end, we were done long before we had to leave for the airport and ended up playing cards and Yahtzee to kill the time.

After losing my wallet to an opportune pickpocketer in Florence last year, I was adamant that I would make sure we don’t end up in a desperate situation again. But, despite the best intentions, I almost DID lose my phone! Just after we passed through the x-rays before passport control I all of the sudden realised with a fright that I did not have my phone with me… Luckily we found it at the check in counters, so after some excitement, we could relax and wait for our flight.

Monday, 28 June 2015

We arrived in Cairo at 5:30am in the morning, after an 8 hour flight. I had arranged a tour with a local agent, and lo and behold they were waiting for us just beyond the exit. However, it soon transpired that this would not be that easy and after some scramble, and lots of shaking heads, we were asked why we did not arrange a Visa. Huh? I did not think we needed a Visa for a stopover. The tour agent then went to the Egyptair desk which stated something like “Connection accommodation services” and after handing over our passports and onward boarding passes at the desk and some more discussions that we did not understand, we were finally told to sit down and wait.

The one thing I am always told is that you DO NOT hand over your passport to someone, so I have to admit I was waiting very anxiously. Eventually after probably 20 minutes, someone came out of a room with a stack of passports wrapped in yellow sheets and called our surname. Since his pronunciation was a bit off, he had to repeat it before I realised we were being called. We promptly followed the guy with our passports, together with about 10 other fellow passengers. At a checkpoint we were called again and asked if we need a double room. I explained with some confusion that we wanted to do a tour, not book into a hotel. We were told to wait (again) and after a few more minutes a guy from Karnak tours came to meet us. It appears they work with Egyptair and would be able to offer us the same tour for half the price, and get us back to the airport on time for our onward flight. We quickly agreed and after a bit more of a wait for our transport we were finally on our way!

The drive from the Cairo airport to Giza, where the pyramids are situated is about 45 minutes. The driver was quite friendly and pointed out many sites. I have forgotten a bit what a dreary and dusty city Cairo was. From my previous trip (a few years ago on a tax conference), I remembered the many unfinished buildings and sky scrapers in Cairo, as well as the multitude of satellite dishes on all the buildings. It was however quite something to see Anya’s reaction to these! Similar to Lagos, you pay more taxes in Cairo once a building is complete, therefore a lot of buildings are never finished and people live in the incomplete buildings.

We crossed the Nile and entered the Giza area. We had to wait a little bit for our guide, Yahia (pronounced Ya-ya) to join us. Yahia took us to the Giza pyramids and was very knowledgeable and helpful and not too shabby a photographer either! We loved the pyramids. Yahia even bout Anya a little statue of Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten, the infamous Pharoah of Egypt who upset the nation by changing his name and religion to only worship the sun god, Aten, instead of the many gods that the Egyptians used to worship.

Anya and I in front of the Pyramid of Kefra

Anya and I in front of the Pyramid of Khufu

The well known pyramids of Giza consist of the 3 large pyramids (Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure) but also another 4 smaller pyramids (known as the Queens’ pyramids) as well as the Sphinx. We were very lucky and because it was still early in the morning, the complex was not too busy and we managed to get good views of the pyramids and were able to go inside one of the Queen’s pyramids.

In front of the pyramids in Giza

In front of the pyramids in Giza

 

A few camels around the pyramids

A few camels around the pyramids

 

It really is quite breathtaking!

It really is quite breathtaking!

 

Anya inside the Queen's pyramid

Anya inside the Queen’s pyramid

 

Some of the rocks cut stones around the pyramids

Some of the rocks cut stones around the pyramids

After the visit to the pyramids, we went to see the Sphinx, which is still the largest monolith statue in the world and still manages to take your breath away!

In front of the Sphinx - courtesy of our tour guide Yahia

In front of the Sphinx – courtesy of our tour guide Yahia

 

The Sphinx

The Sphinx

After the visit to the pyramids, Yahia took us through Giza and stopped over at a perfume seller, where we were offered some tea of coffee and had to sample some of the perfumes. Anya had some tea, but I decided to have the Hibiscus tea, which was absolutely delicious. Egypt is of course famous for their perfumes which are made with natural oils an do not contain alcohol. They are quick to tell you that they sell their perfumed oils to the famous perfume house like Chanel No 5, where they add alcohol in different quantities to make Eau de Parfume or Eau de Toilette. We bought a couple of small bottles, including the famous Lotus perfumed oil. The Lotus flower represented creation and rebirth in Ancient Egypt and you can find the flower depicted in many ancient Egyptian drawings. I will be dabbing some Lotus perfume on my wrists to tests its magical properties and get back to you on that!

In the perfume shop

In the perfume shop

After the perfume stop, we stopped briefly at the Papyrus Museum where Moses showed us how they make paper from papyrus. It was very informative and the papyrus art was quite something to behold. Of course we were offered some more tea and a mini tour of the artworks (clearly in the hope that we will buy something!).

The making of paper from Papyrus at the Papyrus museum

The making of paper from Papyrus at the Papyrus museum

After this, we were taken back to the airport where I was very relieved to be able to get our passports and boarding tickets back! At 2:30pm, we were seated in our aeroplane (smelling very fragrant, I may add), and ready for the final leg of our journey to get to our final destination, Istanbul!

Next up…Istanbul!

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

Tags: , ,

Off on a Byzantine experience…

So the day has finally come! We are flying to Istanbul tomorrow night, via Cairo. 

And, once again, I haven’t yet packed a suitcase, but our flight is only late tomorrow night, which gives us loads of time to pack? 

The last few weeks have been quite stressful. As I mentioned, Bianca is going on a European tour and if you ever thought getting a Schengen visa was a schlep, try getting one for your 17 year old daughter going on a school tour! It doesn’t help that the South African government decided to show how advance they are in curbing child trafficking (a good thing) by introducing new regulations that are confusing and adds bureaucracy to the process (a bad thing). So after filling in hundreds of forms (okay, that may be an overstatement) and three separate consent forms, she finally managed to get a visa. And I just received a notification from the Flight Status app (yup, I am that paranoid mom), that her flight is on its way. 

On Thursday I also received an email from the travel agent indicating that our flight on Monday from Cairo to Istanbul has been delayed. My initial reaction was annoyance and I told the agent how this is costing us half a day in Turkey (which I was planning on spending exploring the local neighbourhood and maybe doing some warm up shopping). 

A little bit later (after calming down a tad) I checked our new fight schedule and realised that we would now have an almost 9 hour layover in Cairo, enough for a sneaky visit to the Pyramids of Giza! A few emails later (and the equivalent of probably at least a fancy leather jacket from Istiklal street), we have a private tour booked departing from Cairo airport. Anya seems to be more excited by this development than the prospect of seeing the Hagia Sophia, must be a teenager thing! 

 

In front of the pyramids in 2008

 Me, I am as excited as a little girl before Christmas. I can’t wait to explore the 1500+ year old Grand Bazaar, buy spices in the Spice Market, try the local cuisine, take in the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and if possible buy myself a beautiful kelim! 

But, what I am most excited about is delving into a new culture, overindulging my senses with ancient fragrances, sights, colours, sounds and tastes that I will remember for the rest of my life! 

 

So much to see, do and experience!

But for now, I still have some packing to do, and loads of little odds and ends before I can sit back and relax in my aeroplane seat! 

Love and excitement, G x

 
9 Comments

Posted by on June 27, 2015 in Travel

 

Tags: , , , ,

 
%d bloggers like this: