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Winter in Middle Europe (part 4)

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon we boarded a bus to Vienna from Prague, the last stop of our official Mid Europe trip. I visited Vienna many years ago on an Insight Vacation tour, but it was more of a passing through, so was looking forward to the visit. Also, after much walking for many days, I was looking forward to putting my feet up for a few hours!

Our hotel in Vienna was outside the city center and as we were only arriving after 7pm, the plan was to just go for dinner close by and have an early night. As usual, I had a walking tour booked for the next morning…

When we arrived in Vienna, it was drizzling and I immediately called an Uber to take us to our hotel. After settling in, connecting to the wifi, we walked down the road to get some dinner. There were a few options, but we decided on the most authentic looking Viennese restaurant, Mimoza, on Siebenbrunnenplatz. The food portions were astonishingly big and extremely reasonably priced (Bianca had a Chicken Cordon-Blue for €6.90 and Anya and I both had Schnitzels for €6.50 each).

After dinner we retired to our hotel as we had an early day the next morning.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

After a delicious buffet breakfast, we set off to find the bus into town. The map provided by the hotel was slightly confusing, and we were not sure where the bus stop was but after spotting a bus with our number on it, and a bit of a sprint to make it to the bus, we arrived at our meeting place in front of the Albertina, for our walking tour with Good Vienna Tours.

Ready for another walking tour

I booked the tour in advance, even though there was no upfront fee, but rather tip based and I was very glad I did. The group was quite big, so initially I was a bit apprehensive, but Iva, our guide controlled the group very well. She was equipped with an iPad which gave her the opportunity to show some pictures of art and even a couple of movie previews along the way to spice up the tour a bit.

Our meeting point was across the street from the Hotel Sacher Wien, and Iva started off by telling us the story of the most famous Viennese culinary specialty, created by Franz Sacher for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in 1832, the Sachertorte. We never managed to go and eat this special chocolate cake at the Hotel Sacher, but I did manage to eat a piece at the airport on the way out, and it really is deserving of its fame!

Sachertorte at the airport

Iva also explained how the standing tickets for the Vienna State Opera works, that’s of course assuming we had the energy to stand in line for a few hours for the chance to get cheap standing tickets to the Opera…which we didn’t.

Next, we moved on to the entrance of the Albertina, a large art museum built on the last remnants of the fortifications of Vienna. She showed us a picture of the most famous picture in the Albertina, the Young Hare, a watercolour painting by Albrecht Dürer, dating back to 1502.

We proceeded to the Burggarten, behind the Hofburg palace, with its statue of the emperor Franz Joseph and of course the famous Mozart marble statue. Iva spent some time explaining the importance of the Habsburg family in the history of Vienna and contributed some more to the discussion of the Viennese love-hate relationship with Mozart. The Mozart statue or denkmal, is situated on Southwestern end of the Burggarten and has a flower planting area in front of it in the shape of a treble clef (music note). Apparently it is beautiful in summer as the flowers bloom. But apparently much more difficult to take a picture!

Emperor Franz Joseph, Burggarten

Mozart denkmal, Burggarten

Mozart denkmal, with flower planting in front

Our next stop was the Heldenplatz, where Hitler announced the Austrian annexation by Nazi Germany (the Anschluss) on 15 March 1938. The Heldenplatz was commissioned by emperor Franz Joseph as part of the Ringstraße boulevard project. It has been the setting for many historic battles and events in the course of Viennese history. Iva explained many of the historical events that took place and showed another video clip (the name of which escaped me now…).

Hofberg Palace from Heldenplatz

We walked through the entrance of the Hofburg palace past the Imperial Treasure Museum towards the Spanish Riding school, where they still train Lipizzaner horses (tracing back to 800 AD) in the classical dressage methods. Iva highly recommended attending a show of the horses which I’m sure would have been fabulous. As a side note, we have our own Lipizzaner horses, tracing back to the Croatian branch of the Tulipan breed of Lipizzaners in Kyalami in South Africa, where these Spanish horses are still trained in the classical method as well. The South African Lipizzaners were brought to South Africa by Count Jankovich-Besan in 1944 from a war-torn Europe. I saw these horses perform with the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir a number of years ago and it was magnificent! It was great to see where they originate from.

Entrance gate at Hofburg palace

Quite impressive is the fact that entrance to most museums in Vienna is free to under 19 year olds. Unfortunately there are so many fantastic museums that we barely scratched the surface!

After the Hofburg Palace we stopped at Rosenberger restaurant, a large buffet style underground food hall for the quick coffee to warm up from the cold.

On our way to St Stephen’s Cathedral, we walked through the Neuer Markt, which is actually one of the oldest places in Vienna. The elongated square is surrounded by shops, including A. E. Köchert, a jeweler where original diamond hair stars, such as those worn by the much loved empress Sisi, can be bought for a small fortune. The square also hosts the Donnerbrunnen fountain, which didn’t have any water in when we were there but was still very impressive. The naked figures (allegories of the Danube’s tributaries) were removed by the Empress Maria Theresia when she established the Chastity Commission in 1773, but was thankfully restored to their rightful place in 1801.

Donnerbrunnen fountain, Neuer Markt

A. E. Köchert jeweler, selling Sisi star jewelry and hairpins

St Stephen’s Cathedral (or Domkirche St Stephan) with its multi coloured roof tiles, is breathtaking. The current Romanesque and Gothic style building dates back to the 14th century but stands on the ruins of two earlier churches. We decided to return at a later stage, as we were told that the view from the roof is magnificent.

St Stephen’s Cathedral

We also walked past the Mozarthaus, where Mozart lived (in apparent luxury that seems quite a contrast to the poor pauper end of his life) and composed. A short walk took us past Figlmüller, a restaurant famous for the best Wiener Schnitzels in the whole of Vienna at not an unreasonable price of €14.90 (for a schnitzel big enough to feed two people with leftovers…). The restaurant is however very busy, so even though we did try and get in the next day, we were not successful.

Finally we walked down Fleischmarkt street and ended our tour at St Rupert’s Church (Ruprechtskirche) an ivy covered old church dating back to the 12th century. At the end of the tour Iva spent a bit of time giving some recommendations for restaurants, and answered some questions. It was certainly a very worthwhile tour and a great way to kick-start our trip to Vienna.

Ruprechtskirche

After a quick snack, we made our way back to the Albertina museum, as I was very keen to see the Monet to Picasso exhibition. There was also a Ways of Pointillism exhibition on at that time, showcasing the transition of art through Pointillism from George Seurat, Signac and Van Gogh, which I found breathtaking and very informative.

Entrance to the Albertine, the steps showcasing Van Gogh’s Sower

At the Albertina

We spent a few hours in the museum and eventually had to rest our weary feet!

We went for dinner at Reinthaler’s Beisl (another recommendation) and had delicious schnitzels (as you do…) and made our way back to our hotel.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

The morning started with much excitement. Bianca had applied for au pair work in America, as she decided to take a gap year, before starting varsity. She turned down a potential family just before we started our trip, following her instincts, and I was very proud of her for making such a brave decision, with no other options to fall back onto. And then almost two weeks passed, in which I could see she was stressing about what she would do if she did not receive any further interview requests. So, it was with huge relief that she woke up to an interview request from a family in New Jersey. She sent off a return email but since it was the middle of the night in the States, we would have to be patient.

As a bonus, it was a beautiful sunny day, although it was freezing cold outside. We had a tour planned to Schonbrunn palace on the outskirts of Vienna and we were very excited. After breakfast I realised that our tickets were only valid for entrance for a very specific time, and we decided to take an Uber to the palace, saving us the hassle of finding our way to the palace via public transport.

At entrance to Schonbrunn palace

We has booked the Grand Tour and spent a good hour plus walking through the imperial rooms of the palace, from the impressive Hall of Ceremonies to the intimate rooms of Maria Theresia, who ruled the Habsburg dynasty for 40 years) for with her many kids and doting husband, the Holy Roman Emperor, Francis I.

I was quite impressed by the number of her 16 children (10 of whom survived into adulthood) went on to become queens and kings and princes in their own rights. She was also the mother of the famous (or infamous) Marie Antoinette of France, who died under the guillotine after the French Revolution.

Afterwards we strolled through the beautiful palace gardens, which very much reminded me of Versailles. It was really cold, but it was lovely to experience the bright winter sunshine.

Schonbrunn palace gardens

In front of frozen fountain, Schonbrunn palace gardens

The girls entranced by icy fountain

A walk in the woods, Schonbrunn palace

View over palace gardens

Schonbrunn palace in the background, with the girls

Beautiful skyline with Schonbrunn palace in foreground

We made our way back (on the metro this time around) to the city centre and decided to take the historical Vienna Ring Tram, a 30 minute tram ride around the Vienna Ringstraße with commentary. Of course we had some Käsekrainer or hot dogs with chunks of cheese in the sausages on Stephanplatz before we boarded the Ring Tram! It was delicious.

On board the Vienna Ring Tram

Afterwards we tried to find a restaurant for lunch. As mentioned above, we tried Figlmüller but unfortunately we would have to wait too long for a table. We found an Italian restaurant on Schulerstraße, which looked like the type of place we could sit down, enjoy a glass of wine and a relaxing lunch. And indeed, Ristorante Da Capo was such a place.

Unfortunately, it was during lunch that we received notification that our flight to Amsterdam, which was due to leave at 6:55 the next morning, has been cancelled. A quick internet search confirmed that lots of flights to Amsterdam Schiphol had been cancelled and delayed as a result of fog. This did create a bit of a panic but we were told to wait for re-booking information so there was little we could do but wait.

The sun was starting to set as we walked to St Stephen’s Cathedral. I wanted to go up to the tower and catch the sunset from there. It was a bit of a squeeze into a tiny lift, but the view from the top was magnificent. The multi coloured roof tiles were even more impressive from close up! Unfortunately, there is a cage-like structure at the top (presumably to protect people from falling off the tower) but this does distract a bit from the view.

View from roof of St Stephen’s Cathedral

From the other side of St Stephen’s Cathedral roof

On top of the roof

Afterwards we made our way back to the hotel, to give Bianca a chance to email the family and to try and find out what the plan was with our flight. We had accommodation booked in Amsterdam and I was uncertain whether we would be able to extend our stay at our hotel in Vienna, so it was important to find out if we would still be able to get a flight to Amsterdam the next day.

St Stephen’s cathedral at dusk

The Vienna State Opera at night

Finally, just after 8:30 in the evening we received confirmation that our flights were re-booked, but only on the 31st of December, which would mean that we would only arrive in Amsterdam in the afternoon of the 31st. Luckily we were able to find a room in our hotel in Vienna. We had to move to a smaller room though but at least that was sorted. And all of the sudden we had an extra day in Vienna, so we decided to have a bit of a sleep in.

Friday, 30 December 2016

We had a relaxing morning, went to breakfast a little later, packed and moved rooms. Late morning, we made our way back to the city centre. It was another glorius, sunny day and I gave the girls a choice as to what they would like to go and do.

They chose the Natural History Museum, which they were keen on the day before, but we decided it would be too rushed. I googled the museum that morning and realised that we struck gold. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the NHM arranges a tour to the roof of the museum, and as our luck would have it, there was a tour on this Friday afternoon at 3:00pm. It promised to be an unforgettable experience.

In front of the Natural History Museum, Vienna

Once again, under 19 year olds could enter the museum for free and adult entrance fees were only €10. We did have to pay an extra €8 per person for this extra tour, but it was definitely worth it!

The Natural History Museum is housed in one of two identical buildings on either side of the Maria-Theresien-platz. The other building houses the Kunsthistorisches Museum or Museum of Art History. If we had more time I would have been very keen to visit this museum as well. The two museums were commissioned to house the formidable collection of the Habsburgs. The two buildings are exactly the same on the outside, but apparently the interior is different.

Statue of Maria Theresia on Maria-Theresien-platz

The Natural History Museum

Christmas markets in Maria Theresia square

The NHM opened in 1889 to the public. The museum hosts a very large, very impressive and informative collection. The audio guides were great, the many interactive displays provided entertainment for kids (and adults) of all ages and we just loved it. I could spend a whole blog post talking about everything we saw and learned, but suffice to say that some of the most impressive exhibitions were the Venus of Willendorf exhibition, the history of science exhibition, some of the wonderful gemstones (including the gemstone-and-diamond bouquet of flowers which Maria Theresia had made as a present for her husband), the dinosaur collection and the huge mammal exhibit.

The famous gemstone-and-diamond bouquet, NHM Vienna

Some dinosaurs, NHM Vienna

Venus of Willendorf, 28 000 to 25 000 BC (the artifact is 11 cm high)

The view of the dome of museum from bottom

And then of course, as part of the rooftop tour, we got to see some areas that are not open to the public, including the 40 000 large human skull collection in the Anthropology department! There were even some decorated and skulls painted with flowers from the Bone House in Hallstatt.

The skull collection, Vienna NHM

View of dome from top

View of restaurant below from top

And of course, the view from the rooftop was just amazing. We made it up there just as the sun was setting and I would have quite happily spent another half an hour up there taking pictures but alas, it was time to go back down. A fantastic experience all and all.

The rooftop of the Natural History Museum, Vienna

View of Vienna from NHM roof

The sun is setting behind the dome of the NHM

With the girls on the roof of the NHM

Statues holding guard on the roof of NHM

We left the museum when it was already dark, and after a bit of gift shopping near St Stephen’s Cathedral, we started making our way back to the hotel.

Trdlenik at the Christmas market on Maria Theresia square

Bianca had an interview with her potential family at 6:00pm, which went very well and afterwards we went for dinner at another restaurant in the area, Restaurant Maria Rosa. I would be amiss to say that there were not Schnitzels served at our table…and beers.

Some more Schnitzels…

The next day was going to be a busy day, with our flight scheduled to leave at noon, but we went to bed satisfied to have had such an excellent bonus day.

We loved out time in Vienna!

Next up, New Year in Amsterdam

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2017 in Family, Travel

 

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Winter in Middle Europe (part 1)

Winter in Middle Europe (part 1)

December 18, 2016

Travelling from sunny South Africa, in the midst of summer to Central East Europe in December is not for the faint hearted. Our departure was at midnight on the 18th of December and we had quite a long commute, via Amsterdam and Vienna, finally taking a train from Vienna to Budapest.

As usual, despite our best efforts, we were not travelling ‘lightly’, so looking at our suitcases, I knew it was going to be a bit challenging moving from place to place with suitcases, jackets, but we were off and that was all that mattered!

December 19, 2016

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Time for a snack at Amsterdam Schiphol airport

We arrived in Amsterdam Schiphol airport tired, after our overnight flight, but with time to spare before our connecting flight. We had something small to eat at the airport and perused the shops, making mental lists of what we wanted to buy at duty-free on the way back…alas, that never happened, but that is a story for another day. Anya did get a pair of gloves (we never wear gloves in South Africa, like in never).

We arrived in Vienna and hastily made our way to the train station for the train to Budapest. We finally arrived in Budapest after 8:00pm on the Monday evening and was immediately met by a bunch of taxi drivers at the train station, offering lifts. The plan was to take public transport to our hotel, but we were tired, with heavy luggage and I decided to just go with the taxi. And in so doing, fell into the number 1 tourist trap (according to our walking tour guide the next day), which is taxi’s. The number 2 and 3 tourist traps in Budapest are taxi’s and taxi’s too….in case you were wondering.

We paid an equivalent of EUR28 for a 3km trip, whereas 3 single tickets would have cost about EUR3.50. The silver lining is that after that, most things felt fairly cheap in Budapest! Dinner, breakfast the next morning, were all cheaper than the taxi…

December 20, 2016

We woke up to a cold and foggy morning, but energetic and looking forward to the day. I found a popular breakfast spot in the Pest side, close to the Vörösmarty Square, but being a popular spot, it looked very full and we didn’t have much time, so we decided to go to a little cafe on the corner, Cafe Hilda. Breakfast was fresh and inexpensive and we were even treated with these little complimentary Christmas rolls filled with walnuts and poppy seeds. I think they are called Beigli.

With our tummies filled, we were ready for the walking tour. We went with Free Walking Tours, a local company, claiming to do the original walking tour in Budapest. The concept of a free walking tour is fantastic, as you normally get a local guide and as they are not being paid upfront, they are paid with tips, so they have a lot of incentive to do an excellent job. Our guide, Andrais was fantastic. He not only gave us a lot of information about the history, and local culture but also gave lots of tips on food, drinks to try and places to visit. After the tour we were given a little flyer with more information on food, restaurants, eateries and other local information.

The view of the Chain Bridge Budapest

The view of the Chain Bridge Budapest

The walking tour started in the Pest side of Budapest (on the eastern side of the Danube river) and continued to the Buda side, walking over the Chain Bridge, where we walked up the Castle hill to the Buda Castle. We strolled around at the top of the hill, seeing the Sándor Palace (or the White House), the beautiful Matthias Church with its ornate roof tiles and ended off with a glass of mulled wine a the Fisherman’s Bastion.

From the top of Buda Hill, Budapest

From the top of Buda Hill, Budapest

The Sandor Palace, Budapest

The Sandor Palace, Budapest

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In front of St Matthias Church, Budapest

In front of St Matthias Church, Budapest

From the Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest

From the Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

Buda Castle, Budapest

Buda Castle, Budapest

Afterwards, we took a slow stroll back to our apartment in the Pest side, taking in the local scenery in, doing some shopping at a local vintage shop and browsing through interesting shops. Lunch was fresh bread rolls, ham and cheese from the supermarket around the corner. Later in the afternoon, we set off in the direction of Vörösmarty Square again where the biggest Christmas market in Budapest was located. The atmosphere was very festive, with live music and the smell of pastry, mulled wine and meat in the air. We were craving the local ‘chimney cakes’ or kürtőskalács, and decided to share one.

Christmas market in Budapest

Christmas market in Budapest

 

Kürtőskalács from the Christmas markets

Kürtőskalács from the Christmas markets

Sharing is caring

Sharing is caring

We did some shopping and Anya found a wooden cut-out magnet with her name on it. Very impressed, she told the shopkeeper that it is her name, spelled correctly, after which he informed her that anya is the word for mother in Hungarian! Who would have known? This coincidence was enough to convince her to buy the magnet!

After a dinner of hungarian goulash, which came with complimentary Rákóczi Túrós, a sort of ricotta cheese cake traditionally served at Christmas, we decided to take a walk towards the river to see the lights. The Castle at night was absolutely beautiful and we were very lucky to see one of the trams that was decorated in Christmas lights as well.

A tram light up with Christmas lights

A tram lit up with Christmas lights

The Buda Castle at night

The Buda Castle at night

December 21, 2016

The plan for this day included a visit to Szechenyi baths, a mineral bath close to Heroes’ square in Budapest. The guide for the walking tour recommended going early when visiting the baths, so avoid the crowds, so we got out of bed early, armed with our swimming costumes and towels in sub zero temperatures! We could only enter the baths at 9:00am, but took a walk around the area (in light snow), taking a walk to the Heroes’ Square before our entrance. It may sounds a bit crazy, but the baths were a great idea, and definitely something different to experience! We couldn’t stay too long as we had to check out of our apartment, but we thoroughly enjoyed the visit.

Heroes' Square, Budapest

Heroes’ Square, Budapest

At Szechenyi Baths, a thermal bath in Budapest

At Szechenyi Baths, a thermal bath in Budapest

Beautiful baths at Szechenyi with the building in the background. It was -1 degrees outside the water...

Beautiful baths at Szechenyi with the building in the background. It was -1 degrees outside the water…

After sort of drying, we went back to our apartment, checked out, left our luggage and went out again.

On the way to Basilica from our apartment

On the way to Basilica from our apartment

After a light snack and hot chocolate at the Christmas market on Városháza park, we walked to St Stephen’s Basilica where we bought tickets to go up the tower. The view from the top of the tower was amazing! You can walk right around the tower and have an awesome 360 degree view over the city. Afterwards we had a look in the Basilica which was also very impressive with its domed ceiling.

View from the tower of St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

View from the tower of St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

After our visit to the Basilica, we needed to rest our feet and stopped for coffee at Avenue Cafe, close to our apartment. I wanted to see the largest Jewish Synagogue in Budapest, the Dohány Street Synagogue, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived, so we walked around the outside. The synagogue is the largest and Europe and the fourth largest in the world.

St Stephen's Basilica, Budapest

St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest

We walked to the most famous ruin pub in Budapest, the Szimpla Kert in the Jewish district, with very interesting decor but not much to offer in terms of dinner, so we took a long route back to a restaurant close to our accommodation again, which served delicious Italian food, the Panificio Il Basilico.

Szimpla Kert, a Ruin Pub in Budapest

Szimpla Kert, a Ruin Pub in Budapest

Finally it was time to collect our luggage and make the trek towards the station (via public transport this time!) as we had an overnight bus to Krakow.

We loved our short stay in Budapest, and I would love to go back again one day, hopefully in summer. I googled all these magnificent spots to take sunrise pictures, but alas we were not to see the sun on the days we were there, We did, however have some light snow, which ended up being the most snow we had on our trip…. So, as a final picture for this post, herewith our almost snow selfie!

Snow at Heroes' Square, Budapest

Snow at Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Next up, Krakow!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Family, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Hello from the other side

Dear Reader

I know that you probably thought I’m forever lost to the blogging world, and in all honesty, I almost didn’t start this post. But ta-daa…here I am.

It has been a long and topsy-turvy 2016 and I’m not going to bore you with the comings and goings of a small family trying to come to grips with the end of an era, but some of the most significant things that happened in the last year were:

  • Pretoria at her prettiestIn December last year, after 22 years in Joburg, we moved to Pretoria. I grew up (for the most part) in Pretoria and studied here, but moved south when I got married. It has been a pleasant re-acquaintance, although I do feel like a stranger here. I have lost touch with friends from the Jacaranda City, but have marvelled at the beauty of this city, it’s lovely trees and gourmet hideaways.
  • But the main reason for moving here has also been a highlight. After 2 years of hostel living, Bianca was able to stay at home this year. I forgot how I missed our dining table laughs until you cry and cooking for more than 2 people. And I ended up cooking for 3 girls, after a friend of Bianca started boarding with us.
  • Which brings me to the next significant event this year. Bianca finished school. She turned 18 in May, aced her drivers licence, and finished school. If all goes well, she will be off to America next year for a gap year as an au pair.
  • And…Anya started high school at one of the most tradition-rich schools in Gauteng, Pretoria High School for Girls. But even this came with challenges as the school faced critisism from within of its hair policies and for a week in September the school and alleged racial practices were trending on social media. All in all it has been an interesting journey and if anything, has made me realise that my girls are fiercely against any sort of racism. The school is well on its way to recovery and I think will come out of this stronger and more united.

My gorgeous girl at her farewell

My gorgeous girl at her farewell

There were no overseas trips this year (yet), although we did do a lovely family road trip to the Eastern Cape and I’ve been meaning to still write a post about our Haga Haga visit, listing the top Things to do in Haga Haga, but alas I never got there. In all likelihood it could have been our last road trip together as a family, and I will treasure the memory.

Views of Haga Haga, Eastern Cape

Views of Haga Haga, Eastern Cape

And we do have a fabulous trip planned for the next 2 weeks, starting with an around the clock commuting trip this evening at the strike of midnight. We are off to Budapest, Krakow, Prague, Vienna and Amsterdam, with an action packed itinerary and lots of winter woollies, ready to brave the cold for beautiful memories!

Hiking at Golden Gate Nature Reserve

Hiking at Golden Gate Nature Reserve

So, I will see you in the new year and hope to have lots of wonderful memories to share!

I hope 2016 has treated you well and all the best for the new year!

Love

Gertie

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2016 in Family

 

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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)

 
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Posted by on August 10, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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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

 

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The Imperial Hall inside the Harem

 

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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…)

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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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)

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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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!

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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