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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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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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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

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2015 in Travel

 

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A Roman Holiday (part 2)

A Roman Holiday (part 2)

I know, finally….but here goes!! (Part 1 can be viewed here)

Sunday, 29 June 2014

I woke up in our darkened room with butterflies in my stomach, so excited I could barely contain myself. But it was still early, and after a VERY long day, I promised the girls the night before that we could all sleep in a bit on Sunday. Except that, clearly, there was going to be no sleeping in for me.

I ended up reading with the bed light on, waiting for a decent time to wake up the girls, who were both sleeping as if they were never ever going to wake up. Eventually at 9am, I decided that they (surely) must have had enough sleep now, and woke them up. I had showered already, and was ready to go in search of some breakfast and coffee.

Bianca and I set out in search for a coffee shop or bakery. But it seemed like most of Rome was still fast asleep. Even our Al Forno spot from the day before was still closed. But, not too far down the road, we found a little bakery and ordered some cappuccino’s and a selection of croissants (or rather cornetti and brioche). No better way to kick start the day!!

Around 10am, we were ready to start our day. We needed to pop around a cellphone network provider to sort out the iPad 3G card, as I was using the iPad as a wifi hotspot so that we all could access the Internet. Which meant walking to the station on a Sunday morning. We also had to buy blister plasters for Bianca, who’s ‘comfortable walking shoes’ were definitely not made for cobblestones…

Our first stop was the Museo Nazionale Romano, more specifically the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, which promised to house one of the biggest collections of Classic art, sculptures, frescoes and mosaics. It was magnificent. The ground and first floor was devoted to sculptures and art of the period between the late Roman Republic and the early imperial period (according to Wikipedia between 2nd century BC to 1st century AD).

An ancient Roman calendar

An ancient Roman calendar

The resting boxer

The resting boxer

Sarcophagus of Portonaccio

Sarcophagus of Portonaccio

Sleeping Hermaphroditus

Sleeping Hermaphroditus (Bianca’s picture)

Mosaics (Bianca's picture)

Mosaics (Bianca’s picture)

Discobolus

Discobolus

The second floor were filled with frescoes and the most magnificent mosaics I have ever seen, several of which were from the Villa of Livia (the wife of Augustus), at Prima Porta on the Via Flaminia. The mosaics are from the 1st century BC to the 4th centure AD. I was awed by the painted garden of the Villa of Livia, filled with exotic images of birds, trees, flowers all against a blue-grey background that invites you to sit down and rest your weary feet (which, of course we did).

The girls in the painted garden of the villa of Livia

The girls in the painted garden of the villa of Livia

Stunning mosaics

Stunning mosaics

The basement housed the largest numismatics collection in Italy. And since I now work for a Mint, which produces numismatic coins (i.e. collectors items), I was especially interested.

Part of the Numismatic collections

Part of the Numismatic collections

Anya posing in front of some VERY valuable medallions

Anya posing in front of some VERY valuable medallions

Leaving the museum, it was already after lunch time and our feet were very tired, so we walked back to the apartment (by now the 2km walk to our apartment felt like 10km…). We shared some delicious pane stuffed with parma ham and cheese and stretched out on the beds of our air conditioned apartment for a siesta.

Late afternoon, we braved the Rome bus system again, this time travelling to the Campius Martius, bordering on the banks of the Tiber river. We walked along the river, turning into Via dei Coronari, across the river from Castle Sant’ Angelo. Our first stop was the Piazza Navona, a long oblong shaped square with no less than 3 fountains. On the northern end is the Fountain of Neptune. The centrepiece is Fontana dei Quattro Fiuimi or Fountain of the Four Rivers, by Bernini, next to the Church of Sant’Agnese in Agone by Bernini’s arch rival Borromini, who was initially commissioned to design the fountain. On the southern end of the square is the Fontana del Moro, with a basin and four tritons.

Along the via

Along the Via dei Coronari

Fontana

Fontana del Moro

Piazza Novona with

Piazza Navona with the Church of Sant’Agnese (Bianca’s picture)

Along the Piazza Navona

Along the Piazza Navona

Typical late afternoon scene on Piazza Navona

Typical late afternoon scene on Piazza Navona

Fountain of Neptune

Fountain of Neptune (Bianca’s picture)

Fontana dei Quattro Fiuimi

Fontana dei Quattro Fiuimi

Our next stop was the Pantheon. Stepping onto the Piazza della Rotunda, I felt utterly dwarfed by this two thousand year old Roman building. The interior consist of a rotunda or dome with an oculus in the centre providing natural light to the church, measuring 43.3 metres high.  It is indeed an architectural wonder. Afterwards, we just sat on the steps of the Fontana del Pantheon, with its 20-foot high red marble Egyptian obelisk and savoured the moment whilst eating gelato (and resting our feet)…

Pantheon (Bianca's picture)

Pantheon (Bianca’s picture)

The inside dome of the Pantheon 43m high

The inside dome of the Pantheon 43m high

Inside the Pantheon (Bianca's picture)

Inside the Pantheon (Bianca’s picture)

In front of the Pantheon (pic by some random stranger)

In front of the Pantheon (pic by some random stranger)

Gelato time...

Gelato time…

Our next planned stop was the Column of Marcus Aurelius, but en route we walked past the Church of Saint Ignatius (Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola), which I read about somewhere. The girls were a bit sceptical, but curiosity won and a ‘quick’ look inside turned out to be one of the best surprises of the afternoon. What wonder. A baroque style church built between 1626 and 1650, on the foundations of the humble Church of the Annunciation which was part of the Collegio Romano. The most impressive feature (in my book), is the grandiose fresco that stretches across the nave ceiling by Andrea Pozzo, including a fake dome, painted to give the impression that the roof had a cupola. This is rivalled by coloured marbled arches, and richly gilded ornaments and altars.

Church of Ignatius inside

Church of Ignatius inside

Marbled pillars with the frescoed ceiling

Marbled pillars with the frescoed ceiling

The frescoed ceiling

The frescoed ceiling

The Column of Marcus Aurelius was next on the list, even though we did see the column the previous night, in search for bus 71. The spiral column on Piazza Colonna, with the bronze statue of Saint Paul on top of it, flanked by Fontana di Piazza.

Circ

Column of Marcus Aurelius

Our next stop was the Fontana di Trevi, which I was really looking forward to, but which ended being the biggest disappointment of the day, as it was closed for construction.

With promises that this would be the last stop of the day, we started uphill towards the Spanish steps, which was also covered by construction screening, but still provided a glorious view of the sunset over ancient Rome.

View from the top of the Spanish steps

View from the top of the Spanish steps

Walking down the steps, we tried to find the Caffe Grecco along the Via dei Condotti, but only spotted the entrance upon retracing our steps. It was nestled between a selection of designer shops in this prestigious high end street, which (probably wisely) prompted us to rather find a place along a side street for dinner. We eventually found a little trattoria a couple of streets away which served prosecco by the glass (for me), and Fanta Orange for the girls (they LOVED the Fanta Orange in Italy, which tastes like real oranges) and delicious pasta. By now our feet were achingly sore, and I located the closest bus stop for our route home (ever reliable bus line 71!!).

Dinner time! (and a little rest for the feet...)

Dinner time! (and a little rest for the feet…)

We plopped down in bed, exhausted. But we had to get up early the next morning, as we were going to none other than the Vatican on a tour.

To be continued

PS. I thought I would be able to finish the rest of Rome in one post, but alas that was not to be…

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Kids, Travel

 

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Is it May already??

????????????????????????????????????????Phew! I cannot believe how hectic these last couple of months have been. And as the oak trees in my street are slowly starting to shed their rusty autumn leaves and the early morning chill bite in the air gets more noticeable day by day, I realised that I have not written any posts on this blog in like forever!

I started a new job at the beginning of March and walked straight into the finalisation of the budget, followed up at a rather rapid speed by the year end. At the same time, I had to try and make sense of a very diverse group of people, some of whom have worked for the company since the landing of Noah’s Ark, or so it seems. Mix this up with some young yuppie managers who have joined from ‘the outside’ and it makes for some interesting observations…

But, so far so good. I have been thrown in the deep side, but I am still swimming and a wee little more comfortably every day. Maybe one of these days I will be able to clear my ever growing to-do list?

On top of this, my almost 16-year old ballerina has been practising ferociously for a ballet exam and a ballet concert 2 weeks later (and worn through a pair of pointe shoes in the process, which we had to buy when my new cleaning lady decided to wash the old (dirty) pair).

And my handbag (which contents would have made an identity thief smile with glee) was stolen. But, believe it or not, it was returned to me by a Good Samaritan after the thieves dumped the bag (less my brand new iPhone, of course).

I do have something fabulous to look forward to, and I am sure that will interest you a lot more than the boring coming and goings of an accountant. Blah, blah, blah…

I am taking my girls on a trip to Italy in less than 2 months’ time!

Colusseum - Rome (image: Wikipedia)

Colosseum – Rome (image: Wikipedia)

It is not a long trip, but we are planning to jam pack it with exciting memories and experiences! In brief, we are spending 3 days in Rome, 1 day in Venice and another 3 days in Florence. And I am desperately trying to eat healthy to make space for all those delicious pizzas and mouth watering pasta dishes. I am making lists of movies I want to watch with the girls to give some ‘background flavour’. Whether we will be able to fit in much lounging in front of the TV in over the next month is another question altogether, but never say I didn’t have good intentions!

But, of course, nothing worth getting excited about doesn’t come with some pain and gee wiz, what a schlep the Schengen Visa application process has turned out to be. Travelling with kids as a single parent is clearly a huge risk for the authorities that be and my ex husband wanted to know if they have asked for a DNA sample as well, after having to do an affidavit, giving me permission to take them across the border. I even had to get letters from their schools. But that is all done and dusted and I should receive the last passport in my grubby hands tomorrow.

I have downloaded apps on my phone, guide books, have done research of tours, including walking tours and even checked out car rental prices (although I am pretty sure that I do NOT want to drive around on my own in a strange country where I cannot understand the language – and on the OTHER side of the road). But I have to explore all the options, not so? I have even downloaded an app that will teach me some basic lingo to help us get around Italy. Hopefully phrases like ‘Non riesco a trovare mio marito‘ will come in handy. It means ‘I don’t know where my husband is’, which is true in any event, and could provide some fun, I think?

But no jokes, we are seriously excited.

If you have any tips or must have visits (apart from all the normal touristy attractions), please let me know. I would love to get some personal recommendations!

Now, let me go and count the sleeps….

 

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in Family, Travel

 

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Counting the sleeps…

It is finally here!

In just a bit more than a week, I am leaving for Peru and my Inca Trail adventure. I am so excited that I can barely contain myself, so if you’re prone to jealousy, then I would suggest you stop reading round about now..:-)

I haven’t written much about this fabulous trip, except for the fact that I will be hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which I have been exercising for. So, I thought I would share a bit more about the details of the trip.

We are doing the trip through G Adventures, and the official name of the tour is In the Shadow of Machu Picchu. It is a 10-day tour and starts off in Lima, the capital of Peru. Lima is knows as the City of Kings and was ‘founded’ by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro in 1535. Lima is also known as the Culinary capital of Latin America, and apparently a seafood lover’s paradise. I definitely want to try out some yummy food and maybe do a culinary tour, which is an add-on activity. On day two we take a flight to Puerto Maldonado, on the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. We travel by motorised canoe and take a walk to our lodge in the Tambopata Rainforest Area, an area which apparently holds the world record for the most bird sightings in one area. We will be doing plenty of walking and will be spending the night in a rainforest lodge, with no electricity, so pretty rustic. (Note to self – don’t forget to take lots of elastics and bands for my hair, because the combination of heat, humidity and no electricity is sure to create havoc with my hair!)

On day three we take a flight over the Andes into the heart of Inca territory, Cuzco. Cuzco is the site of the historical Inca Empire and the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. The elevation is about 3 400m (11 200ft) above sea level. Now, for someone who lives in a city which is about 1 750m (5 700ft) above sea level, the adjustment may be slightly easier but this is still pretty damn high, so I am stocked with altitude sickness tablets that I will start popping round about this time! At the height of the Inca Empire, the Inca occupied territory stretched from Ecuador in the north to Peru and Chile in the south. In 1525 Huayna Cápac, the ruler at the time, died of the smallpox, introduced to the area by the Spaniards, after he set of to investigate the unfamiliar men. His death was followed by a Civil war between his two sons, Huáscar and Atahualpa. The combination of the war and the effect of the smallpox epidemic weakened the empire, and eventually the Spaniards captured Atahualpa (who had by then defeated his brother).

The Inca Empire

The Inca Empire

Legend goes that the Incas collected and paid a handsome ransom of silver and gold for the release of Atahualpa, but they reneged on this once the ransom was delivered. Eventually, Pizarro executed Atahualpa, and instituted the puppet Inca Túpac Huallpa in his place. He died shortly after and was succeeded by another puppet ruler, Manco Inca Yupanqui. But Manco Inca turned on his captors and recaptured Cuzco in 1536. Eventually he was driven out of the city and he retreated into the mountains of Vilcabamba, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years until the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco’s son, was eventually tracked down and executed in 1572. It is believed that Manco Inca built a magnificent city in the mountains which was filled with all the remaining riches of the Inca empire. For years treasure hunters and grave diggers were searching for the lost treasures and the lost city, until eventually, the American historian Hiram Bingham ‘found’ Machu Picchu in 1911. He believed that it was the lost city and final retreat of the Inca’s, but no evidence has ever been found to conclusively prove this. But before I bore you to death, the purpose of this little history background is to highlight just how special this area and in particular, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is. Or maybe to highlight what a geek I am!

View from the top of the Westcliff stairs

View from the top of the Westcliff stairs

The Inca trail is a 43km hike and stretches over a four days, with the final day spent mainly at Machu Picchu. I have been exercising and am hoping that I am sufficiently ‘moderately’ fit to tackle this trail without passing out halfway amongst the 2 000 steps on the trail. To prepare myself for all these steps I have, on a few occasions, done the Westcliff stairs (two flights of stairs of 400m, consisting of 210 stairs nestled in between the beautiful residential area behind the Westcliff hotel in Johannesburg). The stairs are very popular amongst runners, and in particular Comrades runners. For those of you who don’t know, the Comrades is a 89km ultramarathon and any runner’s dream to complete.  Bruce Fordyce is a legend in South Africa, and won the Comrades a total of nine times, eight of which were consecutive. And, apparently Bruce used to train at the Westcliff stairs. The difference, of course, is that I tend to huff and puff walking up the stairs on my second lap, whilst the runners actually run up and down the stairs. But, I am not running the Inca trail (which you can do, if you like…), so that is okay with me!

hiking_clipartIn addition to training for the Inca trail, I also had to do a fair amount of shopping. Since this is the first multi day hike I am attempting doing, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the actual conditions of the hike. It is autumn in Peru, and as I understand the daily temperatures in the mountains are fairly similar to Joburg this time of the year, but it gets pretty cold up in the Andes mountains at night. And layers are highly recommended for the hike. Luckily, porters will be carrying most of our gear and clothes, so we only need to carry a day pack with water, jackets, camera, snacks etc. Basically, everything that we would need during the day. We are sleeping in tents along the route, so I am stocking up on warm clothes, thermal underwear, a silk sleeping bag liner (who says you cannot sleep in luxury in a tent??). And of course, I could not resist buying all sorts of hiking gadgets and stuff, like a small towel that folds up to the size of a matchbox and a multi purpose buff, that can serve as a hat, arm band, hair band, balaclava and (if you can figure out the complex drawing) even a pirate hat! Harr, harr!

Finally, I want to take some awesome pictures to remember this trip by, and on the few hikes we have gone on, I have quickly realised it is not the best idea to have to stop a whole line of hikers in an effort to take a DSLR out of a back pack to take a quick snap, so I had to find an alternative solution. I finally found a bag that I can carry on a shoulder harness in front of me, so I ordered the bag and the harness and am just hoping it is not too big, so that I can still walk fairly comfortably!

Now, the only thing to do is to count off the sleeps until I finally leave for Peru, via South America, on the 26th of April. And make sure that I pack everything… I am notoriously bad at this part and always forget something, so I am going to do a packing list to make sure that I am not stranded in Peru without a water bottle, or medical insurance card, or hiking socks, or blister plasters, or travel vouchers, or hat, or sunscreen, or gloves….oh my goodness, I think I must start to pack!!

Adios Amigos!

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Travel

 

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