Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Final European Post

Istanbul (previously Constantinople, Byzantium etc)
It was only just over an hour mini-bus transfer to the Kayseri (Caesura) airport for our Pegasus flight to Sabia Gochen Airport on the Asiatic side of Istanbul. The 50 euro transfer to the Sultanahmet was compensated by the cheap air tickets. The young driver put F’s hair on end with his constant texting, talking on the phone, driving right in the middle of the 2 lanes and speeding – glad we got there safely. We arrived in Istanbul and then had a one hour drive by car transfer to our hotel. The Turkoman Hotel is not listed on but for total convenience it was excellent with roof dining overlooking the Blue Mosque. It kept us fit as there is no lift, it’s only drawback. It is situated in a quiet street two houses above the Hippodrome, between the two Obelisks. This is the quiet uphill side of the Two Mosques, the lower side neighbourhood has more noise with traffic and crowds.
Monday afternoon we explored the outside of Blue Mosque, the Arasta Bazaar and towards the Fountain between the two Mosques (Blue & Sophia). Then it was the main street with trams towards the Main Bazaar for a recon of future shopping expeditions. To escape the bustle we walked down a narrow side street and into shoe traders sanctum. It was Turkish barter as truckload consignments of shoes were broken down and deals struck, then repacked for shipping. Street after narrow street were packed with shoe boxes and traders. We collapsed back in our room with the cool air conditioner and a cold drink.
Tuesday was a half day cruise on the northern Bosphorus, we were transferred to the boat for lunch in a thunderstorm and we got to wear our GoreTex coats for the fourth time of our vacation. The rain had cleared by after lunch and we motored along the Bosphorus with three ½ hour stops at local villages, with the last at the start of the Black Sea. We climbed the hill to the old fortifications above the sheer cliffs, overlooking the slipway where we later checked out the bargain boats but our favourite was inconsolably beyond repair.
On Wednesday we did a Circuit of the Hop-on Hop-Off open air buses with a stop at Taskim Square for morning tea. The afternoon was spent lost in the Grand Bazaar with the carpet touts. F was concentrating on the prices of everything except carpets, mainly jewellery and pottery. We enjoyed a dinner next to the Hippodrome where chariots had raced some millennia before.
Thursday was Mosque and action day – spend those leftover Lira and Euro, nothing was to be brought back (or converted to Aussie dollar). First on the agenda was the Blue Mosque with it’s religious significance followed by the Agria Sophia (the largest building of the world for over a thousand years). The Arasta Bazaar took the last of the Lira as we had checked out our prices for the last of the pottery. The Airport transfer at 4pm for our Emirates flight saw us leave Turkey with a good feeling that we had somehow connected with it’s people, customs and land. The flight back to Samoa had few highlights except boring hours, which movie to watch (True Grit, Sahara, ….. ) and airport lounges at Dubai, Singapore and Brisbane. We splashed out for a few hours of sleep at the Airport Novatel in Brisbane and caught up with C&C, before our last Pacific leg.
So this is the end of Our European Vacation 2011, we have enjoyed the experience, the broadening of our outlook of this amazing planet, the friends we have made if ever so shortly, our memories will be helped by the twelve thousand plus images we have retained and the amazement that the planning and arrangements worked so well.
Thanks to those from Coolum & New York who recommended accommodation.
Back to the Pacific
Places we stayed –
LONDON – Travelodge Drury Lane, Covent Garden – two hotels opposite each other. Not on
They were actually cheaper than any other listing.
All others on (except Turkoman)
PARIS – Home Latin
AMSTERDAM – Hotel Prins Hendrik
Gronigen – Hotel De Doelen
Rotterdam – ART Hotel
Selcuk – Jimmy’s Place
Uchisar – TakaEv
Istanbul – Turkoman Hotel – website and email
Rhine Cruise (Amsterdam to Budapest) with Scenic Cruises
Car Rental – Sixth (Office in underground carpark outside Amsterdam Railway Station next to Van Gogh Coffee Shop
Our apologies for the late post as Blogger has had some login problems.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pics from Istanbul

Street Cafes in the Sultanahmet

Breakfast friend at roof-top dining with the Blue Mosque in background

Chain hanging above Gate to the Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque from the Arasta Bazaar

Obelisk in the Hippodrome, borrowed in 390AD from the Amon-Ra Temple in Karnak, originally erected 15C BCE

It was only a four hour Cruise (Gilligan's Island)

F sails the Bosphorus

Anchor and Chain

Flag and one of two Bridges linking Europe and Asia

Prospective purchase

Trying not to fall 70m into the Black Sea

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pics from Turkey

Mary's House

Prayer Notes at Mary's House

BMW Single

Showing Carpet colours

Carpet Weaving and trimming the threads


Esphesus columns


Library faccade

Selcuk Minnaret and Moon


Hittite jugs (we hope to get one home)

Church cave ceiling in Cappodocia

Chimmeny houses

Chimmeny house taken from Uchisar Castle (mountain)

Goodbye Europe - Hello Turkey

I have posted some pics of our fellow travellers and the Scenic Staff. A quick summary - We bussed to Salzburg in Austria for a walk around the old town and the backgrounds of Sound of Music in the sixties- a beautiful town with stunning palaces( with rose-gardens) and buildings. We then had 2 nights in Vienna – another stunning palace area and the loot, majesty and ostentatiousness of Empire – on our second day there we had a bus tour into Slovenia where we saw the effect of the neglect and depression of the communist past. The little town of Bratislava is the most prosperous part of this little country due to tourism but is obviously still struggling. On our last night in Vienna we had a magical concert in the Lichtenstein Palace – an 8 part classical orchestra supplemented by 2 opera singers and 2 ballet dancers – just gorgeous and beautifully done. In our last little town in Austria we avoided getting caught in a huge thunderstorm (unlike some of our travelling companions) which blew through quite quickly. Other than that the weather has been superb – 28 degrees and sunny most days in this part of Europe – unseasonably warm but we didn’t mind.
After more somewhat larger towns of Germany, Austria (with T shirts saying “Austria - no kangaroos”), and Slovenia we arrived in our last port of Budapest the capital of Hungary for our last 2 nights. This is a really beautiful town on the river – on one side (the hilly side) is Buda and on the other flat side is Pest. Buda has a huge castle compound dating back to the middle ages and earlier – however you can also see the impact of WW2 with bullet marks in some of the walls. We walked this area and then went to the huge local market (built in 1896) where we had lunch with the locals on stools at one of the stalls – lots of local colour as well as tourist junk. We walked back to the ship for the last night – we had a Hungarian dance troupe and band and F dressed in a very strange combination. After dinner, the captain took the ship up and down the river for some stunning night photos.
The next morning we left our friends and our Scenic Spaceship and flew to Izmir in Western Turkey (via Istanbul) and then a car transfer to Jimmy’s Place in Selcuk. Our room was very large and on the fourth floor with a somewhat antiquated lift. Thursday was a full day tour of the Ephesus region with a dozen others. We started at the top of the mountain at Mary’s House (Mary Magdalene is thought to have lived here above Ephesus in her later life – it’s obviously an important shrine for Catholics), next was a walk down through the ruins of Ephesus to the old harbour (now inland by several kilometres). Ephesus was a large town of 250000 at its peak and so many of the ruins are still there – you get a real sense of the prosperousness and culture of the biblical and later periods. The Theatres and the Library were the most impressive – although the Colosseum was also pretty impressive – big enough to seat 23000 for gladiator and lion battles etc. We also visited the local Museum of artefacts from Ephesus. The most depressing was the Temple of Artemis (One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), all that was left was some blocks in a dismal swamp. We saw a modelling of leather jackets and a demonstration of carpet weaving - in both cases we got the hard sell and managed to resist although the displays of carpets were just amazing - R was much more excited by the display of ancient BMW motorcycles as well as old cars - impressive and yes he took photos of them all . We ate a sumptuous, mainly vegetarian meal with dozens of other tourists from all over the world. After many hours we were released from our excellent guide and delivered back to our hotel for a quick drink, followed by an evening photo walk around the town followed by dinner. The small town had lots of eateries and shops all wanting to sell us goods but not being pressured about it – many of the older men were in the square playing checkers and chess or table tennis – not so many women about. The call to prayer has become a marker of time for us in this secular country where only about 20% are practising Muslims although 99% call themselves Muslim – a bit like Australia really. We also were treated to loudspeakers on cars promoting political parties as the national election is this weekend.
On Friday we were dropped at the Izmir airport for the flight to Kayseri on Pegasus Air (the Virgin of Turkey) and again a 70 minute transfer to our cave hotel accommodation in Ushisar in the middle of Cappadocia. Our hollowed out, rock cave suite is 14 by 5 paces, it is totally dark at night with only 2 small windows at one end and outside is a cave sunken lounge area, the doorway has a tunnel to another lounge atrium. The hotel (Taka Ev) is small with only 4 rooms for rent and the owner Morat and his partner can’t do enough for us (they have a free washing machine) . For this part of the trip we went upmarket and had our own tour guide for a day in his comfy car. Capadoccia is the central region of Anatolia (Turkey) and was the central point of both the Silk Road from China and the Royal/Kings road from Arabia/India/Egypt etc – so it was very important for trade etc. In the early 2nd – 5th centuries many Christians came to this area and hollowed out caves in the huge rock formations left by millions of years of volcanic activity. They carved out churches, monasteries, nunneries as well as houses with eating and sleeping quarters. In summer the temperatures here are in the 20’s and in winter they get snow most of the time so it couldn’t have been an easy life. Later generations of Ottomans wiped these towns out and the caves were largely unused but are now a national park with people allowed to live in some of them – it’s a huge area and takes your breath away with the beauty of the formations and the colours and shapes of the rocks – ranging from white to pink, brown, and pale green, (No black lava here, unlike Samoa). Lunch was at an upmarket Turkish restaurant with all the trim and was delicious – like most meals here we had too much to eat. After walking and ducking our heads (only for the doorways) for many hours, and visiting Churches, monasteries, refectories, houses and pigeon coups (for the guano) we returned with lots of digital images and some local pottery ( you may get to see these treasures if they make it back intact). Towns we visited around were Uchisar, Goreme, Zelve, Avanos (lunch), and Urgup.
Sunday – Today has been a rest day, walked up to the Castle (another huge rock with lots of carved out areas for living etc) which is the summit of the town and the highest point in the area, lunched in the town square gardens. Some people get a little claustrophobic sleeping in the caves, they sure are quiet although we can hear the rumble of the cars sometimes on the street 12 meters above. We really loved this part of Turkey and it is totally different form the Western side, so we can’t wait it see what Istanbul is like.
From Cappodocia (Thirty-one days on the Frog & Toad) Pics to follow

Monday, June 6, 2011

More pics from the Scenic Cruise

Stairwell at Melk Abbey

Our table that is frequented by fellow retrobates

Boris from Jamaica instructs us in napkin collection, the staff are such great fellow travellers

Red, red wine (from an old song of the sixties)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Pics from Germany

Our Romantic and Castle ladden morning photographing

Monument on hill over Rudesheim

Rosegarden in Bamberg for Tina

Main - Danube Canal

The Rhine Valley – travelling up the Rhine from Amsterdam through Holland (briefly) and then into Germany – this is a feast of history. In the first few days in Germany we experienced views of castles, monasteries and churches – one after the other and all impressive and old. I now understand why my father said you didn’t know the meaning of “old)” until you came to Europe. This river has been the passage way for Europe since Roman times. Tax seems to have been a big deal in times past with 80 per cent tax being average, if you revolted, you and everybody else in the peasant class were massacred.
We enjoyed a dinner in the medieval castle at Marksburg – this 12th century castle is the only castle in this part of the world that is truly authentic – many others have been restored or rebuilt over time. The dinner included our own jesters – who sang, juggled and embarrassed people in the audience – all with good humour and lots of laughter.
The next morning we cruised through the most beautiful part of the Rhine Gorge – castle after castle – jaw dropping beauty and stunning views – all those ads on TV must have been filmed here. F was up on the top deck with camera in hand from 6.30 am to lunch. The ship travels at about 14 knots so the wind chill factor made it pretty cold – 2 scarves, coat and her Scenic blankie helped. F sat there without leaving and with new friends Lou and Nancye, who are on their second trip on this boat because they loved it so much. R played servant and plied F with breakfast, cups of tea etc . In the afternoon we arrived in Rudesheim where R went to the fascinating Musical instrument museum and then took the cable car to the Niederwald monument. F (who knows better than to go on high cable cars) wandered the town and found a few shops open – also walked through vineyards being trimmed by Polish workers in the sunshine.
That night we cruised through locks to Wertheim and again wandered this lovely town. Some of our fellow travellers chose a serious hike or a 25 km bike ride – they have real issues apparently – we are doing enough walking to exercise the body to exhaustion – but there’s always another church, monument or town square around every corner. We have had brilliant weather in this stretch with beautiful blue skies making for amazing photos – we are averaging about 600 – 800 a day so will bore you all at some stage.
Monday we came to Rothenburg after a 1.5 hour ride down the Romantic Road along the Rhine – this was a beautiful small town which has really retained much of its old character (It was only minimally bombed in WW2) – we wandered the streets after some German sausage and mustard (declining the sauerkraut) – also enjoyed actually getting up and walking some of the length of the town walls and imagining what it must have been like when defending your town was part of the normal activity. We all agreed this was a favourite town.
The next day another town (Bamberg) – and more monuments, castles and churches – they take your breath away with their beauty and the skill of people who built them. Need to reread Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett). F was on a shopping mission with lots of clothes stores open until 6pm and we had to catch a taxi back to the boat. We had afternoon tea in a rose garden and included some pics for T.
Wednesday we arrived in Nuremburg – and our first day of poor weather – drizzly day but maybe this is appropriate for this city which was the centre of Hitler’s propaganda campaign for the National Socialist Party. This time we did a bus tour of the sights of the city – first to the unfinished “Colosseum” – planned by Hitler to show off his new empire – we also saw the sites of the Nuremburg rallies – all of it chilled me. Our guide was a Welshman who is part of a large history association teaching people (especially young people) about the power of propaganda and the importance of tolerance. In 1935 there was one nationality only represented in Nuremburg – Germans. Today they are a multicultural society of 145 nations including many invited groups such as Turkish.
After this sombre part of this city’s history we then toured the Old town which dates to the 11th century and drove up to the castle which really gave you the sense of a fortified position that in the middle-ages had 2 walls and multiple internal defences to ensure its survival. After warm drinks we walked around the town, bought some amber earrings for F and then returned to the boat for a lazy afternoon.
In the past few days we have travelled through 32 locks (most at night) on the Rhine to raise us up to the level to meet the Main Canal. Fascinating pieces of engineering. We have then sailed on the Main River and are now on the Main – Danube stretch with another 12 locks including the tallest on the trip(up to 25m) – we basically go up about 1000 feet to the top and then down another 450 to meet the Danube – climbing over a mountain on a canal route – fascinating.
I have had discussions with the captain about training (of course) including training for the ship’s engineer (a diesel fitter) and the hotel staff and chefs. One of the chefs is an Indonesian who has worked the P&O line out of Brisbane including to Samoa. He is now on an 11 month contract with Scenic so he won’t see his family in Indonesia until the end. The captain on the other hand does 8 weeks straight and then 4 weeks off when he flies to his wife in China where they spend 4 weeks travelling through SE Asia - what different life stories there are out there.
From a cool and damp Germany (Just for today)