Saturday, April 30, 2005

Let's Talk Turkey

Topkapi Palace
Originally uploaded by tink007.

I've been re-packing my suitcase today, getting ready for the flight to Glasgow on Monday and I've been thinking about the last 15 days spent sunning it up in Turkey.

I was looking forward the prospect of the tour, mostly for the opportunity to give someone else the responsibility of looking after me. I was sick of doing it, that's for sure. Travelling is fun, but forever being watchful of train schedules, luggage, local currency can give a girl a headache! And I know that AB felt exactly the same way. We needed a holiday from our holiday.

Our "Going Troppo in Turkey" tour with Topdeck was always going to be different to the sort of travelling we'd been doing before. For starters, we were going to be with more Aussies and Kiwis (given it was essentially an ANZAC tour). But another significant difference was the expectation that we follow someone else's itinerary for a change. And that was something that took a few days to sink in properly. We knew that we needed to be on the bus at certain times or we'd screw up that day's travelling. No room for sleep-ins, or returning to the hotel eary for an afternoon nap if the mood took us. We knew that we'd be sacrificing the good bits that come with independent travel by handing over our lives to the Top Deck people. But still we pressed on and rocked up in Istanbul with no expectations beyond that. And how richly we were rewarded.

Safe in the knowledge that someone else was taking care of me, my eyes drifted to the changing landscapes of Turkey. The country is just so beautiful. I was prepared for a culture shock, given that I am a western woman and I was travelling in a Muslim country. But I needn't have worried a bit.

The dress codes in the areas we visited demonstrated that Turkey is a relatively liberal country. Women walked the streets (rarely on their own), some wearing the chador, others not. We were not stared at as different, though we were mindful of dressing conservatively and not drawing attention to ourselves.

The food was a bit of a let-down though. I had shared AB's hopes that the Turkish food would resemble Greek cuisine, and maximise use of all the delectable herbs and spices that are so abundant in the markets. Alas this was not the case. And while I'm on the subject, if you're on the Atkins diet (or any diet for that matter), Turkey is NOT the place for you. Rice, bread, and potatoes are served with every main meal. Ugh. Fortunately we were doing a lot of walking to burn calories, but combine those carbs with the healthy (?) doses of Efes beer we consumed almost daily, and you can imagine why stomach upsets went through the bus like wildfire.

And I've eaten more kebabs in the past 15 days than I care to think about. It will be a long while before I head to the street vendors for another one of those, let me tell you.

The desserts in Turkey looked good, but somehow they just didn't "work" for me. Everything is drizzled in honey, and that just added to their appeal as far as I was concerned. But with the exception of some delicious pistachio baklava that I had on the first day in Istanbul, nothing else stacked up. Perhaps I set the bar too high too early in the trip?

But you couldn't really fault the weather in Turkey either. We enjoyed such beautiful sunshine, and it really only rained heavily when we were on the bus, which was good timing. Nights were cold, but that's no big deal for a girl with a cardigan, right? I got a tan on ANZAC Day too, which is a bloody good and patriotic effort.

Today in Paris has been 27 degrees celcius, and it's been a shame that we're still all feeling seedy and tired from last night's fiesta. I've been out to dispose of empty bottles and to buy lunch, and then it was straight back to the couch to nurse some Panadol and trashy magazines. C'est la vie!

It says it all

Goodnight Bear
Originally uploaded by tink007.

Had a big party at Kate and Kirstin's Paris flat last night as a "house cooling" event. This picture sums up how we're all feeling as a result.

More pics have been uploaded. This one was taken at the Bear Pit in Bern, Switzerland.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Relic and the Colosseum

The Colosseum
Originally uploaded by tink007.

I have started to post my pics from the Switzerland, Italian, and Turkish legs of my holiday.

Have chosen to start with the Italy snaps, for no real reason really. Only about 9 pics posted so far, but they're all of me. Very unusual.

More pics to come. Not all of me. Phew.

Thanks a bunch

Originally uploaded by mis-nagid.

This post goes out to those of you whose emails have reminded me that my holiday is nearly over and I have to look for work soon.

Cheers for that.

To update you quickly on the next stage of this adventure, AB and I are flying to Glasgow (via London) on Monday. We will meet Andrea's relatives at the airport and stay at their house for 4 weeks or so.

Some time within that period I have to schedule a meeting with a recruitment firm in Edinburgh to discuss PR job prospects in Glasgow. That will be a nice day trip, and will give me the chance (I hope) to catch up with the Adelaide girls we met in Turkey, who are now living there).

Saying goodbye to our new friends in Turkey was a sad occasion, as it brought it home to me - in no uncertain terms - that "real life" is about to begin again.

I hope it will bring me as much laughs and good times as the past 8 weeks has.

How Bazaar!

Originally uploaded by Andrian Lee.

One of the best things about Istanbul is the shopping in the two main bazaars - the Grand Bazaar, and the Egyptian (Spice) markets.

The colours, sounds, and smells emanating from these two sites is enough to tempt any traveller. The free stuff you get, just for being a female, is just a bonus I guess hehe.

On our first day in Istanbul, Andrea and I met two girls from Adelaide who shared our transfer bus from the airport. Nat and Suzie were on our Top Deck tour too, so we stuck together and agreed to explore the ancient city together on the day before our tour commenced.

Nat and I have no sense of direction, so we left it to the other girls to find the Bazaar and the Spice Markets for us. They triumphed, and we loved it.

It's worth mentioning up front that the all-male storeholders spoke some English, but you could tell it was gleaned from years spent serving English-speaking tourists who had wandered up and down the numeous aisles over the years. So the array of English expressions hurled at us, to get our attention, was baffling:

"Hey Angels, can I be your Charlie?"
"It's the Spice Girls!"
"Are you from Japan?"
"Come in and look at my rubbish"
"I won't rip you off as much as he will"

And the list goes on.

The name of the game in the Turkish markets is haggling, and you're either good at it or you're not. I got better as the time went on. But it became clear to me that there were girls in our tour group for whom haggling is an artform, and they are the true masters.

Michelle is a flight attendant for QANTAS (who introduced herself as a "trolley dolly") and she was a haggling hero. To get what the Turks call "best price", she invented a husband back home who wouldn't let her spend too much money; she walked away from stores if she felt she was being overcharged (9 times out of 10 they chased her); and she even laughed in their faces if they didn't lower the price to what she thought the item was worth.

When I bought a gift for a friend, Michelle leaned into me conspiratorially and quickly whispered, "start at 15 million lira, and don't pay more than 20". And I didn't. Leaving the stall with my gift safe in its bag, for the price I was prepared to pay, I felt I could leave Istanbul a happy camper.

And the spice markets presented a dazzling explosion of colour and smells, as if you'd uprooted the Adelaide Central Market and filled it with Middle Eastern produce.

There were trays of baklava; turkish delight; Turkish Viagra (figs stuffed with walnuts, pistachios, and honey); and more spices than I could even identify.

One man was selling honey by the bucket load, and it was presented so enticingly. He had a block of honeycomb swimming in the richest, most golden honey I had seen in a long time. On our first day in Istanbul, the girls and I found the stall and paused, open-mouthed, sighing hungrily. The man who owned the store sprang out of nowhere and offered us a taste ("Tasting is free, my pretty ladies"). And he fished out the honey with a little plastic spoon and offered it to Nat. When she raised her hand to take the spoon, and opened her mouth to say "thanks", he shoved the spoon straight into her mouth. And when we opened our mouths to laugh at her, he shoved spoonfuls of honey into our mouths too! It was perhaps an unusually forward way to taste-test, but we were not disappointed. The honey was delicious - and if I wasn't travelling on, I would have bought some for sure.

The Turkish bazaars present you with everything you could possibly want to buy, but perhaps nothing you really need. It really is just more "stuff" - cheap ripoff designer tshirts, handbags and shoes (go Courtney!), sheesha/water pipes, tea sets, ceramics, souvenirs etc. But the experience is had in the haggling and the fun of getting lost down the maze of identical aisles.

I loved the energy of the place, and particularly the post-Gallipoli "Hey Aussies" that were shouted at us from the dynamic store holders. Definitely a place to go back to.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Lest I forget my Turkish experience

Originally uploaded by seyyah.

I am back in Paris now, having enjoyed 15 days "Going Troppo in Turkey" with Topdeck Tours.

The trip certainly was eventful and I am exhausted. I had wanted to keep a daily journal, as I had done up till now. Unfortunately we were so busy (or intoxicated?) each night that I was too tired or too hungover the following day to write any kind of retrospective.

That said, of course, I have kept all the ticket stubs of the tourist attractions I explored and the cafes I frequented. So in that sense, there is plenty of fodder for late journal entries, if I am ever so inclined.

Our tour group consisted of 3 Kiwis and 28 Aussies, so you can just imagine how rowdy we ended up. To coin a phrase from one Aussie (Ben), we "carved it up" on the dancefloor many nights, drank way too much local beer (Efes) and explored the varied Turkish landscapes.

And the ANZAC experience was seriously something I will never forget. There were a few tears shed by yours truly (thanks in large part to the haunting Last Post), but the highlight was the Aussie ceremony at Lone Pine Cemetery.

I am not sure what was actually written in the Aussie or NZ media about our behaviour at the Cove, but I did hear that Aussies were criticised for being "disrespectful". I'm not sure I can agree with that, based on my experience on the event.

I loved the Lone Pine service and I don't think we were too bad. Sure, the Mexican Wave and the "Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi" might have been a bit unconventional, but it was fuelled by honest national pride, and such enthusiasm, the likes of which I've never seen. And it was so infectious that I think even John Howard enjoyed himself. Prince Charles certainly had a smile on his dial.

And while I've collected quite a nice Turkish tan to remember my 15 days away, I have also made some good friendships that I hope will endure. I have a set of UK-based friends who have pledged to make me a decent coffee if ever I'm in their town.

Something tells me that if and when we catch up, an Efes beer for old time's sake will be our first choice.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Captain Caveman

Capadoccia, Turkey
Originally uploaded by Barrybar.

Still alive and well in Turkey and spent yesterday at Capadoccia exploring ancient cave homes. Took a walk down a ravine which was almost a FALL down a ravine, but lived to tell the tale. Most importantly I got to see Penis Valley which left me convinced that some men on our bus now have feelings of gross inadequacy!!

Last night we had a folklore evening complete with Whirling Dervishes and more Efes beer than I have yet to see in one place. Very sheepish people on our bus today and not too much talking going on.

Signing off now to get some sleep before our 7.30am departure tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Istanbul or Constantinople?

Thıs is a big weird world and this is a big weird typewriter so my apologies for crappy typing.

Arrived safely in Turkey and wıll spend today (before the tour starts) walking through a bazaar with 2 girls from Adelaide - who used to work wıth Kate's cousin Bec at the Edinburgh hotel. Can you not go anywhere in this world? Anyway it's so great to hear the Aussie accent again and the girls have not been to Turkey before either so it will be a good experience for all of us.

This keyboard is killing me so I'll sign off now.

Take heart that all is well and I will blog on again soon.

Mikey and Rae, I don't have the telephone code for Turkey on the phoneaway card so I will have to email you soon instead xox

Monday, April 11, 2005

Kirs, Beers, and Cheers

Originally uploaded by ronnie_sjr.

Back in Paris, and enjoyed a trip around the Louvre foyer (didn't go into the museum this time around, but the souvenir shop is pretty impressive). Finished off the evening with way too many kirs and beers. Plus the obligatory kebab. You can take the drunks out of Australia but...well, you know the rest.

We fly to Turkey tomorrow morning, and I'm more than a little apprehensive about flying Turkish Airlines. Even though I survived my Ryan Air flight, which involved a rush for seats, a scary take-off, and a less than civilised disembarking procedure, I am still nervous. Maybe it's because I don't speak any Turkish, maybe it's got more to do with the usual anticipation of flying into a new and exciting place. I don't know.

I've been trying to think about how I'm going to introduce myself on the bus when our Turkey tour starts. I know I'll have to say something witty, that makes the boys think "hmm cool chick" and all that rot, but I fear that crapping on about my holiday will make me sound obnoxious.

So I think I'm going to talk about what I want to do while in Turkey. I want to try Turkish coffee; have authentic Turkish delight (while at the same time harbouring a real love for the Haigh's take on it); and try the street-side herbal cigarette/cigar thing that is rumoured to taste like apples.

Too bad if the boys don't think that's cool - I will be pretty darn proud of myself if I can tick those 3 things off my list by the end of this next adventure.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Ciao for now, Italy!

I am writing this post from the airport in Bergamo - don't worry if you have never heard of it. I am about one hour's bus ride north of Milan. I am also about to fly Ryan Air for the first time ever, and the house wine at one of this airport's many cafes is starting to seriously tempt me.
On the bus ride here from Milano Centrale train station, we sat across the aisle from 2 German tourists who proceeded to read every bloody billboard and street sign from the City to the airport. Granted, the woman was convinced that the bus driver was heading for Malpensa airport (Milan's main departure point for air travellers), so I thought she would relax the on-board commentary once we deviated along the "Bound for Bergamo" route. Sadly, no. Soon she was joined by her husband, as together they recited the signs along the roadside for the illiterates amongst us. Okay so I'm being a bit unfair. They were not that loud. In fact, I could only hear them because they were right opposite me. But for Goodness sakes people! Could they not see that my morning coffee was yet to kick in?!
And so we arrived at the airport at arround 11.30am, my nerves shattered, to realise that our flight to Paris does not actually leave until 4.30pm. Uh huh. Don't ask how we did that, but perhaps in the spirit of finding that old silver lining, we can accept that for once we were well on time (and waaay early) for a city departure.
As I start to accept that this is my last day in Italy for a while, at least until my parents come over in September, I can say that this part of my holiday has been the best. I enjoyed France and Switzerland too of course, but the weather, food, and wine improved significantly once we crossed into Italy. And that did a lot to relax me into enjoying playing the tourist for a few weeks. I have eaten more pizza and drunk more Chianti in the last few weeks than ever before, and have probably relocated the kilos I'd lost from my body back in the fat farm of rural France, but I feel happy for it. Our days here have been spent enjoying the outdoors in these Italian cities, taking lots of photos and getting plenty of sleep. What's not to love about that?
A few more days in Paris lies ahead, and then we're off again - this time around Turkey on a tour called "Going Troppo in Turkey". Somehow I think I'll need to channel Bali's 'Go Hard Or Go Home' philosophy in orderto cope with the next 10 days. Sleep will probably be a way off.
At least I can be fairly sure that the Turkish street signs will be illegible to most of my fellow travellers - perhaps I will get some peace after all?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

It's Very Milan, Dahhhling

Originally uploaded by MattL.

As the train pulled out of Rome yesterday afternoon, I reflected on how busy Termini train station was. Departures were scheduled regularly, but arrivals were coming in just about every 2 minutes, which would have been such a nightmare. From the comfort of my first class Eurostar seat, I felt pretty satisfied that our time in the busy Eternal City had passed so drama-free.

We are now ultra proficient at public transportation travel, having mastered the Metro and bus systems. And train travel? A snap.

And so it is that we have travelled north, to the beautiful City of Milan. This place is attractive, and very quiet. Is it true that everyone in the world is travelling to Rome? Are the only people here in Milan actually tourists? Could be. But I digress.

We had dinner last night at a restaurant near our Hotel, and the lovely old waiter (is there any other kind on this trip?!) gave Andrea and I a free glass each of pure alcohol as a digestif. Andrea tried grappa for the first time, and I got to stomach a glass of limoncello. I think I will have to try that again while I'm here - I was quite taken with it by the end. As you can probably imagine, given that it is 30% alcohol. Hic.

Today we woke up in our 4-star hotel (a reputation that I suspect was bought, rather than awarded impartially) to a particularly overcast day. In Rome we had been walking around in jeans and tshirts, so I suppose it makes a nice, albeit irritating, change to don a cardigan and dodge some raindrops again. This is about as close as my clothes are getting to a laundromat, which is a bit sad - but the state of our clothes keeps even the nutters away from us, which is a good thing.

In one hour this morning, we had showered, dressed, breakfasted, and made our way to the Milano Centrale train station. Not a bad effort in any country really. We bought a train ticket to Como for tomorrow (so that we can take a cruise on the lake) and also a bus ticket to Bergamo airport for our flight to Paris in a few days time. Then we set off to explore our temporary home.

The weather held out for most of the day and we got to see the Duomo Cathedral. Or at least we saw where it is SUPPOSED to be, under the mountain of scaffolding that met us as we emerged from the metro station. But we went inside and it truly is a beautiful church.

We walked through the Galleria shopping centre, where this photo comes to you - courtesy of a much better photographer than me. In the Galleria, you find McDonalds (naturally) alongside Prada and Louis Vuitton. Quite an eclectic mix really, and way out of our price range. "Where do the normal people shop?" has become my catch-cry as today has worn on. I am yet to find the answer.

After the window shopping trip in the Galleria, we got lost. Not surprising really, given that I had the map for most of the time. After a restorative bottle of Italian Pinot Grigio and calzone for lunch, we did a tour of La Scala and even took a bootleg paparazzi-style photo of each other in there. "No Photo" signs mean nothing to other tourists, and so we figured we'd follow suit.

So tomorrow we take the train for an hour, arriving at Como late in the morning, cruise the Lake up to Bellagio, and then back again to get the train in the early evening back to Milan. Should make a nice day, if only the rain holds off for us. But still, if George Clooney spots a water-logged little me from the comfort of his palatial balcony, maybe he will invite me in for a warming and restorative Limoncello? Andrea can come too I guess.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Mighty Mount Vesuvius

pompei street
Originally uploaded by cking.

Early this morning we headed off on a coach trip to Naples and Pompei. Did I mention it was early? We woke at 6am, and were out the door just before 7am. Rough.

But the bus trip went without incident, which was good. Our fellow bus travellers were Brits, Americans, Aussies, Germans, and Spaniards, as far as I could tell. In any case, the tour guide had to conduct the whole day in English, German, and Spanish so I was well impressed.

Pompei was just like I remember it from my visit in 2001, with the exception that some things I saw back (like mosaics etc) have been transferred to the Museum in Naples. But I still got some good pics and found the return visit interesting.

Naples was really depressing. I'm glad we didn't have to get out the bus for too long. It's not the sort of town that you want to hang around in for long. However, the region has given the world the Margherita Pizza, so GOLD STAR for that. Yummo.

And returning to our hotel tonight by 8.15pm, we cashed in on the hotel's complimentary (or is that "complementary"?) bottle of wine [and I should confess here that it was actually spumante, but I won't], and that's me finished for the day.

Tomorrow we are sleeping in, and then leaving Rome for Milan on the 2.30pm train. Where has our time gone?!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Bread and Circuses

Originally uploaded by mecl67.

My journey around Rome has been one of great indulgence. Who am I kidding? My whole trip around ITALY so far has been about eating, drinking, and enjoying as many monuments and museums that the daylight hours will allow.

Tomorrow we're spending 13 hours on a tour to Naples and Pompeii, exploring ancient sites and oohing and aahing over the awesome power of Mt Vesuvius to total an entire town and bury it for centuries. Cool.

I have been going nuts with my camera, and have taken 190 photos in only six weeks. I don't expect ANYONE to stay awake during that slide night. I think even I will struggle to pay attention!

Today we walked through the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, home of the ancient Roman Emperors. Their residences are still visible (in ruins, naturally), but it is such a beautiful spot up there, people were having picnics and generally just enjoing the sunshine and relaxation.

Away from the scary Metro, Rome is just as beautiful as I remember from my visit here in 2001. The Italians are such expressive people and, unlike my experiences of the French, there is no mistaking what they're feeling when they talk. Their faces and their hands do as much talking as their mouths, and I love that. Plus the Italians laugh so easily - at themselves, and at others.

I am looking forward to what this week will bring. I'm well aware that our holiday is coming to an end.

On Tuesday we fly to Turkey, and will be looked after for nearly a fortnight on an organised tour. Being at the mercy of someone else's schedule will be tricky to get used to, but there is also something liberating about knowing I can relax for a bit too.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

La Dolce Vita

Shine on...
Originally uploaded by boboroshi.

A very short post to allay fears that I have been caught up in the veritable "mosh pit" of St Peter's Square.

I am in Rome, and have BEEN to the Square. In fact, I was in this very Basilica just yesterday evening, to pay my respects to the Pope. Little did we know really that he would pass away only a few hours later.

The City has been packed to the maximum (as you've probably seen on TV) so it's been pretty busy on public transport and at monuments. However, we're still getting out and seeing things.

Gotta get off the PC now so that Andrea can have a go, so I'll write more from Milan. We arrive there on Wednesday.

With much love to all for the concern and continued good wishes xox