My Kind of Castle– Bodrum, Turkey: Day 14 of Europe 2011

24 06 2011

June 24, 2011

Highlights: Castle, Mausoleum,   

 Bodrum is not all that big and there aren’t a lot of sights to see in this city… it’s more of a party and relaxing town I think – still very beautiful all the same. Although there’s not a lot to see, what there is…there is a lot of!

This castle we saw was HUGE and it took us forever to get through. F and I both agreed though that it was hands down the most beautiful of all of the castles/palaces/mosques/museums etc that we have seen so far. Firstly, it was right along the water so no matter where you are in the courtyard, you have a view of miles and miles of open space and water all around you. The castle was filled with flowers and it was so open. I still can’t get over the fact that in a much simpler time, these grand structures were built and lived in. Fascinating to see the ‘English Tower’, ‘French Tower’ and the ‘Torture Chamber.’ Imagine having a home with a torture chamber in it. WTF! And giving someone a tour… ‘Hi welcome to my home. This is the living room, here’s the kitchen, that’s the restroom. Oh that? That’s just the torture chamber. I hope you like dinner!” Ahh the advantages of being Royalty!

We did make an attempt to see the Mausoleum but unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot of it left. The sight is still there with bits and pieces of it on display to view, but nothing really remains.  It’s a little sad to see that none of it could really even be restored, especially since it is one of the 7 ancient wonders of the world. I don’t have a lot to say about this because there wasn’t really anything to see. It cost 8TL to walk in and see the remains but we didn’t bother. What we could see from the door was really all there was to it… not worth it. I’d rather buy ice cream.

 The walk to the mausoleum was actually more scenic than the sight itself. We walked along the west side of the marina… in between rows of shops, restaurants and clubs on one side and the water on the other. What more can you ask for in a pretty city with 35 degree weather.

After spending hours and hours and hours outside walking through the castle and making our way to the mausoleum and then walking home, in the scorching heat we were so thoroughly exhausted. I know it’s going to sound insane… but even though we were in the party town of the country on a Friday night…. this was the night F and I chose to order room service and just stay in. He is officially full blown sick with a cold of death. Pointless to go out when all we will be thinking about is wanting to come home anyway. And I’ve become a bit of a home body these days so it suited me just fine to stay in. When you’re travelling for a month… you gotta have a couple of days where you can just recoup and recharge. For us, that was tonight.

Even though there was no crazy partying, Bodrum has been a blast and we’ve loved every minute of it… even getting here! We would definitely come back here for a few days in the future!


‘Isle of White’– Bodrum, Turkey: Days 13 of Europe 2011

23 06 2011

June 23, 2011

Highlights: Road Trip, Broken Bridge, A Budding Relationship  

Okay so it is now June 23rd, we are just about at the half way mark of our trip and what an adventure it has been!!

We perused around Fethiye one last time in the morning and then started to make our way toward Bodrum since it is a pretty long drive and I don’t think we would have been able to tolerate that level of heat two days in a row anyway.

While drive from Fethiye to Bodrum was beautiful and maybe even more scenic than our first road trip a couple days ago, it was definitely a different experience.  A word of advice….if you decide to do a road trip like we did – ensure the gps is updated completely instead of assuming so. This damn thing dearly got us killed multiple times over the near five hours in ended up taking us to get to Bodrum.

We started out quite on the highway as expected and then all of a sudden we were on an inside road. The first thing we discovered was that these ‘back roads’ were barely big enough to be walk ways. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had more room walking to school on the sidewalks of Rundle when I was 8, than we had on these roads. While our GPS did lead us to drive right along the water, which was breathtaking, it took us on a one way street going the wrong way to get there!!! As we were turning the corner on this narrow road we see a car coming right at us, flashing its lights. We didn’t know what to do since there was NO ROOM to move. Luckily, we were able to back up ever so slightly so the car could barely scrape by us. We had to continue on the one way up the curvy mountain for a few metres because there was no other option. Thankfully there weren’t any other cars on the road or we would have been in some serious trouble.

So we’ve been driving for about 3 hours now, and the GPS says ‘Turn Right.’ So we do and a minute later F says ‘OMG wtf!’ I look up and we are now facing a completely torn apart broken bridge. Not gonna lie… I was more than a little scared out of my mind. If we had driven even half a metre more, our little Hyundai Accent would have fallen right over and I’m confident we would no longer be. My first few thoughts were ‘Okay, we are alive, it’s fine. Everything will be fine. I really hope we don’t have to drive back because that would suck badly… How the hell are we going to re-route this? Damn u idiot gps.’ My next thought was ‘Agggh I have to pee so badly and I just can’t hold it anymore! There have been no gas stations for miles. Unlikely we’ll see one anytime soon. Faaaaaak.’

Well, as unnecessary as it may be to share this, I am a blogger of full disclosure, so I can now say that I have officially had my first ‘squat to pee’ experience.’ Gross I know… but it actually wasn’t all that bad. Thank gawd we took a toilet roll from our last hotel and had plenty of anti-bacterial gel to spare!!! 

Okay, back to our dilemma. We have one broken bridge, a stupid gps, a nervous wreck driver – Farhan and…. another bridge just another kilometre ahead! Phew!!! As I was walking back to the car, I noticed a car driving across the water. My sharp intuitive thinking allowed me to decipher that the car was not that of Moses, but another bridge serving the same purpose as this silly broken one should have! Hooray we’re saved. And naturally, as soon as we got back on the road, we saw three gas stations all which I’m sure had bathrooms… ah well – it’s nice to be one with nature? J

Now I know I have been talking about this road trip for a while, but seriously… I think it has been one of the highlights of this trip. On top of everything else as f was zipping around these hairpin bends, he all of a sudden slows down dramatically. Why you may ask… because there is an itty bitty turtle waddling across the street! After everything we have seen, I would not have been the least bit surprised if I had seen a hare follow it a minute later.

We drove through so many small villages and towns on our way to Bodrum, towns we never would have seen otherwise and it was just such a cool experience to see local farmers…farming; cows feeding their baby calves, women in their headscarves and long flowing skirts hanging clothes to clothespins waiting for them to dry on the roof and of course the kids. What would a village description be in there were no kids playing in the street? I sort of felt like I was on the set for that movie ‘Three Amigos’. You know the one I’m talking about… with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short.” Remember when they first stumble upon the village and the all meet three hot women and soon learn they have to duke it out with ‘El-Guapo’’ and “Hefeh”? Well anyway… the drive into some of these villages reminded me of the village scene on the Three Amigos. I’m just trying to help you relate to my experience!

Finally I can stop talking about the madness of our road trip and tell you about this city! Bodrum the land of the party! Or not?? As we approached the city limits, all we could see was hills and hills of White Houses and buildings on top of a huge body of bright blue water with tons of yachts and little boats sailing somewhere beautiful I’m sure. What gets me is how different every single city we have been so has been so different from the other. Everytime I think ‘okay this is my favourite city’ we go somewhere else and I have the same thought. Though I have never been to Greece, I would imagine that Bodrum is the Greece of Turkey. My humble apologies to those reading this if I am wrong.

‘El-Vino’ was the name of our fabulous hotel that was engulfed in trees and pretty pink flowers. This time I sort of felt like…Little Red Riding Hood in the middle of the forest. All I needed was a basket of goodies since the cat greeting me at the entrance was my wolf. Have I mentioned how much I dislike and am afraid of cats… and they were EVERYWHERE in Turkiye!

Our first night in Bodrum was pretty low key considering the intense drive we had earlier. We spent it having dinner on the roof – a must if you visit Bodrum, even if you aren’t staying at this hotel. The food was fabulous and the staff was so friendly. We had quite the chat with our waiter, ‘Ahmed’ about his views on religion, praying 5x vs. 3x vs. 1x a day. His view was ‘If I am not in a good mood, and I have one drink, it makes me happy… that’s not Haram. It’s okay.’ It’s a good thing he thought that too as we had just ordered a bottle of wine for our table.

Funny story – during dinner, we saw a woman dining alone. At the table next to her was a man, also dining alone working away on his laptop (and checking facebook – I peeked J ). At the start of the night, it was clear that the two did not know each other; however this slowly changed throughout the course of the night. I didn’t see how it started, but I’m going to assume he started to chat it up with her. Their conversation became quite intense over the next hour and it was about this time that I wished I understood Turkish. The waiter takes his plate away, and brings him dessert moments later. Right then, he moves over one seat to be a bit closer to her (it’s a four person table – 2 on each side obv. There was initially one seat between them). We notice that they are both guests of the hotel as they have left their hotel keys visible on the table…interesting! Now although this conversation is going strong, it appears pretty clear that he is feeling this chat more than she is. Not to say she isn’t, because she is… he was just more ‘excited.’ I will also mention that both were fairly attractive individuals. Although F and I didn’t stay to see if they left together or not, I predicted that they did and a year from now they will be happily ever after… we just witnessed the budding of a new relationship. However, F predicted that it will end badly as he is married with children and she is a home-wrecker. Shame on you for thinking the worst F…. and blaming it on the girl! If anything, he seemed more into her… I’d blame the home-wrecking on him. Jerk.

We ended this night checking out the ‘city center’. Even though there were no plans to party or go to the bar… we could hear music from our window so we needed to see what it was all about. For a Thursday night, this place was pretty crazy. Clubs were full, shops were still open and people were still shopping… at midnight! After a little exploring, we decided to call it a night… it’s been a long day and my delicate little flower is just getting sicker by the day. Hopefully tomorrow is a better day! Goodnight!!

‘Paradise At My Feet’ – Fethiye, Turkey: Days 11-12 of Europe 2011

22 06 2011

June 21-22th, 2011

Highlights: Road Trip, Oludeniz, Duck Pond Restaurant,

So we got our rental car, finally figured out the gear shift (standard is a little different here, need to lift some sort of lever for reverse? I don’t know), got some road trip munchies, gps is all set up, our bags are packed and we are ready to go!!

The road trip to Fethiye was really nice and very picturesque… It was kind of like driving from Calgary to Vancouver through the mountains except it seemed that these mountains were bigger and there was so much greenery all around us. Maybe we just felt that way because we’re in another country, who knows. What I do know is that taking this mode of transport is very different from flying anywhere. And while taking a plane may be quicker, nothing beats what you can see and experience when you’re in a car or on a bus. If you are planning on visiting Turkey, I highly recommend using one of these ways to get somewhere at least once… of course I am bias to doing it along the coast because that’s what we did and we loved it! I will mention that the roads along the mountains were pretty intense… super windy and somewhat narrow, and they go up quite high so make sure there is a confident driver between you and definitely don’t drive alone… that’s just silly.

F and I had a good chuckle along the way because as we were driving on the highway, we discovered that as different as things can be between one country and the next, gestures of kindness and courtesy seem to be universal. A smile or a wave to say ‘thank you’ or ‘sorry’ when you’re driving, moving out of the way in the fast lane when you see someone speeding like crazy behind you, and even an oncoming car flashing his lights at you as a warning that there are policemen up ahead. What’s not universal is what the cops are doing as they are waiting for a speedy mcspeederson to fly by. In North America they snack on donuts; in Turkey they sip on chai.  It’s true… as we drove by F noticed that behind the little white shield covering the radar gun, a couple of them were holding little glasses of turkish chai. How civilized!!

How do I begin to describe Fethiye? This little city is all about beach time. And from what I have read, it has some of Turkey’s most beautiful beaches as well.  We spent the one full day we had here in Oludeniz which is about a 15-20 minute drive south of Fethiye. As soon as we got there, we understood exactly why it has developed the reputation for being so stunning. I don’t really have any words to describe this place. The water was as blue as blue gets and if you get tired of looking at the water, just look up and take in the view of the mountains. It was so pretty and perfect. 

Oludeniz is essentially an island where you can spend time right at Oludeniz beach when you first enter the area,  or if you want to go to the Blue Lagoon which is on the other side you can pay a bit of a fee like we did. The fee is because it’s a national park and is the protected part of the beach. They call it ‘Blue Paradise’ because that’s really what it is. On one side of the lagoon the beach is a bit more pebbly and rocky. The other side is where you will feel the sand under your toes when you go into the water. We decided to park ourselves on some beach chairs in front of the pebble side of the beach because it was much quieter and just as pretty. I will warn you though…when you go into the water, go slow and stay close to the ground or you will slip on a rock for sure.

Though today relatively uneventful (since we spent most of it sleeping), it was a little funny when F came out of the water and realized that he went into the ocean with his wallet in his pocket…oops. Everything dried as quickly as it got wet so life wasn’t over, but it definitely felt that way when he first took our soaked marriage licence and Alberta health care card out of his pocket. Ahhh what doesn’t hurt you always makes for a good story in the end.

After spending the entire day getting a few shades darker, we came back to our hotel (which was great by the way –Yacht Boutique Hotel. Great service. Great location too), freshened up and went for dinner in town…about a 10 minute walk. The main ‘downtown’ area where all the restaurants, clubs and shops are was so lively and quaint. It’s not a very big area and all of these places are really close to each other… very cozy type of atmosphere. You can’t help but be in a great mood and feel like you’re really on vacation when you’re in this city.

Like the other cities we have been to so far, as soon as we’d walk by a restaurant, a waiter or owner would rush us and try to convince us to dine at their place. We finally settled on the ‘Duck Pond Restaurant’ because…well the ducks in the pond were cute and gave the restaurant an ambience the other places didn’t have. Another meal to go on the top ten list… the fish casserole. Turkish casseroles are not the same as north American casseroles. It’s more like a curry here and its oven cooked in a clay dish. So yummy!!!!

Well that’s all for Fethiye… this place was all about relaxing, eating and soaking in the sun. We may try to do a little shopping tomorrow and then make the trek to Bodrum. The guide says it will take us about 4.5 – 5 hours to get there by car, hopefully we can cut that down by a few since poor F is starting to get a little under the weather.

“She was born on September 13th, 2003” – Days 9-10 of Europe 2011

20 06 2011

June 19-20th, 2011

Highlights: Suat, Sand Castle Festival, Leman Kultur, Lara Beach

Antalya – The name of a small coastal city in south west Turkey. It’s also the name of my seven year old niece… Antalya Kabani. While this isn’t the sole reason we made a stop here, it was a factor in planning our route. Now I can say I’ve been to the city that is my niece’s namesake… and the poor girl can finally have a pencil with her name on it; definitely won’t find that in the stationary section at Toys R Us!

We arrived in Antalya on the night of the 19th… greeted by our hotel host – Suat. Suat was a very special character indeed. While no description I give will do him any justice, if any of you have seen the movie ‘Borat’ imagine Suat’s personality and voice as practically identical to the main character of this movie… our first moments in this city were definitely more than entertaining.

Being in Antalya has been quite a change from the last 4 days in Istanbul. There is no mistaking that we are clearly in a resort town on the coast. The city is slower, the air is cleaner the energy is calmer… and there is a beach!!! Now we can take a little time to re-charge!

Since we didn’t arrive until later in the evening on the 19th, there wasn’t a lot for us to do in terms of exploring here… so we took a stroll down the street from our hotel in search of somewhere to grab dinner because as usual… we were starving! We ended up at this very trendy outdoor restaurant called ‘Leman Kultur.’ It was a Monday night, at about 11pm and this place was packed! Picture a place where you walk in and there is green grass and flowers all along the ground… and of course walk ways in between. Some of the seating were bean bags, some were chair swings, and some were picnic bench chairs. Funky R&B turned jazz music playing in the background… believe it or not, ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis actually sounds pretty good when sung with some soul to a saxophone and piano.  This may sound like any other restaurant to you, and maybe it is… but for us being from Calgary Alberta where winter is 8 out of 12 months– having huge outdoor restaurants with this kind of atmosphere is always a novelty. We were served by Salih who was the nicest dude ever… he even downloaded their music collection onto our usb key for us because we liked their tunes so much. And of course, F thinks he looks Ismaili. Gotta be one in every city!  

Even though we stayed in the city for two nights, we only really had one full day here and it was spent doing what we came here to do… visit the annual Sand Castle Festival and relax on the beach. Because the city is so small, it made sense to take the bus to get to the festival… not realizing exactly where we were going though, and not really understanding the language, made what should have been relatively simple, a bit more of a challenge than we anticipated. When we left the house, we didn’t really plan for the beach because we thought the festival would take up most of the day, especially since we started the day at practically noon. Oh and did I mention the other difference between Istanbul and Antalya… the weather. It was 40degrees in Antalya and not only are my strappy tank tops /short shorts days behind me, but my suitcase was mainly geared towards relatively conservative culture. T-shirts, knee length capris, the odd pashmina, thicker tank tops. What I didn’t really realize is while this is important in Istanbul, in Antalya… nobody cares! Grrrr!! I did manage to find one pair of shorts and some summer dresses that I will definitely be getting a lot of use out of. It’s times like this when ‘over packing’ can be a good thing because 1.options are important and 2. You just never know what you’re gonna get.’

Okay, we have our maps, shorts, sunglasses, bus money… I think we are set! Finally we leave the house, only to discover that we aren’t 100% sure where the bus stop is or what bus exactly we are supposed to take. I mean as helpful as Borat was…there was only so much guidance he could give us. Eventually we reach the bus stop and then we wait. The first bus stops in front of us and we ask the driver ‘Does this go to Lara Beach? Lara…Beach? no. ok tessekhur.’ The second bus rolls around…’Lara Bea… no? ok, tessekhur. After the fourth bus parked in front of our stop, we decided – we’re not going to ask, let’s just get on, clearly we are saying something wrong…we are now officially on our first bus in Turkey!

Not realizing ours was the last stop, we started to worry when there were only 3 people left on the bus, two of them being F and me. We asked the bus driver where Lara Beach was and he said not to worry, it was still a few stops ahead. So a few stops later, we get off the bus. Yay we are at Lara Beach!!! Ummm, but no sandcastle festival. We see two ‘security guards’ sitting by the curb chilling and soaking in the sun so we ask “ Sandcastle festival?’ and we get nothing. After a little back and forth broken interpretation, we began to understand each other and the soon learned that we were still another 4km away from where we needed to be! Arrgghhhhhh!!! There was noooooooo way I was walking in that heat. It was too hot even for me – the girl who likes to blast the heat in my car during the summer!

After taking a very short cab ride, we did manage to make it safe and sound to the ‘Kum Heykel Festival’ which is how you say it in Turkish. I wish we had known that 2 hours ago. Not realizing we would need to take a cab for 3 minutes that would cost us more than necessary, and that there would be an admission fee to get in, and that they didn’t take credit card or US dollars, and after all of the drama to get here, we didn’t have enough TL to get in! Clearly poor planning on our part. Note to self… always carry a little more cash than you think you’ll need and assume that most places won’t take cc – even if they do for the most part.

The lady at the front desk was nice enough to let us in anyway since we were barely a couple of TL short and what a sight it was when we walked through the door. The theme was ‘Famous Hollywood Movies’ this year… how fitting for us! These Sand Castles were jaw dropping… so so well done and massive. We saw The Matrix, ET, Alice In Wonderland, James Bond, Jurassic Park, Superman, Toy Story, Lion King and the list goes on. I can’t even imagine how long it must have taken these artists to complete these. And the detail… oh the detail! Even Harry Potter’s glasses were made from sand!

One of the workers at a kiosk inside told us that at night all of the sculptures are lit up and it looks really cool. Seeing as there wasn’t a long list of ‘to dos’ on our list for this city and this was a major highlight, we figured… we may as well just stay close by and check it out at night, especially considering how much of a hassle it was to get here…. not practical to go all the way home and come all the way back again in the evening.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Conveniently enough, the festival was pretty much on the beach, and right outside of the doors were huge white inviting cabanas just screaming our names. We may not have had our swim gear or iPods, or books, or laptops, or anything else we may have needed for the beach… but we had our shorts on, sunscreen and tons of time to kill…. and this place took credit cards! So we got a cabana, some chips, Efes fruit soda and relaxed for the next few hours until the sun went down and the lights went on!! Batman looked great in the spotlight!!

By the time we were all done with the beach and the sandcastles, we had just enough energy to take a taksi home (we had plenty of TL by this time) freshen up and head over to Leman Kultur for a late night meal. If we had been there on a weekend and had the gusto to party, we would have considered staying on the beach because there were a lot of cafe turned clubs along the strip… in particular ‘Angel’ looked like our type of place. Ah well… if we are ever in Antalya again, maybe we’ll check it out!

 Time to get ready for the start of our coastal road trip tomorrow… first stop – Fethiye!!

“Power Through” – Istanbul, Turkey: Day 8 of Europe 2011

19 06 2011

June 18 –  and some of 19, 2011

Highlights: Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Bosphorus Cruise, Pet Bazaar, Spice Bazaar

We woke up today and decided ‘We’ve had a busy couple of days, let’s just chill out today and take it easy. We slept in a little, went for a leisurely late breakfast in this great city that was at a perfectly warm temperature! ‘Why don’t we take the tram and take a walk down the Galata Bridge today?’ I said to f.  ‘Sure, we can have some ‘balik ekmek’ (fish sandwich) by the water and just relax’ he says.

So off we went, got our change for the tram and I even stopped to get some freshly squeezed orange juice at a stand close by. (Gawd I love being on vacation). We see one tram go by that wasn’t ours, which I was grateful for because it was packed with people who looked like sardines, and I am ever so slightly claustrophobic. Of course, the second train, which was ours, was no different. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting really.

Slowly but surely my heart started to race a little bit, knowing that I would have to stand close to a bunch of strangers and be enveloped by the pasino… have I mentioned that I have a very very delicate nose and I am extremely sensitive to smell? Now I know that I sound like a spoiled North American brat, and instead of being so silly and dramatic about it all, some of you may be thinking ‘suck it up princess, you’re in Turkey for Pete’s sake. Get over it and enjoy the view.’ And the truth is you’re right. I should have been more ‘breezy’ and ‘go with the flow’ about it all, and yes when I complain about body odour in other countries, I am aware of how I must sound. It’s not my intention to be disrespectful to anyone or any culture, ever, but I would be lying if I said that the entire time I was on the tram I wasn’t thinking ‘Please Jesus, Allah, and all of the other Gods out there. Please pool your powers together and get me off of this train before I die a very slow and painful death.’  But then I decided ‘No! I am not a princess, I can do this… I will power through’…and by golly, I did survive!

Emininou Station could not have come any sooner than it did! We walked out of the station and there was the beautiful Bosphorus! For those of you who plan on taking a little tour around the Bosphorus on a boat/ferry… you don’t really need to do a whole day affair if all you want is to sit on the boat for an hour. Just come to Emininou station and there will be a million boats waiting to take you around the sea for an hour or two. They run every hour so whenever you get there, chances are there will be one waiting for you.

The Galata bridge is just what we expected it to be… and a little more. This bridge was full of fisherman on both sides… there was barely any room for me to lean over the bridge and pretend I was the girl on the titanic… but I managed. What was cool about this scene was that the fisherman weren’t just men, they were more fisherpersons if we want to get technical. We saw kids, young people and even aunties wearing their traditional attire all fishing! Awesome right!! Moments after we started walking the bridge, we noticed a bunch of people huddled in one corner more than the other, so we peered over to see what the drama was all about. There were kids jumping off of the bridge into the water! When we saw this one bicharo standing up there just staring at the water beneath him, I whispered over to f  ‘Aw look at him, he’s so scared to jump but all of his friends just did and they’re cheering him on at the bottom, so he feels pressured.’ He did end up jumping in the end… I guess peer pressure is another one of those things that translates into every language and culture all the same.

Crossing the Galata Bridge led us to the other side of the city where the Galata Tower was waiting for us at the top of a very steep hill. I’m sure my gluteus maximus will thank me for making that trek one  day. The view from the top of the tower was definitely worth the walk to get there and the tight squeeze we had to endure being up there with so many people in such a small space. If you are really claustrophobic my advice: don’t jump and ‘power through! Believe me… it is worth it!

On our way back from the tower, our plan was to head towards the spice market, but before we could make our way to the tram, we were stopped by ‘Ali.’  ‘Come on my cruise. I take you one and half or two hours on Bosphorus. You see European side and Asian side. English speaking guide. 40 Turkish lira. Best price.’  We got him down to 25TL and but we both had conditions. F says ‘ Do you have Efes (beer) on boat, and I said ‘ Ice Cream or no?’ Lucky for F the beer was in stock but I had to buy my ice cream before we got on the boat. It was a really nice ride… we got to see some nice hotels on the water like the 4 Seasons and The Kipinski.  ‘Su Ada’ is also along the water… it seemed like it was in the middle of the water so I think you have to take a boat to get there. Anyhow… it turned out that the guide didn’t speak English at all. In fact, there was no guide really… just a guy handing out Efes and Cay. But it was still a nice and peaceful experience. I don’t think it’s a huge deal if you don’t do it… but if you do you’ll enjoy it.

So after the boat cruise, we started to make our way to the spice bazaar. I said to f ‘why are there so many animals in here. Do they really have birds, cats and dogs in the same space as all of these spices? And gawd it smells awful for a place that should be aromatic.” Of course, after taking a bit of a closer look, we realized that the ‘spices’ were actually different types of animal food! Who knew that there were so many different types and textures of bird food… not I!

In our defence, we did ask for directions to the Spice Bazaar and we were led right to the Pet Bazaar. Firstly the two are next door to each other, so they are easily mistakable… secondly, nobody told us there even was a pet bazaar so we didn’t know we should expect it there. Definitely a mistake anyone would have made. Don’t judge us!

When we finally did make it to the spice bazaar, we found a lot of kiosks selling Turkish delight, pashminas, jewellery, children’s clothing and tons of other knick-knacks. F was pretty tired by this point since it was almost 8pm and we had a pretty intense day considering it was supposed to be ‘relaxing.’ But he was a trooper and I was happy because every other store had Turkish delight samples! I love Turkish delight and I love samples… it’s like going to Costco, we all know the real reason we go to Costco… it’s not for the deals, or the ‘bulk’ products. It’s all about the samples! Thanks for making Costco such a big part of my childhood dad…  gawd I love ya!

We spent our last night in Istanbul having dinner in the Kumpkapi square. It was a great dinner but unnecessarily expensive. I mean come on people… you get your seafood from your backyard, don’t even tell me these fish are a ‘rare’ and ‘exotic’ find. And if I order a ‘roasted red pepper dip’ obviously I would assume it comes with bread. Even the waiter assumes I would eat it with bread because he is the one who brings the bread without me asking. So naturally I would be wondering ‘ummm why is there a charge for the bread?’ I hate it when restaurants are sneaky like that. I mean why not just increase the price and include the bread in the dish? It’s fine, I will still order it for the extra 4TL! I’m just not a fan of people trying to pull a fast one on me… ah well it was a good meal nonetheless and we had even had some live entertainment as well!!

On our final day in Istanbul we finally found a restaurant that sells Efes and Nargileh!! Hooray, now we know what to do when we come back here in two weeks before heading to Portugal.

Istanbul finally done for now. On route down south to Antalya!!!

“I Am Alice” – Istanbul, Turkey: Day 6-7 of Europe 2011

18 06 2011

June 16 – 17, 2011                                                                           Highlights: Topkapi Palace, Taksim Square, Basilica Cistern, Ramazan, Corulu Ali Pasa Mederessi, Ortakoy the cat, Kumpir!!

*Apologies in advance… this entry is super long – two days in one post, and it was a busy two days! *

So now that the playoffs of all sports are finally done with, we can finally focus on what we flew across the world to do, explore Turkey, starting with Istanbul. Because we had such a late night during our first night in the city, clearly the next day we slept in a little, but managed to be up by 930am… not bad considering I wanted to be up at 7am. Ha!

As I said in my earlier post, many of the major sites in the city are quite close to each other so we were able to go from one place to the next with ease. We managed to see Topkapi Palace and the Grand-Bazaar in one day, and then saw the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Mosaic Museum, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art, Basilica Cistern the next day…. as well as stop for lunch at Doy Doy and smoke some Nargileh!!

The Topkapi Palace (the Sultan’s residence during the Ottoman Empire) is really big and we weren’t able to do much else in the day because it took quite a while to get through all of it, especially because we used the audio guide to walk us through the entire palace. It was actually quite useful to have it, but make a mental note that you should bring your own headphones because using the same ones that tons and tons of people have used in the crazy heat…well that’s just nasty. Having said that of course, Farhan and I did just that since we didn’t have any headphones and we are happy to report, no ear fungus!

Seeing the Topkapi Palace and all of the artifacts in it was beyond amazing. We saw baby cradles made of diamonds and gold, thrones presented to the Sultans as gifts, Daggers made with emerald stones the size of a small child’s fist… and though it’s authenticity may be questionable, we can now cross seeing Hazrat Ali’s (pbuh) sword and strands of Prophet Mohamed’s (pbuh) beard hair’s off of our bucket list.  If you do get a chance to see Topkapi Palace, make sure you pay the extra 15TL to see the Harem, known as the ‘forbidden’ quarters where all of the women of the palace, including the wives, mistresses, educators, concubines and even the mother of the sultan, who was essentially the queen bee of the harem, resided. Can you believe that there were sometimes as many as 400 concubines living in one area of the harem at one time! They say that once a woman entered through the doors of the Harem, she never left. That Sultan was a busy man J.  

I’m not going to explain every Mosque and museum we saw in detail because that would take forever, and really… that is what Google is for. What I will tell you is seeing firsthand how people used to live and understanding the meaning behind all of these sites is so incredibly fascinating…. like the Basilica Cistern. It’s a city underground! The Basilica is where the water is stored and provided for the Topkapi Palace and a lot of the other sites nearby and it was built in the 500s by Emperor Justinian. Two of the 336 pillars were actually Medusa heads. If you google this, you will see the various myths there are as to why one of the medusa heads is upside down and one is sideways. It’s kind of hilarious to hear some of the things people come up with to make a good story. When we walked down there, I decided it was the coolest site I’ve ever seen. Firstly, it was pitch dark and damp so make sure watch out for those sneaky little water droplets that accumulate on ceilings and land on your head and then in your eye when you look up to see what landed on your head! And though it was pitch dark, we were still able to see with all of the lighting and lanterns that were sparsely located around the walkways. There were also rows and rows of pillars immersed in water, filled with HUGE fish just hanging out, waiting for people to throw coins at them and make a wish.

In between seeing the sites, we took some time to try and see as much of Sultanamet Square as we could. No matter how many mosques and museums you visit, you have to always make time to just walk around and take in the fact that you are exactly where you are. As surreal as it was to see the Muslim relics and walk the grounds of the royals, seeing the cobble stone streets and quaint cafes, and the cutie little aunties in their traditional Turkish dress sipping cay and complaining about their sore feet was what made us feel ‘wow, we are in Turkey!’

On our second night in Istanbul, after seeing Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar during the day, we went to see the ‘other side’ of the city… Taksim Square. Firstly, we took a taxi there which I will advise against if you are doing it in rush hour. Trying to manoeuvre a car through the tiny little inside streets of Istanbul is not a fun experience. Even our cab driver looked like he was about to pull his hair out…and the poor guy was practically bald already. Note to self – no taxis during rush hour, and always negotiate your price before you get in the car… meter or no meter. Second… Taksim Square is crazy! Walking down Istikal Cadessi (the main street in Taksim) F says to me ‘OMG look at all of these people…you’d think that the Canucks just won the cup!’ This area was so different from the ‘old city’ that we were just in. So many restaurants and stores all along the streets… the paved streets that were filled with young people ready to go out and have a good time. 

 We loved seeing the crowds of tourists and locals alike huddled around the ridiculously talented street performers who looked like they were in it for the company and attention more than they were for the money being thrown into their guitar cases. Hopefully they will end up signing big contracts and records deals and I will be able to say ‘ I remember when these guys first started out , Kind of like when Lady Gaga first entered the scene opened up for NKOTB’s come back tour… and look at her now! (Yes I did go to NKOTB’s come back concert in 2008 and it was bloody fantastic. Jordan Knight still rocks my world).

 Pretty much everyday that we were in Istanbul we would always carve out a couple of hours to smoke some narglieh. In Taksim Square we managed to find a cute little restaurant on one of the side streets where our waiter ‘Tookai’ was more than happy to be our host. On our third day, after seeing all of those museums and mosques, and grabbing a bite at Doy Doy, we set out to find a place where we could smoke some narglieh and have a pint of Efes. Now one would think that most places will offer both of these things on the menu… smoking and drinking, however – it was generally either one or the other. I still don’t completely understand why most narglieh cafes won’t serve alcohol, but I guess I just have a lot to learn.

Anyway… I can’t tell you how many streets and cafes we must have walked by to try and find both…with no luck of course. Finally as we were walking, we came across Ramazan the Carpet seller. Ramazan has been living in Turkey for most of his life and has a brother who lives in Canada! New Brunswick to be exact. Ramazan saw how lost the two geeks from Canada looked, so he stopped us and gave us directions to ‘Corlulu Alipasa Mederessi’ (pronounced: Choro-Loo Alipasha Medres… I think) where he said we would find a good place for narglieh. He said ‘just walk past the mosque and you will see it on the corner to the right. You can’t miss it.’ So we walked… and we walked – still no sign of it. Then I looked up and saw a sign that was actually more than miss-able. It was camouflaged into the wall which gave us the impression that this was just another entrance into the mosque. When I looked a little closer and read the words out loud, I said to F ‘This is it! This is the place Ramazan was talking about!!’ He says ‘Really? Are you sure?’ I said ‘Yep. Hullo busi. (Let’s go)’ we walked in and I swear I felt like how Alice In Wonderland felt when she opened the door to the tree and there was a whole new world on the other side. ‘Omg, I am Alice right now’ is exactly what was going through my mind.

We walked through the doors of Corlulu…, and all you could see were tables upon tables of people sitting and smoking nargileh. That’s all this place was… a big ass nargileh city! Of course, no Efes, but whatever – I was Alice! We sat and smoked some yummy apple nargileh, met our new waiter/coal maintenance person –Aidan, and just sat and appreciated that there is always life inside the tree!

After hanging out in what I re-named ‘smokers paradise’ , we went home, had a much needed nap for a few hours and then got ready to go out and mill about the town. I had told F that I didn’t want to go out and party like rock stars, I just wanted to go somewhere with a cool vibe where we could listen to some good music and have a drink. My cutie hubby did some research, pooled all of the info we had received from past Turkey travellers, and decided to go to the ‘W’ lounge, obviously in the “W Hotel’, about a 20 minute taxi right, which was okay because by the time we left our hotel it was about 11:00pm.

After our taxi driver drove us in a few circles, stopped and asked other taxi drivers where to go because he was clearly lost, we finally got to the W Hotel, only to discover that this very cool looking lounge which was exactly what we were in the mood for, was completely lifeless. Not a soul in sight at this place. The concierge told us that most indoor places are not busy during this time of year because everyone just wants to be outside. Turks and tourists wait so long for the summer to come, that when it is finally here, they just want to enjoy it. The concierge was helpful in that he suggested we go to Ortakoy square where the atmosphere is quite lively and enjoyable. “Just walk outside, turn left and walk straight for a few blocks. Maybe 10 minutes and you will see’ he says. Okay, I can handle walking a few feet, no problem. So we walk and walk… not entirely sure what direction we are going in, so we stop and ask someone where to go. A nice girl says to us ‘just straight. 10 more minutes.’ Okay, sure, I can handle 10 minutes… no problem.

45 Minutes later!!!! Finally we find Ortakoy square… facing the Bosphorus Sea, surrounded by cute little cafes and restaurant and some great R&B – a rare find in Europe from my experience.  We walked into ‘The House’ cafe, which is where we would have stayed (very cool vibe and great music), but they weren’t serving food and I was STARVING! So we went next door to ‘Cafe Caydaniik’ and had the most amazing meal of our entire turkey experience to date. If you are ever in Istanbul, go to this restaurant and order the ‘Caydaniik Kebap’… so so yummy and oily… mmmmm!! If the night had ended right here, it still would have been a perfect evening, sitting along the water, lively atmosphere, great food, Efes and ‘happy juice’ at our disposal. What more could a person want. This area was so fab that our waiter had told us that even the cat that was meandering through the tables and in front of the restaurant has been hanging around the area for the last 7 years… they have named the cat Ortakoy!  

After Ortakoy Square we decided to go to ‘Istanbul360’ in Taksim Square since we had heard so much about it. It’s a great club on the 6th floor of some random building on Istikal Cadessi with a ‘360degree’ view of the entire city. Not much else I can say about this place except I couldn’t help but watch the dj spinning for most of the night because he just looked like he was having so much fun. It’s nice to see people who really enjoy their job.

This night finally ended with us getting some ‘Kumpir’ at corner cafe down the street from the club. I like to think of Kumpir as subway on a potato. You start out with your baked potato and then load it up with the toppings of your choice that are in front of you… cheese, corn, pickled cabbage, olives, hot sauce. You get the picture. Very fitting 4:30am type of food!!!  Good night!

NHL Finals 2011: The Vancouver Canucks vs. the Boston Bruins… Maybe Next Year

16 06 2011

So now that we have left London, and having access to ESPN or CBC was pretty much non-existent in Turkey, I thought there would finally be some shanti and we would get a much-needed full night’s sleep. Though it rarely happens, I was in fact wrong here. At 3:15am my iPod started to vibe as my ‘score mobile’ app tells me  “15 minutes till game time.” Thank you technology for ruining my sleep. Of course, pretty much on cue, Farhan wakes up turns on the computer and finds a way to stream the game… this is where the next three hours of what was supposed to be my indulgence in a bit of REM went to. Again… thank you technology!

There really is something to be said about hearing the Azaan (the call of prayer) echo through the streets and walls of the city as game 7 is going on and Luongo needs just that… a prayer to save him from a pretty embarrassing night, and an even more embarrassing series.  My heart truly does go out to all of the Canuck fans who shared in this disappointment. After becoming an emotional Heat fan and watching them fall as hard as they did, I can relate to how these fans must have felt. Now it is true that many other Canadians, especially Albertans took great pleasure in seeing the Canucks go down and those of you who actually are Canuck fans may not take too kindly to what I am about to say. However, the truth of the matter is, Canuck fans are generally known to be not only a fickle bunch (thanks Hussein for pointing that out so eloquently), but also an over-confident and rowdy fan base. Unfortunately this was proven while the game was actually going on as I received a tweet all the way in Turkey telling me about fires and riots that had already started in downtown. The Albertans didn’t want this team to win for just this reason… we would never live it down. Now, if you actually are a Vancouverite, please don’t take offense to what I am saying, I am only pointing out what is out there for anyone and everyone to read and see for themselves. Articles have been written about Vancouver and the fans, they’ve also been written about Alberta and their feelings about the nucks followers. Interviews and surveys conducted and documented on television. Everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion…I’m just saying, it is what it is.

Having said all of this and admitting that I initially didn’t really care for the Canucks to win either, the truth is that I didn’t really have much of an opinion either way as I’m not a crazy Hockey fan like my fellow Canadians are.  And as the series went on, I too became fickle in my views and actually didn’t mind if the Canucks won… my reasoning – 1. My 9-year-old nephew Jordan-Azaan is the Biggest Canuck fan on the planet. I wanted them to win for him and all of the fans who are just like him… genuine fans who just want to see their team succeed and were likely just as embarrassed about the riots happening in their own city. 2. I personally know more true fans with heart than I do the buffoons who ruin it for everyone 3. My hubby is an absolute die-hard Habs fan which makes the Bruins automatic rivals for the team and for him, so by default, F was a major Canucks fan during this series. Gotta support my fam’ and my man, so even though it didn’t happen the way they wanted it to go this year… ‘Go Canucks Go’ or in the words of 3-year-old Noah Shariff ‘Coconuts Go!’