Month: December 2015

Affirmation: Antalya

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Sunday 13th December

We arrived in Antalya and then proceeded to travel out of it for another hour before we arrived at the hotel. There was quite a big gap between when we arrived and dinner so I tried with little success to nap. The dinner was really disappointing and the hot food (whilst cooked) was luke-warm at best and at least one of the desserts was slightly frozen. Whilst it didn’t particularly bother me, there were loads of cats running around the room and they waited outside the sliding doors for their opportunity to run inside.

Marcus went up to the room and Alex and I sought to find something to do but by 8pm we accepted there was literally nothing for us to do. I had a shower and got in to bed which was in the same room as Marcus but divided by a sliding door so my section resembled a peasants quarters. Marcus then decided to build a barricade because we realised that the balcony wouldn’t lock.

Monday 14th December
After I woke up from a bad nights sleep I knew not to get my hopes up for breakfast after the dinner from the night before. My low expectations were still not met and I couldn’t even have jam or nutella on toast and got charged for orange juice even though I along with others thought it was free. The setting of the hotel was nice and before leaving I got a photo of the sea and the mountains.

We arrived in the main square and from the clock tower walked through the Bazaar to the harbour. Marcus showed a bit to much interest in one of the shops and told the owner he would come back later. We both made the same comment at the same time “we can’t go back that way”. Although it wasn’t quite 9am the sun was starting to shine through and when we reached the harbour the water sparkled.

The views were lovely and we could see the snow capped mountains in the background. There were a lot of boat tours and it seemed most used a pirate theme, or rather specifically Pirates of the Caribbean, even using moulded character faces as the boats figurehead. After leaving the harbour we stumbled across a very pretty square in what was probably a very wealthy area before continuing to the tower.

Unfortunately on the way Marcus got talking to another shop keeper who seemed, as Volkan had predicted learnt every street name in London. Volkan had also warned they would talk to us for a long time and for a while it looked like we would never leave though mercifully we were able to make our excuses and to leave. This time we really would not be returning down that street. We finally reached the tower which was slightly underwhelming up close, looking more spectacular from a distance.

With time to spare we went to Yenigüm a traditional Turkish delight shop. I didn’t used to like the texture of the Turkish delight sold in the UK but this was amazing and out of this world with so many different varieties. Such was my love for the pomegranate flavour and chocolate with coconut I left with a small box and the treats for work sorted.

We boarded the bus and continued to the jewellery shop where the salesman showed us some rare diamonds worth more than the house in Southall I’d looked at. Many were also more than the deposit I have saved for. He tried his best to convince us diamonds were a better investment than money but all I left with was some Turkish coffee for Steph and Jess.

After lunch we went to a leather shop where some very pretty girls and a no doubt handsome man put on a fashion show. I’ve been to a lot of these stops on various tours and I’ve always resisted buying anything however I finally broke. I tried on a leather jacket, which I took an instant liking to and with the help of Volkan managed to get more than 75% off. I’ve always wanted a nice leather jacket and this one will be a nice memory of the holiday.

We arrived at the hotel which at the entrance looked quite spectacular. After dropping off the bags Alex and I tried to explore the Japanese swimming pool and Spa area however it was such a maze I got lost on the way and opened a door to a room which resembled a building site. The pool was closed and the steam room cold and whilst the Sauna was working we both decided to return to our rooms.

Marcus and I counted down the minutes to dinner and were amongst the first people there. It was arguably the best buffet I’ve had, or certainly the biggest in terms of choice and we both shamelessly stuffed ourselves. After dinner we went to the Sultan Lounge for some live music but eventually realised it had been cancelled due to being out of season.

Alex had joined us so we went in search for the “real Ferrari F1 car” (in the words of Marcus) and walked a very long way for something which ended up being a large lifesize plastic toy. It was a very creepy feeling room resembling a closed theme park which was made worse when a creepy man we hadn’t seen jumped out and said “would you like to play?” Despite still being early we cut our losses and went to bed.

Tuesday 15th December
I woke up early and spent quite a bit of time mindlessly looking at articles on the internet and really struggled to get out of bed when my alarm eventually went off. By the time I went down for breakfast I was running marginally late which was a shame because the breakfast, like the dinner had an amazing choice.

Our main activity for the day was to visit the ruins at Aspendos and after passing through the city gate we stopped to photograph the remains of the cities aqueduct system something I hadn’t seen before. Next we arrived at the site Aspendos is perhaps now most famous for. I had already been impressed with a lot of the ruins we’d seen on the trip but stepping in to the perfectly preserved theatre built during the reign of Marcus Aurelius in 161AD (and restored in the 1930s) was a real treat.

We had a group photo and then when we had free time I climbed to the very top level and looked down on the 15,000 capacity auditorium. I explored every corner and Kevin kindly told me about the stone which had the Roman text confirming when it was built. Ironically as I took the photos of the theatre I was deleting old pictures of the theatre at Pompeii from earlier in the year and I was really able to compare the two. True it’s not as grand as the Coliseum in Rome but it is more complete and seeing a show there must be incredibly atmospheric.

Leaving the theatre I had about 45 minutes to explore the rest of the area and turned my feet on to ultimate speed. I made the 20 minute up hill walk to the Basilica in under 10 minutes, passing the remains of the stadium in the process. The Basilica area was deserted and after taking in the atmosphere decided to walk for a further 10 reaching the start of the aqueduct system. On the way down I accidentally took a short cut and so powered to the top of the ‘theatre hill’ so that I could look down on the theatre which was particularly spine tingling. I jogged back down and made it to the coach with just enough time to buy the group souvenir photo.

I thought I may have been a bit tired of ruined but Aspendos had been so good it had left me on a bit of a high and the inner wannabe photographer/archeologist/history buff had been truly satisfied as we continued to lunch. After my late breakfast I wasn’t hungry so as soon as it appeared everyone was done I left to walk across the reconstructed Roman bridge. The bridge was an unusual shape and gave pretty views of the surrounding mountains.

We made our way back to the hotel where we had nearly half a days free time. Alex, Deborah and I went to explore the beach whilst Marcus relaxed in the room. The beach didn’t look that appealing though I imagine it must be popular in the summer so instead Alex and I made another attempt at having a swim or using the steam room. The water in the heated indoor pool was not the 28 degrees as claimed and as with the day before the steam room was not producing steam. The Hamman room bad activity so we went in but after about 5 minutes we were told to turn off the hot taps and that it was closed.

I returned to the room to have a shower to warm up and shortly after Marcus said he was at the outdoor pool outside our room. I stepped on to the balcony, waved but couldn’t see him. He then realised he wasn’t outside our room. He made his way back and together we then walked around the hotel grounds for well over an hour because it was such a big site though we didn’t even touch the actual golf course. On our epic journey we were attacked by sprinklers and made it to the beach just in time to catch the end of the beautiful sunset.

We briefly listened to some of the live music in the hotel reception before going back to the room to freshen up before our final dinner. As with the night before there was a huge selection including some particularly pretty and tasty desserts. After eating Alex, Marcus and I saw a very cute cross eyed cat we’d seen the day before and then found an outdoor ping pong table. There were no lights so the person not playing held up a mobile phone and more shots were missed than hit.

We returned to the Sultan Lounge for 9.30pm to see the Acrobatic display but as with the night before it all seemed closed and the bar staff seemed a bit dodgy so we went to reception. We’d seen 3 outdoor pool tables and asked if they could turn on the lights and after first denying they had any the staff then said they were broken. By now we were quite bored. The hotel which from the outside looked so grand was an empty shell and it felt a bit like when the Wizard of Oz is unveiled. We went on another walk through the hotel and after eventually finding ourselves in the creepy closed arcade room from the night before decided to go back to our rooms.

Wednesday 16th December
This time it was my turn to get out of bed with little trouble and after having a shower packed my bag for the last time of the year. I left Marcus in bed as I went down to breakfast and whilst I initially felt hungry and knew there would be no lunch lost my appetite on entering the room. The food looked and smelt fine but I knew I had over indulged though I couldn’t resist a helping of the pancakes. I returned to the room and on the way passed Marcus in the corridor. He told me he’d been hiding in the room waiting to jump out on me though I’d been longer than he expected so he’d given up.

We boarded the bus and just as we were about to leave for the airport a member of the group realised she’d lost her phone and case which included all her bank cards. There were varying reactions from the rest of the group because none of us knew what was going on except Vulkan and as I was at the back it was Chinese whispers at best. When I realised the cards and phone (which had all her selfie stick pictures) I felt quite sympathetic. It could have happened to any of us and it must be up there with disasters that can happen on the way to the airport. At the same time we were probably all feeling anxious about getting to airport and were experiencing the classic end of holiday feeling. Sad it was over but glad to no longer be confined to a coach and suitcase.

As it was Vulkan was notified the items were found at the hotel just as we reached the airport but we had unfortunately had to sacrifice a photo stop of more ruins and a fine example of an old Roman stadium. I was also feeling anxious because I had to declare my coat at customs before boarding and had somehow found myself right at the back of the check in line for our flight despite most of our coach being a coach load of people in front of me. As it was I did still have time to sort everything and I slept most of the flight.

Some of the people on the tour were quite elderly and aspects of the trip had been quite strenuous for them but they showed resilience to keep going and I don’t think anyone missed any of the main sites. Whilst Marcus and I naturally stuck to Alex as she was in our age group (even though Marcus insisted I was still ‘grandad’) and her mum Deborah we had spoken to and enjoyed the company of everyone on the coach. We had all been in Turkey for the same reason and I think we all made the most of our time there because we were all young at heart, making the most of life. Despite all the troubles in the area which had caused me minor concern, Turkey had been a fantastic experience and appeared a friendly, economically stable country.

I remember when, before I started travelling I briefly worked with someone who went to a different country each month. They were about the age I am now so at the start of the year I’d set out to do something similar and to explore Europe. I didn’t manage it though came very close but I will never take for granted what I did experience this year especially reaching the Ancient cities of Rome, Athens and Istanbul (Constantinople). I doubt I’ll ever have a year of travel quite like 2015 but I’m already looking forward to whatever new adventures may come my way in 2016 and like many of those on the coach I hope I am still exploring the world in my later years once I have fulfilled any parenting responsibilities (when the time comes).
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Lost for Words: Istanbul to Antalya

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Friday 11th December
Marcus had set his alarm early but had still not got out of bed when we got the wake up call and he asked for me to shower first which I did. For some reason neither of us had had a good sleep, for me my left side felt stiff from lying on it and I felt more tired than I had the day before despite 8 hours sleep. The shower revived me a little and eventually once we had double checked we had everything we went downstairs to breakfast.

I had made the joke the day before they needed a baked beans or equivalent to go with the sausages and scrambled egg and it seemed someone was listening. Unfortunately it was made from mushrooms and whilst I put my dislike of them to one side I found my self picking them out so only the sauce remained. I felt quite content when I boarded the bus and Marcus decided to take one of the empty rows at the back so he could sleep.

It had been an early start and after leaving at 7.30am we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. Volkan spoke for a short while before letting us rest for a couple of hours. After around two hours we reached a service station however there wasn’t anything to see besides some dogs one of which took an interest in my leg.

We boarded the bus and the long drive continued before we reached the start of the Gallipoli Peninsula and drove past Saros Bay. This is an area of Turkey that interested me and I had hoped we may stop at one of the beaches or memorials. As it was we didn’t quite go far enough because most of the action was south west of Gelibolu which is where caught the ferry to Lapseki.

Before we caught the ferry we stopped for a lunch buffet which again had a great choice of food including sucuk sausages, chips, and a nice slightly spicy red lentil soup. As with breakfast I left feeling I’d over indulged and after only two days in I was concerned at how much I might weigh when I get home especially as little energy was being used napping on the coach.

The ferry to Lapseki across the Dardanelles to the Asian side of Turkey was full so we had to wait 30 minutes however Volkan let us explore Gelibolu rather than just sitting on the coach. There was a memorial to Ataturk and the remains of what appeared a fort. We boarded the ferry and a man was feeding the seagulls creating a frenzy. Somewhat predictably, as is my luck with birds, one of them made me its toilet target though no one I was talking to fortunately realised so I made my excuses to leave so I could clean up.

As we drove from Lapseki we passed Canakkale and from there we could see some of the World War One memorials on the opposite side of the sea. Volkan then read out a speach from Atatürk In 1934 about how the Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed and buried in Turkey were considered brothers in a now peaceful land. We then had a 1 minutes silence to reflect on the 500,000 lives that were lost which was incredibly moving.

Eventually we arrived at the archeological site of Troy, the city made famous by Homer and which for centuries (like Atlantis) was believed to have been a myth. It’s discovery in 1870 by Heinrich Schliemann proved its existence however the city was built over 5000 years ago and rebuilt so many times that little remains of the legendary layer from the Ilion of Homer. At the entrance there was a wooden replica of the Trojan Horse and we slowly made our way around the ruins.

We stopped at various remains where Volkan provided some information including the South Gate, the Roman Odeion (theatre), the Sanctuary (first built in the 7th century BC) and the Palace House. It was also possible to see Schliemann’s famous trench which ultimately led to the discovery of the city however the techniques used destroyed large sections. Before leaving I climbed to the top of the wooden horse which was the only real highlight. The site was slightly underwhelming, perhaps not helped by the weather but I was so grateful to have visited such a historic and iconic site.

After another couple of hours drive we stopped off for another toilet stop and I stock up on supplies because I’d eaten most of my chocolate and sweet rations on the long journey. Boarding the bus, one of the ladies noticed some beers and Vulkan then gave them to us for a tip because a new tax law meant they couldn’t be sold. This meant the final hour passed a lot quicker and put those of us at the front in a more relaxed state.

Marcus and I dumped our bags in the room before going to dinner where we sat with Alex and her mum Deborah. We were getting used to the high standard of food and we weren’t disappointed by the selection on offer. I had wanted to experience a Turkish bath in Turkey so once we were done I went to book myself in at the Health Spa whilst it wasn’t busy. They provided me with some budgie smugglers which barely kept my modesty especially at the back and some wooden sandals which felt like I was learning to walk all over again.

First I sat in the sauna at a temperature of around 115 degrees and slowly all the impurities in my body seeped out. After leaving I was given a scrub which was so hard it was as though the masseuse was a child attempting to rub out an ink stain. To say my skin felt smooth afterwards would be an understatement. Next I went back in the sauna where, like in Marrakech I thought I had been forgotten. Then I had a  shower, followed by the actual massage which was very relaxing though I didn’t fall asleep like the last one I had. Finally I returned to the sauna before a final shower.

When I returned to the room I realised I had been away for two hours and Marcus was already in bed. We had another 7.30 departure but rather than dropping off to sleep straight away the experience had given me unwanted energy. Marcus was convinced I’d had a happy ending due to my smile and I tried to convince him I  hadn’t.

Saturday 12th December
After we woke up we made our way down to breakfast which was a little disappointing compared to the high standards that had been set by the previous hotel and the dinner from the night before. Of course in comparison to my usual breakfast it was still a feast fit for a sultan.

We all boarded the bus on time and set off however after a few minutes Volkan did another head count because someone on another coach was missing and he needed to confirm they weren’t on ours. They weren’t and it later emerged they had overslept and been in their room.

As we drove along Volkan told us he was originally from Antioch, and provided some information about how Turkey is the biggest producer of figs, raisins, apricots and pistachio nuts. Apparently it is one of the few countries that can produce enough food to sustain its own population. He also told us about Ashure a traditional pudding which originated from the story of Noah’s ark as a celebration after the flood.

After a few hours which included a brief toilet stop we arrived in Sardis which had been the capital of the Lydian Kingdom and seat King Croesus. Our first stop was to see the Temple of  Artemis which had a stunning backdrop of mountains in all directions. The temple itself was quite ruinous, mostly with broken half columns though two of the tall columns remained and climbing one of the hills it was possible to appreciate how big it would have been.  Near the temple were also the remains of an early Christian Church dating from the 4th century and this was one of one of the seven churches to receive a letter of Revelation from St. John the Apostle.

Our second stop was the metropolis of the city which had been occupied from around 547 BC and remained inhabited until the Sassanian invasion in 616 AD. This second site contained the Roman Synagogue and the baths-gymnasium complex. Before viewing these up close we walked parallel to an old Roman road, a small stretch of which had been excavated and marked by columns. We also passed up to 30 Byzantium shops dating from the 4th century some of which had been occupied by the early Jewish merchants as well as the excavated remains of a public toilet.

I doubt I’ll ever have my mind blown like it was in Egypt but the baths-gymnasium complex were amongst the best archeological remains I have been fortunate enough to see. I was impressed at how many of the small details had survived, such as the small faces on the columns, and equally that the structure was still mostly intact.

After leaving Sardis we stopped for lunch and Marcus was again centre of attention many of the waiters believing this time he was a boxer. The starter was again lentil soup but the freshly baked bread was particularly welcome and the main course was also nice. I’m not sure what we would have done if we hadn’t paid for lunch to be included because there was no where nearby. Really I got the feeling the travel company should come clean and make this a compulsory, unhidden local payment.

After boarding the coach we continued our journey this time to the archeological site of Laodicea which is still being excavated. It isn’t on the scale of Pompeii but evidence suggests it was once and on two major trade routes. First we walked up the main street stretching 900m, once part of the Syrian Road, where Volkan told us about some of the ruins. Laodicea is probably most famous for the Basilica church, one of the oldest anywhere in the world which like Sardis was also mentioned in the Book of Revelation. There were also the remains of an Agora, baths and the remains of a big theatre.

Both Sardis and Laodicea are less travelled compared to other sites such as Ephesus so my expectations had been low and I was therefore pleasantly surprised. Both contained fascinating remains and Laodicea in particular was a much bigger site than I expected. It was also interesting to see that the archeological work is still going on and who knows what more will be uncovered.

After leaving Laodicea we continued to our hotel near the white calcite cliffs of Pamukkale where we stopped off briefly for a picture and so Volkan could withdraw money. It wasn’t the most picturesque spot just behind a car park but it was still good to get a quick glimpse even though we would be returning the following morning.

We arrived at our 5 star hotel and before going to dinner I made my way to the hotels natural thermal pool. Volkan had earlier told us the natural thermal pools in the area had been used for 2500 years and that the ancient civilisations believed they had healing properties. It was as warm as the Blue Lagoon in Iceland but the water there had been a lovely blue colour where as this was browny green. I decided to have a quick dip in the cold water to give my body an unpleasant shock before returning back to the hot waters.

After getting out I went to the toilets to get changed but didn’t have the room key. By the time I found Marcus in the dinning room to get the card it looked like I’d wet myself because I’d been trying to disguise the fact I was carrying my swimming shorts through the hotel. Eventually I came back down for dinner where the donor kebab was particularly good.

Alex and I returned to the thermal pools and had a shot of Raki before Marcus joined us in the reception. We then went to the disco where a group of women were dancing and one in particular looked like a 90s raver. They forced Alex to dance much to the amusement of Marcus and I before we all went our seperate ways and to bed.

Sunday 13th December
After breakfast we drove a short distance to a more scenic spot to see Pamukkale however we didn’t have time to make it to the top to see the Roman ruins. We did however see the mineral rich water flowing through the park and it is the sedimentary rock deposited by water from the hot springs which has created a natural wonder giving it UNESCO world heritage status.

Another coach journey then commenced and eventually we reached a carpet shop where we learnt about the traditional methods used in Turkey. Really it was all part of the attempt to sell us carpets and as I’ve said before, if I had my own home I would have by now because it would be nice to have at least one room decorated with souvenirs from places I’ve visited. That dream will currently have to wait, however in the meantime I will take the free drinks whilst politely saying no.

After the carpet shop we carried on to a restaurant for lunch but as I was feeling peckish I broke in to my rations of dorritos. Fortunately I didn’t lose my appetite because the soup wasn’t lentil and the main was rice and kofte meatballs. The yogurt dessert with honey, pomegranate, poppy and sesame seeds was also quite possibly the tastiest thing ever to pass between my lips. I also had my first white wine of the trip which had been locally produced and I was pleased with my choice. Leaving lunch our next stop was our final destination Antalya.

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Rise: Istanbul

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Wednesday 9th December
When I was growing up there were three series of computer games I was addicted to, Championship Manager, The Sim City series and Age Of Empires. I believed that once I was older and no longer had to go to school I could stay up late and divide my time amongst all three creating the best football team, city and civilisation respectively. Reality is of course rather different and two of the three have been consigned to memory (my urge to play what is now Football Manager occasionally gets to much).

Age of Empires was arguably my favourite of the three and it was playing the series I first heard of the Byzantines (my civilisation of choice) and their great capital city Constantinople. The Roman Empire which had grown to big split in AD395 and whilst the Western half of Europe gradually fell in to the dark ages the Eastern half survived. Byzantium prospered and slowly expanded with Constantinople becoming the Imperial centre previously held by Rome. The Empire lasted until the great walls of Constantinople were finally breached by Mehmet II in 1453. The legacy Mehmet II left would have made even the Great Caesar nod with respect and the Ottoman Empire lasted until the end of the First World War when it was finally broken up.

Turkey took on more significance when on my travels I made long lasting friendships with Australians and New Zealanders who had visited Gallipoli and specifically Anzac Cove, the Ill fated Allied landing site of 1915. I had already started planning a trip to Turkey (further fuelled with encouragement from Lucy) when in February 2015 after receiving some junk mail I’d got in a magazine I noticed a hugely discounted tour around the time I wanted to go. It seemed to good to be true and did some research to confirm the company was legit. The deal was for two people though I was fairly sure I could find someone to travel with. Sure enough Marcus an old work colleague and looking to catch the travel bug took up the offer though once booked we had to wait nearly 10 months until we actually left.

The flight was 17.20 and I don’t remember ever having a flight at such a civilised time and almost made me too relaxed on the way to the airport (a bit of edge adds to the adventure). As we were going to Turkey we had an extra check at the departure gate and then I had a full body search before my coke (bottle) I had forgotten about was confiscated. Marcus, the relative newbie to travel made no such mistake and had also mastered packing light, something I have still failed to achieve.

I had never heard of Freebird our airline and first impressions were not great when the TV screen froze during the safety video forcing the air hostesses to do it manually. During the (admittedly) bumpy take off I quickly settled in to napping, reading and blog writing whilst Marcus clutched the seat before falling asleep for the duration waking up every now and then to claim he was resting his eyes.

We landed on time but we were a big group, it seemed everyone on the flight was on the tour and there were 12 coaches in total though most including ours were admittedly only half full. It did however mean that it took well over an hour before we actually left the airport and then were delayed further because some people had boarded the wrong bus. On the way our guide Volkan provided us with details and eventually we arrived at the hotel where we had a welcome drink and a light snack because no one had eaten dinner.

Marcus and I went to the room and unpacked, both gradually realising items we’d left behind before finally turning off lights around 3am. We knew we and everyone on the tour would only get a few hours sleep because we had to be up at 6.30am.

Thursday 10th December
After waking up and showering we went down to breakfast. There was a big selection including a really nice chocolate pastry, chicken sausages with scrambled egg and various cheeses. By the time we boarded the coach my stomach felt well stocked for the day ahead.

Volkan gave lots of facts as we passed various ancient structures on our way from our hotel to the old town including a Roman Aqueduct. The highlight of the journey for me was seeing my first glimpse of the Great Walls of Constantinople. Volkan also told us about the Hippodrome which had a capacity of 100,000 which is more than most modern stadiums and could hold 1/3 of the Ancient adult population in the city.

After getting off the coach Sultan Aahmet Square we walked towards the Aya Sofya,  consecrated as a in 537 and converted to a Mosque by Mehmet in 1453 and became a museum in 1935. It really was a quite stunning interior with a beautiful dome and lots of interesting artifacts including Ottoman Medallions and mosaics. A section of marble in the main floor on the lower level marks where the the Byzantine Emperors were crowned however Mehmet was also crowned there as the first Ottoman emperor to symbolise continuity.

The upper level was accessed by an atmospheric ramp which took much less effort than steps. On this level there were a number of lovely mosaics representing historical events including one of Constantine and Christ. The grave of Enrico Dandolo who had ransacked Constantinople in the 4th Crusades is also buried on the upper level and there were some Viking inscriptions. On the way out we saw a sarcophagus to the Empress Hagia Sofia and a mosaic of Mary and Jesus.

Next we made a short walk to the Topkapi Palace the first stage of which was built by Mehmet after he conquered Constantinople and after his death home to various sultans between the 15th and 19th century. It was very busy with lots of school parties but I’m sure less busy than in summer. Unsurprisingly the gates to the palace were grand and two scary looking soldiers with guns stood guard. The size was quite overwhelming and there were four courts for us to explore each of which included different buildings including the kitchens, a room of elegant clocks and the Imperial Council Chamber.

Unfortunately the Harem the Sultans “private” apartments cost extra and we didn’t have time to visit so we mainly explored the fourth court which contained a number of summer pavilions. As it was winter however there were no flowers to view in the garden. There was a gilded canopy called the Iftariye Kameriyesi which had a lovely backdrop of Istanbul behind. From the fourth court it was also possible to see the route of the famous orient express railway. At one point I went to the toilet and when I returned Marcus had a huge crowd of school children around him all asking him various questions and trying to get selfies with him. Volkan later said it was because the school children thought he looked like a famous rapper.

By the time we arrived at the Sultan Ahmet Mosque it had started raining. As we waited outside Volkan suddenly remembered he had to go back for Mr Logi who had difficultly walking and disappeared. We’d been given headsets and Vulkan had forgotten to turn off the mic which meant as he went away the sound slowly faded and replaced with a distant crackle. Marcus and I pretended to use ours as walkie talkies saying “Valkan please confirm if you have located Mr Logi. Over.” Gradually the crackle returned and then we could pick up Volkans voice, celebrating a successful mission. I don’t think the rest of the group experienced this amusement as they sought to stay warm.

We removed our shoes and the women in the group had to wear head scarf’s before we could enter. It was another lovely interior and the colourful tiled mosaics inside (specifically the Dome) means it is more commonly known as the Blue Mosque although other colours were also included. A small area of the wall was a different colour and contained a rare Kaaba of Mecca black stone which it is believed came from Heaven. On the way out I didn’t realise the marble was wet which meant my socks were damp when I put my shoes back on.

After walking through the site of the Hippodrome we arrived at our lunch venue where we had a side salad and soup as a starter. The main course consisted of döner Kebab meat, marinated chicken pieces, a spring roll and rice which I had it with my first Efes of the trip. Marcus described it best by saying it was a fancy kebab meal. The dessert was baklava which I had with a Turkish coffee which was unfiltered, very grainy and I wasn’t a fan. Marcus said his first one was sweet and it had gloop at the bottom which resembled melted chocolate and as it had been sweet I encouraged him to try. He wasn’t impressed as it turned out it was all the coffee grains.

After leaving the lunch we went on a brief walk through the Hippodrome Square where we saw the oldest standing structure in Istanbul the Obelisk of Theodosius. Originally built around 1549 BC and placed in the Amon-Re temple in Karnak it was transferred to Turkey in AD 390. There was also another rough stone obelisk mostly destroyed by the 4th century crusaders and the remains of a spiral column which once had 3 serpent heads at the top. Finally we saw a fountain which Kaiser Wilhelm II gifted to Sultan Abdulhamit II In 1898 which incorporated the initial of each to symbolise the friendship between the two nations.

Unfortunately for us the coach got held up in traffic so we were waiting nearly 10 minutes before our driver Mr Bekir turned up. It was bitterly cold. When the coach turned up I waited until everyone else was on board before getting on because I knew that some of the young at hearts were suffering more than me. The journey to the boat was short but when we arrived the light rain had finished.

Whilst most of the group dived in to the covered, warm section of the boat I made my way to the top deck because I’ve never let a bit of potential hypothermia and frostbite get in my way. It was really windy and I had to ensure I had my London Underground legs (sea legs) on so as not to fall over board. There were however some nice views and whilst there was an audio commentary eventually I decided to find Marcus inside.

Opening the door it looked like a refugee centre because everyone was huddled together and wrapped up in big jackets. I found Marcus at the back having a nap and had one myself before going back up on deck because it was dark and I thought I could get some nice night photography shots. By now the wind had also eased but it was still just as cold. As we entered the port we came in to close to another boat and the tires of each scraped against each other and some seemed to burst with the pressure.

After we arrived back in the hotel Marcus and I blasted the room with heat to thaw out before we went down for the dinner buffet. This time I tried a dark Efes which was a bit stouty and whilst I tried to pretend I wasn’t interested in the overly sweet desserts I eventually relented. There was another good choice of food and after the first day I was feeling quite impressed with how everything had gone.

After dinner we went to the bar for a drink of Raki. We weren’t sure how it should be served but the bar tender advised us to have it with water which turned the drink a milky colour, hence the nickname “Lions (courage) milk”. I don’t like aniseed so I closed my eyes and knocked it back as quickly as possible though it wasn’t the worst thing I’ve had. Later we learnt we should have sipped it. Having drunk our night cap we went up to the room for an early night as everyone else had done.

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Posted by Travels and Rambles in Europe, Turkey, 0 comments

Walking in Winter Wonderland: Copenhagen

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Saturday 28th November
I can’t remember if I’ve said this before so if I have I apologise. When I’ve spoken to Australians and New Zealanders it’s become a running joke that after initial enthusiasm they gradually tire of the castles scattered around Europe. Likewise when I was in those countries for just under 5 months my enthusiasm for waterfalls waned. Whilst they are both undeniably fantastic destinations, with some stunning natural landscapes, travelling across the vast distances with fellow Europeans made me appreciate the different landscapes, histories and cultures that were on my own door step.

I had made it a mini goal to have lots of mini breaks to see the different cultures of Europe in 2015 rather than a trek to a far flung corner of the earth. As a child I was desperate to go to Denmark due to Lego. It never happened and by the time it opened in the UK I was at the stage in life guys go through when they deny their imagination any pleasure beyond believing they may play for their favourite football team one day.

All this back story explains why, despite being emotionally drained after Germany the trip (explained in the previous blog) some advice from Kim in Greece had sowed a seed in my brain. As I quickly settled back in to my “old” Ealing life I got itchy feet. Searching skyscanner using a flexible destination and sorting by cheapest returns Dublin came up first then Copenhagen for £59. It wasn’t Lego land but it was close enough.

The flight was at 6.40am but I only had hand luggage and checked in online so I left it as late as possible before getting to Heathrow airport. There were only 7 people on my flight so I took over the entire and row and slept some more and had a complimentary coffee. All of that meant by the time we arrived in Copenhagen 2 hours later I was feeling fairly refreshed and eager to explore.

First stop was breakfast and as I wondered towards my hostel even though I knew I couldn’t check in I noticed La Glace, the oldest bakery in Copenhagen. The display of cakes had me drooling and so I stepped in for a treat. I ordered ‘La Glace Tea’ which had a vanilla flavour and the Sportskage which was their special, consisting of crushed nougat, cream and caramelised profiteroles. I can only imagine it’s called ‘sport cake’ because you’d have to do a lot of exercise to burn off the calories. It was as delicious as it looked, though incredibly sweet.

It was raining when I arrived and rather than clearing it gradually became heavier. A queue of tourists had built up outside and as I had been there quite a while I felt an obligation to give up my seat even though I knew Emilie was 20 minutes away. I had a look at a very touristy shop which had a display of polar bears playing instruments. Eventually I walked back to La Glace and stared at the wonderful displays of cakes and chocolates until I was woken from my daze by Emilie calling my name.

We walked to the end of the street and I saw my first Copenhagen Christmas Market. Naively I had assumed there was just the one at Tivoli but I was wrong. We walked around the city and there were 5. The second market we visited had a big Ferris wheel though the rain meant it was running empty.

We walked to the opposite end of the city and saw the Hotel D’Angleterre with its impressive Christmas display. It was at the Christmas Market opposite that we brought some of the famous Glogg (similar, if not identical to mulled wine) which was well received due to the rain. Next we walked to Nyhavn where we stumbled across another Christmas Market.

Emilie managed to talk one of the traders in to giving me a few samples of some Danish biscuits to try along with two types of honey one of which contained cinnamon. Emilie had told me about Apple slices, originally apple slices in batter, now just fried batter balls served with jam and caster sugar and as we went to leave Nyhavn she saw a pub selling them.

We ordered some more Glogg and the Apple Slices which were unsurprisingly delicious before we walked to the Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market where someone dressed as Hans Christian walked around. Next we got some food and whilst the traditional Danish Christmas dinner sounded a culinary treat I was full on all my desserts so I opted for the Danish meatballs.

Emilie Had to go so we said our goodbyes and I made my way to the hostel. As I did so I walked past the Rundetarn and noticed it was still open and as it had stopped raining thought the views of the city would be nice lit up. So despite carrying my backpack I made my way up. I feared it would be all steps but it was mostly a ramp until the final section and the view of the Christmas lights didn’t disappoint.

I checked in to my hostel before heading to the Tivoli Gardens which were jaw dropping pretty and everything I had hoped. It would have been nice to walk around with someone and to ride the rollercoaster but it was still very pleasant and the light display to the swan lake music was stunning. I think I explored every inch of the site and even the biggest Christmas Grinch would have warmed to the atmosphere.

Even though I knew it was only 5.30 back home I stupidly checked the Watford score. We were leading 2.1 but there was still 15 minutes to go. As has become recent holiday tradition I found a quiet area and with rapidly decreasing battery cradled my phone. Deeney made it 3.1 a few minutes later and with victory seemingly assured I turned off my phone and went back to exploring. I checked the score 15 minutes later and to my horror the match was still going and it was 3.2. Eventually I got confirmation it was over and I could release a little ‘get in’.

I returned back to the hostel and met my housemates, a couple from Madrid. After the usual language barrier conversation I asked if they supported Real or Athletico. It didn’t really matter, either way I knew I’d proudly declare Sanchez Flores was manager of Watford and as he has God like status with both clubs I knew I’d make a good impression. Long may he continue helping me make Spanish friends.

I had planned to do a pub crawl but my battery needed charging and by the time I left I’d missed the start. I headed to the first bar but when I entered I knew it wasn’t right for me. Emilie suggested a few places the other side of the Queen Louise’s Bridge however I couldn’t find the main one she recommended and realising I wasn’t in the mood for a late night decided to get some food from a place called Spisestedet FEED before returning home.

I fell asleep reading my book and the Spanish couple were as surprised to see me in bed as I was to be woken up by them returning. There was still an empty bunk and just as we had decided it wouldn’t be filled a German girl from Bonn came in who had been separated from her friends due to a mistake with the booking. We spoke limited Deutsch before she went out with a her friends and the rest of us went to sleep.

Sunday 29th November
The hostel was pretty poor, certainly compared to the one in Berlin and the bunk was pretty uncomfortable. I woke up a number of times and when the nearby church bells rang early next morning I realised I wasn’t going to get much extra sleep. I hoped someone else would stir first but they didn’t so I got down, had a shower, packed my bag and took off my bed sheets.

The receptionist at the hostel was incredibly helpful by printing my boarding pass for free and she became particularly excited at helping me find out what time the Crown Prince and Princess would be lighting the Christmas tree. After that I stocked up on a good continental breakfast including the triangle cheese and Nutella (not mixed together).

When I left the hostel for my walked towards the Little Mermaid there were grey clouds but it was dry and I didn’t think it would rain. As I wondered along I saw the Royal Danish Theatre and the French Embassy with a memorial of flowers to those killed a few weeks before and poignantly reflected on how even Copenhagen had been a victim of a terrorist attack earlier in the year.

At Nyhavn a couple asked for me to get their overheard them asking about canal cruise and realised one was about to leave. The canal boat tour had been recommended to me by a few people and it ended up being perfect timing because as soon as we left Thor unleashed a thunderstorm which included hail. I was thankful I had taken a break from walking and wasn’t in the rain.

The tour guide was also really good and had a good sense of humour and did well to disguise his frustration when people on the deck outside ignored his warnings about low bridges and refused to sit down. One guy came very close to being de-capitated because although the guide said sit down low bridge in 5 langugaes including Russian, the guy just smiled back. Despite the rain it was a pleasant journey and I got my first glimpse of the Little Mermaid where a small crowd had braved the elements.

Amazingly when we arrived back in Nyhavn the clouds had been replaced by blue sky and a golden sphere which wasn’t radiating much heat. I dashed over to Amalienburg slot, home of Royal Family for the changing of the guards at 12.00pm. I imagine it must be very busy in the summer months and whilst it felt fairly busy in the centre by the statue of Frederik V on Horseback I still got a front row standing position looking towards Frederik’s Church, the Marble church. By complete luck on my part this was the street the Royal Guards came up.

As the guards passed me I walked in the opposite direction to most of the crowd who ‘followed’ them. I stood facing the arch and the guards I assumed were being replaced. My hunch was correct so again I had a great spot for the actual ceremony where the band played various tunes and the soldiers went through their various drills one of which involved them shuffling over very quickly which caused a few people in the crowd to snigger loudly.

After the ceremony was over I continued my walk to the Little Mermaid but first had a walk around Kastellet the old fort which is one of the best preserved star fortresses in Northern Europe. It was free to enter and I ended up more of the site than I had expected and climbed to the top of the mound so that I could get a good view of the site however unfortunately the Commander’s House, the main centre piece was covered in tarpaulin.

I finally arrived at the Little Mermaid which was crowded but it must be utterly horrendous in summer when there are loads of coach and cruise tours lining up. The Little Mermaid disney movie is one of my earliest childhood memories so I was glad to make the effort to see it and I was prepared for it to be as small as it was. In fact if anything because I had been warned to lower my expectations, I was actually quite impressed with it.

I walked back towards the Rosenborg Slot which is home to the Danish Crown Jewels. The group in front of me were turned away because it shut at 2 and the ticket office had closed 1 minute before they arrived (at 1.45). I used some English charm and the lady kindly relented, let me in and then even looked after my backpack for free. I wasn’t fussed about viewing the apartments and I had ample time to view the Crown of Christian IV and the other items.

I continued my walk this time heading for Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish Parliament but walked via the Rundetarn and the Cathedral of Copenhagen the Vor Frue Kirke (Church of our Lady). There appeared to be a small gathering outside the Parliament and continued to Christianshavn to see the famous spire of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of our Saviour). I didn’t have the time to see the eco settlement Christiania however I wanted to see the lighting of the Christmas tree by the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark.

I hurried back to the Københavns Rådhus (City Hall) to see the Christmas tree and on the way I got a famous kanelsnegl (a danish pastry but not the type we have here) from a bakery before passing the parliament where the small gathering had turned in to a big demonstration about climate change. I arrived in plenty of time and had a fairly good view despite the big crowds which had gathered and waited in anticipation with locals and tourists.

Mr and Mrs Clause arrived on a fire truck and due to my ignorance I thought they were the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark thinking they had thrown down the gauntlet for William and Kate. I wasn’t alone in thinking this and after they had shaken hands with members of the crowd and waved regally to the crowd, the actual Princess Mary stepped out of the City Hall however Frederic was not with her so I still believe he was the one dressed as Santa Clause.

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Posted by Travels and Rambles in Denmark, Europe, 0 comments