Archive | September, 2015

Istanbul

30 Sep

image

Istanbul has long been on my bucket list. Blame it on novels of Constantinople, the Golden Horn and the Sultan’s Harem. Consequently I was worried about having pre-conceived expectations and had to do my best to remember that this is a modern city that attracts huge numbers of tourists. The largely low-rise sprawl of the new and the quiet, rather ramshackle, cobbled streets of the old city came as a pleasant surprise then.
We’d carefully chosen a small hotel, more of a guest house really, in the old quarter, with the major attractions in reasonable walking distance. The gleaming glimpses of the Bosphorus soon had us heading down to the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, Istanbul’s famous port. The gaggle of tripper boats tied up at the quay and jostling around the bridge as they maneuvered the entrance along with all the small stalls selling toasted sweetcorn, roast chestnuts, fresh mussels and all manner of pastries to the throng of tourists, at first seemed a world away from its past as the centre of Eastern trade. In fact, it was probably not so different. The dockside cranes unloading their cargos may have moved and the whole area been rather sanitised but the hustle and trading, the multitude of foreigners all trying to make themselves understood, would surely have been the same.
image

Not wanting to bore you with a travelogue, nevertheless I must mention that joining the locals on a ferry boat trip around the Bosphorus rather than succumbing to the numerous touts trying to sell tickets is by far the best way to go if you’re not too worried about a guide. For a paltry sum you get to see just as much.
At the top of my list of “must see” sites was the Topkapi Palace. Fortunately, Neil was happy to go along with this – as long as we went early to avoid the horrendous queues we’d seen as we arrived. We were literally the first through the turnstiles to the Harem. Rather disappointingly, large chunks were closed for renovations but it was still possible to imagine the past, particularly the enclosed atmosphere that must have prevailed. I was struck by what it must have been like to see a tantalising glimpse of the outside world over the walled courtyards overlooking the distant port.
Another tourist tip: the cafe inside the palace may look very tempting but the prices are literally double (four times outside the city) what you would pay elsewhere. It’s the only time we felt ripped off. There are no prices on display so consider yourself warned!
image

Our visit coincided with the Eid holiday when some tourist sites have later opening times and the mosques close at specific times to allow for prayers. So we were a bit caught out on our second day and had to change our plans. Instead of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque we once again headed for the Galata Bridge, this time crossing the water and heading up (it’s always up) to the Galata Tower. However, there is an incredibly slow lift to take you most of the way up the tower itself and it really is worth it for the views over the city. We returned to the old Sultanahmet district by way of the Suleymaniye Mosque (yes, all uphill again), grabbed a lunchtime flat bread and were stopped in our steps aghast at the queues for the yet to open Hagia Sophia. Our horror must have been written all over our faces as we were immediately approached by a guide offering to get us in straight away. I’m not sure about the ethics of this tactic and we were certainly given some rather pointed looks but there’s no way we would have visited otherwise. No such guide appeared for the Blue Mosque, though. We gave it a miss.

Advertisements

Catch Up

30 Sep

The problem with blogging for me is that either there’s loads of time to write but nothing to write about or masses going on with no time to post anything. Over the summer it was the former and now, having left the UK, it’s very much the latter. It seemed that no sooner was I back in AD than we were making plans to leave again, leaving barely any time to catch up with all the other expats returning after escaping the UAE summer temperatures. Not that it had exactly cooled down – over 40°C were still the norm – and indoor, air conditioned living still very much the way of life.
Neil had been saving up his holiday allowance, though, to give us chance to get away as much as possible. Thus it wasn’t long before we were back at the airport. As I sit in the shade of a palm tree in Turkey, I finally find myself with opportunity and something to write about.

image

So, it’s catch-up time. Pictures will mostly have to wait until we get back so I can sort through them properly.

Questions and Answers

16 Sep

image

One of the bloggers whose writing I enjoy is Wendy of chitchatandpics which I follow for her take on life as an expat in rural France. As you can imagine, I was enormously flattered when she included me in a recent post where she nominated me to answer a series of questions. Unfortunately the idea is linked to a chain letter which is basically advertising, something I’ve made a point of not doing in this blog. But I just love the idea of bloggers recognising each other and asking about what makes us tick, so initially it was a bit of a dilemma.
Probably unsurprisingly, I’ve decided to answer the questions so I can talk about myself – how could I resist and, after all, what else is blogging? – but I’m going to break the chain. Naturally, I’ve rambled on a bit so I’ve split the post into bite size pieces to make them more digestible! Thanks again for this opportunity, Wendy.

What inspired you to write a blog?

In 2009 we bought a boat with the intention of sailing her to the Mediterranean. It was a huge adventure for us, leaving family, friends and work behind and heading off into what seemed like the unknown. To prepare myself as much possible I’d been reading everything I could find by other people who had done the same thing and came across all these personal blogs. It seemed like a great idea to me to keep what I hoped would be a permanent record in both words and pictures of this once in a lifetime experience. Many people at home were asking us to let them know how we were getting on so blogging seemed the perfect way to do that, too.
We were taking our time to get there, often only travelling a few miles a day and understandably many of the people who the blog was originally intended for lost interest, perhaps only dipping into the entries from time to time. What I hadn’t expected, though, were the complete strangers who started avidly following our every move! Those planning or just dreaming of doing the same thing seemed to be the main readers, some of whom we met along the way and the blog became a way of keeping in touch. The blog became my diary and so, when we sold the boat, it seemed natural to carry on as we struggled with the change and tried to work out how our lives were going to be lived. We’re still trying.
When our son told us of a (totally non-boaty) friend of his who had read the entire sailing blog from start to finish in one night – not an easy thing to do with the rather clunky format I’d chosen use – I knew I wasn’t going to stop.

Twitter or Facebook? And why?

Twitter. It’s all about the people you follow, people who inspire you, those who suggest articles to read or music to listen to, those with similar interests or who just make you laugh. Most of all it’s about conversation with real people but who you’ll probably never meet. The downside is that it can be easy to offend with the limited characters allowed, making expressing your point of view more dogmatic than intended. I avoided Facebook but eventually succumbed in a very limited fashion with family and close friends.

Which season do you prefer?

This is an easy one. Spring. From the first snowdrops and daffodils to the leafy buds of trees opening in that beautiful, lush shade of green, it fills me with a sense of pure joy at all the newborn freshness. Spring is the promise of sunshine and warmth to come.

Earliest childhood memory

I have rather vague memories of walking along a hospital corridor with my mother which I always think of as my earliest memory and also of my Grandfather asleep in the lounge and having to be quiet as I walked through so as not to wake him. More distinct is telling all the neighbours “It’s my birthday. I’m four, I am!” 

What makes you laugh, really laugh?

As adults we don’t laugh anywhere near enough and it is rare for me to laugh out loud for more than a quick guffaw, usually at something on the telly. The times I find myself really laughing are usually at comments and anecdotes from friends. Some people just seem to have a talent for recounting quite simple day to day events in the most hilarious of ways. My father was one of them.

When was the last time you laughed like that?

I’m not sure if it was the last time but I do remember a friend having the whole table doubled up with her telling of the one and only time that, as a non-swimmer, she went down a waterslide. Tears were literally running down my face.

image