Archive | October, 2015

Bangkok

31 Oct

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Friday 30th October

First Impressions

I don’t like night flights. Taking off from Abu Dhabi after midnight on a five hour flight that will leave you three hours ahead of your body clock is never going to be great. So with neck pillow, thin blanket, and socks provided by the airline to combat the less than optimal cabin temperature along with earplugs and eye mask, we reclined our seats the miniscule fraction allowed and attempted to get some sleep, ignoring the whiffs of curry being served at 1:30am.
The sun had already risen when I emerged from my cocoon for the third time, stiff, aching and still wet from an incident with a flimsy plastic cup of water, to raise the blind and peer out through the thinning clouds. The sea was just giving way to a coastline of deserted beaches backed by dense foliage that seemed to stretch endlessly and it occurred to me this was my first glimpse of bona fide jungle. Gradually, in noticeable stages, the land became more cultivated. Isolated clearings became patchy communities before a mosaic of long strips of land in multiple shades of green interspersed with muddy brown water. As flooded fields gave way to urbanization and the first tower blocks we were coming in to land at Bangkok.
Immigration was straightforward and the carefully followed the instructions, gleaned from the internet, to get a public taxi without being ripped off meant we were in our hotel without feeling traumatised. Being allowed to check in early relieved us of our baggage and we walked into the Skytrain station directly from the third floor of the hotel. One stop took us to the central pier on the Chao Phraya river. Civilised or what?
The blue-flagged tourist boat is also an efficient set up. Almost too efficient, in fact. We had imagined exploring the river would take much longer and be an experience in itself but this is still very much just a form of transport despite the young man with a microphone doing his best to make it more interesting. It would have been nice to take it slower, get closer to the riverbank with its five star hotels and gleaming condominiums rubbing shoulders with ramshackle huts that looked like a slight breeze would have them collapsing into the river.
Choosing to alight at the pier for the Grand Palace we set out to get our bearings. I don’t think we really did. The heat and humidity was maybe starting to get to us and the lack of recent food definitely was. Ignoring the small stalls laid out with all the same geegaws aimed at the tourists getting off the boats and the TukTuk drivers around the Palace area trying to be oh so helpful, we went into the first cafe we came across that wasn’t Starbucks and picked something with noodles from a picture menu. OK, so it could have come from any less than average Chinese takeaway but it hit the spot.
At this point we realised the heat and our tiredness were possibly making us less than bowled over and retreat to an air-conditioned hotel might not actually be such a bad thing.

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Saturday, 31st October

Bangkok Day 2

It’s amazing the difference a good night’s sleep can make. A filling breakfast and a bit of a breeze also helped. From being decidedly underwhelmed yesterday, suddenly we were seeing the beauty of Bangkok.
Taking the tourist river ferry again, this time we alighted at the stop for Wat Pho otherwise known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and followed the crowds. Now this is what you think of when someone mentions “Temple” in Thailand and “awesome” is probably the best description. 
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From here it’s a short walk to the Grand Palace but you do rather have to walk the gauntlet of Tuk Tuk drivers who will blatantly lie to you to get a fare. We were told the Palace was shut, that sandals weren’t allowed and there were much better places to visit. I suppose the latter may be true, not having seen everywhere in Bangkok, but as it is the number one attraction and the other two excuses were complete b******s, I doubt it. It is suitably impressive.
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Tonight we’re hitting the renowned nightlife of the city. We may stay up as late as 10pm!

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Thailand

29 Oct

It’s a mark of how times and technology have changed that going to Thailand for a holiday should seem like not such a big deal to many. For me, growing up in Stoke in the seventies and watching “The King and I” on Sunday afternoon TV with my grandmother, I certainly never dreamed I’d be heading for Siam.
Now a popular destination, of course, nevertheless it still feels like an adventure. Neither of us has been to the Far East at all before but Thailand comes recommended to us as the choice for beginners. I confess, it does make me a bit anxious for some reason. I worry about the food, the sanitation, the scams we’ve read so much about.
The easiest option would have been to let a tour company organise the whole thing and guide us everywhere but we soon realised we wanted to stay more in control ourselves. Consequently, Neil has spent much of his free time researching, emailing and booking all the different components that have now come together into an itinerary. Even though we’re sticking very much to the established tourist trail, it still has a large element of the unknown. There are still a few gaps where we know we’ll have to wing it a bit but are still sincerely hoping we haven’t forgotten anything vital and everything goes to plan. Time will tell, I suppose!
It’s a pretty intensive schedule, particularly at first but I’m hoping I’ll have time to keep a diary of the whole experience which I’ll post on the blog as internet access permits.
So tonight we fly to Thailand. Siam.
“Getting to know you…”

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Istanbul Pics

17 Oct

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The Mosque of Sultan Ahmet better known as the Blue Mosque.

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The Aya Sofya or Haghia Sofia was the Church of the Divine Wisdom and regarded as the greatest church in Christendom up until the fall of Constantinople when it became a mosque.

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The Grand Bazaar, more than just shopping. A labyrinthine of colour since the mid 15th Century.

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Little courtyards are revealed if you explore the edges of the bazaar.

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Up the Galata Tower – amazing views over the city and Golden Horn. Worth the uphill trek.

Heaven is a Hamam

8 Oct

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As a hamam virgin with only the vaguest of ideas what to expect, I couldn’t help but be anxious. When I’m anxious I have a tendency to grin rather inanely. Thus I was smiling when I entered the nearby Turkish Baths, when I stripped down to my bikini and paraded thus scantily clad to the low-lit wet room. The grin held firm at the site of the dark, mono-browed, young Adonis who asked me to lie back on the expanse of marble slab. “Your first time?” he asked. “Yes” I breathed.

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The stone was surprisingly warm although I still struggled to get comfortable. I didn’t dare look at Neil as he also lay down alongside me. When Adonis started pouring great scoops of warm water over my body, I fought the desire to giggle but the grin remained in place. Gradually, as the water was followed by a rough-gloved hand working its way from feet to neck, it occurred to me that this was really quite pleasant. My complacency faltered slightly when asked to turn over, move closer and a stranger’s hand undid my bikini top. But no, there was the sisal glove again, its long strokes making my skin tingle. An oily concoction of Dead Sea salt discretely massaged from tip to toe changed the sensation and my smile became more genuine. By the time the clouds of warm foam were poured around my neck my facial expression probably resembled Saint Teresa’s.

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A little lie down in a darkened room accompanied by a glass of sweet apple tea definitely seemed like a good idea. The chilled out atmosphere was rather marred by the snoring Turk in the adjacent bed, however. We tried our hardest to relax into the mood but the suppressed chuckles at each snorting grunt was the best we could manage until we were summoned to the massage room and the curtains closed.
This was not unadulterated pleasure either, it has to be said. Pain was definitely inflicted. Christian Grey would have approved. With face stuck through a hole in the couch, each limb exposed in sequence, it began to feel like all the blood was being pushed into my head. I felt forced to breath through my mouth as my sinuses congested and concentrated on trying not to dribble on the floor. When both sides had been thoroughly pummelled, a soothing, rose-scented cold cream to the face was followed by a painting of some sort of clay mask. This was left to harden as I did my best to relax to the strains of Enya, struggling because the resulting constriction of the skin left my lips feeling as bloated as a puffer fish.
The sight obviously tickled Adonis on his return. He was the one giggling now!

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I didn’t take my camera for obvious reasons but someone was obviously brave enough to have their photo in the brochure!

Anniversary

2 Oct

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Trying to cram in all the sites of Istanbul into a couple of days left us pretty exhausted. Never fear, we had time to get over it and relax on the Turkish coast. A smooth domestic flight to Dalaman was followed by a less than smooth transfer (maybe something was lost in translation on booking) to a pretty apartment in Kalkan. Something of a British enclave it might be but nevertheless the restaurants here happen to be amongst the best while the bars have the rugby on and a good local beer. So that’s us happy.
After a couple of days lazing by the pool and overindulging in the evening, however, we were ready for a bit of culture again. Kalkan is virtually on the “Lycian Way” with all its ancient cities just waiting to be explored. After all, what better way to spend your wedding anniversary is there than walking round loads of ruins? Seriously, we do actually like this stuff. As usual, you need to get there early to appreciate them and, as usual, we were the first there. It did mean Neil had to negotiate an early pick up for the hire car but I’m sure the rental guy didn’t mind getting up at first light.
First stop Xanthos.

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Designated a UNESCO world heritage site, it is extraordinarily accessible and for very little money. The ticket office had just opened when we arrived and for about half an hour we had the place to ourselves. Except for a couple of dogs, that is, who latched on to Neil (everywhere we go) and followed him around. When the coach load of Japanese tourists arrived we headed in the opposite direction and got the other side of the site to ourselves as well, still early enough to surprise the wild tortoises. Another stop at nearby Letoon and we’d had our fill of ruins for one day. I think we’ve done every bit of of crumbling rock in the area now.
So it was on to the beach resort of Olu Deniz near Fethiya and a welcome dip in the famous blue lagoon, my first swim since June, and lunch. What do you have for lunch on your anniversary? Pizza of course! Very nice it was, too.

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