Showing posts with label europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label europe. Show all posts
Sunday, 24 May 2015

Germany - Berlin & Dresden

Now jumping back to the middle of my trip. More photo heavy than my usual posts.

I didn't originally plan on visiting Germany again since I had spent quite a bit of time on my 2013 trip. However, my travelling partner wanted to visit and I was open to the idea. Germany is one of my favourite countries and I'm not really sure why. I think it may a combination of the way that life works (efficiency), the people and the culture.

Untitled
Last time I visited there was snow everywhere. This time no snow but just dreary weather.

Untitled
Reichstag Building - German Parliament

Untitled

I also wanted to visit/ trespass into Spreepark as my one and only chance before it got knocked down. However a few months before I left Sydney, a fire destroyed quite a lot of the buildings/ rides which was disappointing. In the end, I didn't go.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

One of the highlights in Berlin was finding a place that developed BW film for not only a reasonable price but also within 5 hours. That is insane! So happy that I found the place (although I still need to buy a negative scanner). A close second favourite was eating at Yarok and trying Syrian food for the first time. I just love how multicultural Berlin is.

Next stop (for a day) was Dresden! This was a super cute city and it was also where I discovered that Lift (soft drink) comes in other flavours apart from lemon! At Maccas I tried the Apple lift and I also had chicken wings... I also invariably (and regrettably) ended up at Maccas almost every Sunday throughout my trip since everything was closed.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled
Dresdner Handbrot ergo the best thing that I have ever eaten. I would love to eat this every day.

Untitled

Untitled
Dresden Frauenkirche - the second prettiest church I have ever visited! (St Mark's Basilica in Venice is my all time favourite).

Untitled

Untitled
Thursday, 21 May 2015

Final Days in Istanbul

The Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) has an interesting history. It is the third church to be built on the site, having been used as a church originally and later as a mosque. It is currently a museum and at the time of my visit (Jan 2015) was undergoing restorations inside. From 537 to 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral however was also also a Roman Catholic cathedral between 1204 to 1261. The building was converted into a mosque from 1453 to 1931 after Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It was opened as a museum in 1935. Consequently, there have been continual efforts to remove the plaster to reveal the original interior.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled
Slow removal of the plaster that was placed after it was converted to a mosque.

Untitled

Untitled

Very close to the Hagia Sofia, the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı) is one of the largest cisterns that lie under Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century; it is incredible to think that it is that old! The cistern is 143m long and 65m wide with 336 marble columns, spaced at 4m intervals.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

There are two Medusa heads and it is a mystery as to why they are there. There is a rumor that they were moved from a building of the late Roman period. The cistern wasn't as cool as I thought it would be and was both a little underwhelming and a little creepy. But still worth a visit.

There are so many mosques in Istanbul and so many more than I had expected. I visited my second mosque - Rustem Pasha Mosque- (which was a little difficult to find) and unlike the Blue Mosque, it was blue-r and almost deserted.

Untitled

Untitled

istanbul

Untitled
Not Turkish food but one of the best burgers I've had in my life was at Virginia Angus near the Grand Bazaar.

istanbul

Untitled

Untitled

Testi kebabs are a combination of meat and vegetables cooked in a claypot. It originated from the Cappadocia region and is an experience as it is sealed after filling it with the ingredients and breaking it is the only way it can be opened to be consumed. As it is an Anatolian specialty, naturally it was on every menu when I was in Göreme. However I didn't try it when I was there (rookie error) and searched high and low in Istanbul on my last night. As mentioned before, food in the old area was quite expensive and the testi kebab I had at the restaurant was significantly more expensive than what I would have paid for in Göreme. But nonetheless it was super tasty and interesting to watch how the claypot was cracked open. Plus I also got a free shot of amaretto from the bartender!

istanbul

Overall Thoughts
What was interesting was to compare and contrast the different areas in Istanbul. The old town, Sultanahmet, was so different to Beyoğlu and Beşiktaş which were a lot more modern and reminded me a little of the suburbs in the US. Actually, in the old town, it reminded me of Hong Kong with the sheer volume of people and the tight alleys. I also visited one of the largest shopping centres in the world (Şişli Kültür ve Ticaret Merkezi) which was insane.

Turkey was an incredible country with amazing people and food. Although I didn't enjoy Istanbul as much as I would have liked, I loved all the other cities/towns that I visited. Turkey was so different to every other place that I have visited and I really loved the country despite all the mishaps. I definitely want to return one day to explore more of the beautiful country, notably the south west region. 
Thursday, 30 April 2015

Istanbul

Istanbul was one of my most anticipated cities. It is a city that is separated by the Bosphorus and it means that it is on the European and Asian continent. It is the most populous city in Turkey and is one of the largest cities in the world with a staggering 14.16 million. To put things into perspective, Australia's total population is 23.13 million.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

I stayed in a small hotel in the old district, Sultanhamet, which was very close to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and the Hagia Sophia. This meant that every time I went out to explore, I needed to walk through the park which was a little uncomfortable. Safety is usually not something that is at the forefront of my mind but cutting across a park at night does heighten my sense of awareness. It was quite jarring to see the stray dogs in such a busy city like Istanbul and interestingly enough, the citizens do care about the animals. There were bowls of water and kibble left out and it seems that the locals do like the strays.

The first stop in Istanbul was the Blue Mosque. I had never been inside a mosque before and really didn't have any expectations. From people's comments, I knew that the Blue Mosque wasn't very blue. But it was still incredible to see the tiles inside.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The Grand Bazaar is an indoors market selling a variety of goods such as: fake designer bags, trinkets, turkish towels, Turkish delight, tea and spices. It was definitely an experience. Even in Sydney, I have a problem with my sense of direction at Paddy's Market since the same store repeats on every corner. The Grand Bazaar is massive and the same few stalls repeated which made it very confusing. Haggling is not in my nature and it is definitely needed when shopping there since everything is overpriced. Even some stalls "final" prices were still overpriced. For example, there was a magnet being sold there for 3 lira (after haggling) and the exact item was sold in a shop nearby for 1 lira, no haggling required. The only purchase I made was for Turkish towels and in hindsight, I should have made a lower counter offer. The man's first price was 45 Lira, followed by 35 Lira when I ummed and ah-ed over the price. I made a counter offer at 25 Lira and he quickly accepted. In hindsight, I should have said 15 Lira. D'oh. I say that because I bought other better quality Turkish towels from a homeware store for 23 lira. Novice at haggling.

Untitled

Untitled
'Hamal' or porter who carries all sorts of stock on their back with that presumably uncomfortable and dangerous posture. Every one of them that I saw were at least over 50 which made me a little sad about the long term impact of their profession on their body. An article here.

I absolutely loved the food in Turkey however Istanbul was a little disappointing (in the central area that I had stayed in). Like a lot of big cities, I found the food quite expensive (relatively of course) for the quantity and quality.

Untitled
Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Pamukkale


In hindsight, I should have allocated more time for Turkey because there was a lot of back-to-back travel across great distances. After a full day in Göreme, I headed for an overnight bus journey to Pamukkale. It is 616km from Göreme to Pamukkale equating to an 11 hour bus journey. Yikes. After my very uncomfortable 9 hour journey I had in the USA, I am generally very hesitant about long distance bus travel. Although it is convenient and cheap, being unable to sleep and then having a full day ahead is a horrible experience. However, there weren't any other options and I tried to convince myself that it wouldn't be too bad.

As mentioned previously, travel between cities in Turkey is predominately served by coaches. From memory, although it was possible to purchase tickets online from some of the bus companies, simply turning up at the counter would usually suffice. That being said, it is best to buy the tickets as soon as possible. The first two bus companies that I went to were sold out of the tickets to Pamukkale. There was a brief moment of panic at the prospect of being stranded in Göreme however luckily the third counter had tickets to sell. In fact, they were reselling tickets from the second company I had tried to buy a ticket from originally.

My seat was in the very back row which wasn't too bad except for the fact that the ground was soaked. This resulted in my socks to be wet and I curled up in foetal position for the entire journey. Thankfully, I slept for almost the entire bus journey and it was a lot more comfortable than my experience on Megabus! The only thing that is somewhat annoying with bus travel in Turkey is that the toilet breaks are quite long - 30 minutes - and is more of a smoke break than anything, and there are toilet breaks every 2.5 hours. Close to Pamukkale, the coach stopped and the people heading there got into a small van. Luckily I had a travelling partner with me otherwise I would have missed that stop since I was fast asleep. In my stupor, I almost tripped on the way off the coach and left my hair clip on the handrest. It was a little dodgy if I have to admit. The coach had stopped at the side of a highway and half a dozen people got off the coach and into a small van. The van took us to the bus company's main office (this was around 7-something am) and we all awkwardly sat inside. No one said anything so I wasn't really sure what was happening and ended up grabbing some things to freshen up. As confirmed from my previous research, the bus company was more than happy to let us leave our bags there. However, the bags left unattended in the front of the store and not locked in a room or even behind a counter. The weather was quite dreary and was drizzling, however it was slowly clearing up.

Untitled

Untitled

Pamukkale is a UNESCO site and it means "cotton castle" in Turkish. It was absolutely stunning to see the contrast of the white travertines against the flat fields and snow capped mountains in the distance. To protect the travertines, you have to remove your shoes and walk barefoot up to the top. Before my trip, I was worried that since it was winter it would be quite cold. That was partially correct. Although the water from the hotsprings which run down the travertines are quite warm (naturally), by the time they reach the bottom the water is quite cold. For 1/2 of the ascent, my poor poor feet were in pain. The ground was so cold that my feet became slightly numb. However as they were slightly numb, it meant that I began to feel every single ridge on the ground and excentuated the pain. Every now and then, I would intentionally walk into the cold water to soothe the prickling sensation. It was a little overcast so the true whiteness of Pamukkale wasn't completely evident. The further up I walked, the warmer the water became (which my aching feet were grateful for). Since I had entered the travertines shortly after opening, there were only 2 other people and it was very peaceful.

Untitled
The painful ridges.

Untitled

Untitled

At the top of the travertines is the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis. Hierapolis was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire and was originally a spa town but later became important for the healing properties from the thermal springs. By the time I reached the top, the clouds had cleared and it was a beautiful sunny day. I enjoyed walking through the ruins of Hierapolis a lot more than I thought and I would definitely recommend that people allocate enough time to walk through some areas. The area is massive and the view is also stunning. I can't really imagine how incredible it would have been back in Hierapolis' prime. There were a lot of strays on the path up (they didn't have to pay an entrance fee!) and I gained three new buddies who didn't leave me alone for most of the time that I was exploring Hierapolis.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

By the time I headed back to walk down, the tour buses had arrived and the top of the travertines was filled with tourists. As the tour buses dropped them off at the top, everyone was within 100m from the top of the pools. It was a little jarring as I had walked up with hardly anyone around to seeing so many people being ... frankly stupid. A major gripe of mine is when people don't listen to rules and have no respect for the site that they are visiting. Some people blatantly ignored the path just so they could take their photo. The path is there for a) safety and b) preservation of the natural site. As the skies had cleared, the white travertines were blinding. I had forgotten to bring my sunglasses much to my dismay.

Untitled

Untitled

Pamukkale and Hierapolis were amazing and I would highly recommend. It is incredible to think that the travertines are a natural phenomenon.

Now in hindsight, I realise that every time I travelled within Turkey, it was fraught with transportation issues. The ticket that I had purchased to Izmir was problematic as the bus company's internet was down and therefore for some reason our tickets had to be refunded. What happened was that I caught a small van to Denizli (the closest big city) which was an experience in itself. From Denizili, there was the option of catching the train to Izmir which at the time I thought would be a nice experience. Boy was I wrong. What people said was correct; buses are the way to go. The train was so slow and it took 5 hours to reach Izmir (bus would have been 3.5 hours). The following day was the journey to Istanbul and once again, the day was rife with transport issues. Oh Turkey.