Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Looong layover, but not too shabby!

On the morning of August 28th, I got to the Istanbul airport early and waited for the Delta counter to open. I knew I wasn't flying out to JFK that day but as my ultimate destination was Wyoming, I was hopeful Delta would find an east-coast avoidance route for me. And they did. It involved British Airways and a flight to London where I'd spend the night then fly to Atlanta the next day, following on to Salt Lake City. Further flights into Wyoming would be the following day so I opted to pay the cheaper route of a one-way rental car than pay for taxis and hotels in the S-to-the-LC.

As for London, I'd never been there before. (I'd once stopped in England but that involved a hasty hotel check-in and shower before running for the next flight- sounds salacious but it was decidedly not so.) I got to my hotel just down the road from Piccadilly Circus about  six in the evening. I ventured out for a hearty meal (marscapone and spinach stuffed chicken thighs along with garlic potatoes, and a robust shiraz) then wandered the streets for a bit.

You'd think with all the London riots of this past month that when I came upon a sizable gathered crowd that I would have avoided it; I did not.
 Fortunately for me, this crowd was less about (ostensibly) protesting police violence and more about staring at street performers and artists.
 Wanting to at least see a bit of London, I continued to walk around- definitely enjoying Soho and feeling like I was back in SE Asia. I even had a warm brown sugar milk tea (with boba!). But as I took this turn and that turn and ended up on the sex shop street, I started to think I should just go home. Then on a deserted street, I came upon a little sitting area with two men on a bench. I was going to avoid it altogether then I realized they were bronze. And a couple of old friends of mine (once a history nerd, always a history nerd).
"I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made." ~FDR

"From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I shall not put." ~Churchill

"Remember you are just an extra in everyone else's play." ~FDR

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." ~Churchill

"The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize." ~FDR

"You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measures. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That's what I always go. Don't think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That's a foolish notion held by people who have no imaginations. You will be able to accomplish more. You get two days in one - well, at least one and a half." ~Churchill (Whenever I get overwhelmed I think of Churchill napping during WWII, and I am reminded that 'slow is fast'.)

"I'm not the smartest fellow in the world but I can sure pick smart colleagues." ~FDR

"If you're going through hell, keep going." ~Churchill

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I got the hurricane blues.

Seven weeks on the road and I was gettin' real real anxious to get back to family and clean clothes and staying put for a minute.

My flight on August 28th was gonna be hellacious: Istanbul to JFK to Baltimore (overnight) then Baltimore to Salt Lake to Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Then Hurricane Irene interrupted my regularly scheduled planning. Flights canceled. And the Delta office here in Istanbul is closed weekends.

My agenda as it stands now is to check out of my splurge hotel (Grand Hyatt) in the morning as planned, then get to the airport and try to get on standby. I am prepared to camp out.

Hey, I can see my house from here!

Yesterday was an easy day with only one thing on me and Mizz S's agenda: Galata Tower. A nice little stroll from our hotel, and down the busy walking street of Istikal Cadessi, we came upon it in the early afternoon- just in time for me to enjoy a Turkish coffee (I allot one a day). According to the links about it, it was built in 1358 but, according to the tower folks themselves, it was actually built in 528 then later reconstructed by those damn Geneose.

While Mizz S and I stood at the base, outside looking up, we hemmed and hawed about whether it was worth it to trudge to the top. It was hot. We weren't feeling tippy top. Um, it was hot. But we ventured in figuring we could at least look inside and, lo and behold, an elevator! So we did go to the top. And the views were so worth it. As was the Turkish coffee at the cafe topside.
It's from this point that we were weighing that advantages/disadvantages of walking up this bad boy.
Some women look great with wind-swept hair. Then there's me. On an aside, that's Asia beyond my right shoulder whereas I am standing in Europe.
My hair looks way better when I keep my back to Europe.
All the big sites in Istanbul you can see in this pic: Haga Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, and lotsa lotsa other mosques.

Friday, August 26, 2011

For the record...

....I did not stay here.

Ooh la, the Istanbul (Egyptian) Spice Market

Everything that comes to mind when you think "spice market" and "Istanbul" is true. It's stand-upon-stand of pile-upon-pile of bright, fragrant, beautiful spice mixtures. And next to those spices are bin-upon-bin of black teas, fruit teas, flower teas, herbal teas. And in the back of almost every store, there's decanter and decanter of thick, heady perfume oils. But perhaps the best? Every kind of Turkish Delight you can imagine: those based in honey (the best), those based in sugar (sweeter), those with nuts, those coated in coconut, those in rolls, those in cubes, rose, chocolates, marshmallow, nougat. Literally, Mizz S and I tried almost every kind of Turkish Delight.

Needless to say, the Spice Market was none too easy to walk away from.
My money getting pulled into a syringe.
I bought patchouli (not at all like the head shop crapola), musk and amber. I'm so in love with my wrists now.
After the Spice Market, we wandered nearby streets and I got a hankerin' for freshly squeezed pomegranate juice. As luck would have it, my juicer guy was lazy and I got to do the work myself. (Not so easy, truth be told.)
It took about six pomegranates to get enough juice for a small cup.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

I really wanted the title of this post to be, "Abandon hope all ye who enter: a credit card's trip through Istanbul's Grand Bazaar" but it proved too long.

Mizz S and I are spending 6 days here in Istanbul. Going to the Grand Bazaar earlier today, we had a game plan: try to see at least a respectable fraction of the 4,000 shops and don't make any sizable purchases today because we can come back later once we shop around more.

We visited four shops.

The first, we stared at carpet upon carpet and drank apple tea with the owner. We stayed strong in our plan.

The second, I almost bought a diamond and sapphire platinum ring from the 1930s. And, or, maybe an opal ring. But I walked away (almost certain I'd come back).

The third, Mizz S and I drank apple tea as we bought pashminas- me, two; Mizz S, one.

The fourth, I walked away with one silk-on-silk soumak carpet, and Mizz S had two of 'em. We got more apple tea.

Thank goodness they were heavy because we were forced to be done shopping as a logistical matter (because, clearly, our plan to not buy today was not full proof).
One of the many entrances into the endless maze of shops.
This may come in handy to use as a tent while I pay off my credit cards.
These photos are not doing it justice.
This is a design from the Caucus region. Saying it's a Caucasian design makes me laugh.

I went down to the crossroads...

Yesterday was my first day in Istanbul. Having traveled overnight, and wasting some early morning hours waiting for the sun to rise, Mizz S and I were pleasantly surprised when our hotel let us check in waaaaay early. From there, we did a quickturn and headed out for a city bus tour. Luckily, we trekked across one of my must see items here in Istanbul, the Bosphorus Bridge.
This is the view from Europe, looking at the bridge as it reaches out to Asia.
Just a skosh windy up there on the bridge.

Oh, Dubrovnik!

We spent a day and a half in Dubrovnik, famous for its walled Old City. Our travel accommodations crapped out on us, so Mizz S and I found ourselves in an extremely hilly city, with large packs on our backs, with high temps and high humidity, at the height of the tourist season, with a film festival in town, and no place to sleep. And it was 8 pm. All the hotels nearby on foot were full so we rolled the dice and had a taxi transport us to the Hilton. We figured it'd be pricey. We didn't figure a room would be 572 Euros (folks, that's about 900 smackeroos- for one night! And internet was not included!). Not kidding. So at this point we were resolved to sleeping under the stars but we asked one more place that rented rooms- and she had a friend that had a cousin that once knew a person and, voila! We had a lovely little apartment inside the Old City walls for a most reasonable rate. Although Old City plumbing leaves a bit to be desired.
And some sights as we wandered around the city:
Driving to the airport, with the former brother-in-law of the cousin of the friend who once knew a person who rented us a room. Imagine Croatian pop music for the soundtrack.
Goodbye Dubrovnik!

Angry Bus Ride from Hell

To recap me and Mizz S's bus ride from Zadar to Dubrovnik on August 20th:

Hours: 9
Seats: 42
Passengers: 56
Confirmed deodorant wearers: 2

Clearly, the only logical solution was to make my own wetbar.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grubs in Zadar

Eating in Zadar is filled with delights from the sea. Trying to experience as much as we can, Mizz S and I have been opting for local delicacies or preparations. These first two dishes: mine, frogfish wrapped in prosciutto (and, no, I still don't know what frogfish is) and Mizz S's grilled squid were prepared "in the Dalmation way" which kept making me giggle because all I could think is that they were pregnant by Dalmations.
My portion of an appetizer: smoked tuna, octopus, tuna 'salad', anchovies and sardines.

Staying in Zadar

For the past couple of days, Mizz S and I have settled in Zadar, Croatia. A beachside town full of Italian and German tourists, we lucked out and booked an apartment on the more beachy side of town in Borik. It's cooler here than further up north, and the crowds don't seem to be as bad even though it is the beach and it is summer. Our favorite day was today (we voted) where we woke up late then went to the beach and did a two-a-day (not just for workouts anymore! Go tanning!). When we weren't in the sun, we were picnic'ing and reading in the shade.

These are, I believe, the inlets for the Sea Organ- a most fantastical musical instrument that uses sea water to create sounds. Please click on the link or search for it on YouTube, the music is not melodic but oh so beautiful to sit and listen to while you stare at the sea.
The sounds from the Sea Organ come out of the cut-outs on the steps.
Plenty of Roman ruins around Zadar.
Sunset on the Adriatic.

Journey to Plitvice Lakes

Yesterday, Mizz S and I boarded an 8:30 bus to take us to Plitvice Lakes. If you look up Croatia, these are one of the must see locations. And everyone we spoke to asked us if we were going to see the lakes. So the lakes we did see.

They are beautiful. A really stunning shade of blue and green. The forests surrounding them also picturesque. The day was sunny. The temperatures were warm. And the crowds could rival NYC's Time Square. Not kidding.

There was one path to walk, and it was jam packed human traffic for the entire 7 kilometers that we walked the park. The leisurely 20-minute ferry ride was preempted by an hour and a half wait in the sun.

Again, the lakes were gorgeous and I am not trying to be a negative Nancy but if you've ever seen a breathtaking mountain lake then, by all means, avoid Plitvice Lakes at the height of the tourist season.

In front of the largest waterfall in Croatia.
A few of our ferry waitin' companions. This is only about 1/3 of the line.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Awful name, nice place: Pula!

Yesterday, the bus from Trieste, Italy dropped us off in Pula, Croatia after a three-hour ride. We didn't have a room but managed to get digs at a beachside resort, eerily reminiscent (can you reminisce over somewhere you've never been?) of the Dirty Dancing summer camp, Hotel Park. We're close to the water (although a rocky coast) and a few kilometers out of town. First thing this morning, I headed down to the water for a soak (most lovely), then Mizz S and I breakfasted (I make up words) then we lounged near the water most the day (under shade trees during the heat of the day).
The combination of forest, beach and water is really quite beautiful.
For dinner we headed into town and had the most lovely daily special at a restaurant called Kantina. We had fresh baked Sea Bass along with roasted potatoes and a dry Croatian white wine.
Marko, our server, expertly showing us how to debone and present the fish. 

We also had dessert. And it was so lovely. Both of them. A panna cotta with fresh berry sauce touched by brandy and pears that'd been stewed in a spiced red wine, served with a soft, mild cheese. They were so lovely that we ate about half before I remembered I wanted pictures. Hmph.

The Roman arch in town as we made our way to the bus stop.

In the morning we depart for Zadar, Croatia via a five-hour ferry.