Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Stats

For our trip of a lifetime, here are some statistics.

We visited 10 countries.

We travelled a distance of 41,000 kilometres.

We visited 74 towns and cities.

We took 7000 photos and video.

I think we need a holiday.  We hope this blog gave you some insight into our trip.

Three nights in Istanbul

We got into Istanbul fairly late in the afternoon following a one hour flight from Athens.  We enjoyed a white knuckled taxi ride to the Athens airport, including speeds of 90 kph in a 60 kph zone.  The driver was telling us how bad things were in Greece and that he was meant to retire15 years ago, which would put him roughly 80ish!  There was lots of horn tooting going on largely directed at us but the driver seemed oblivious or perhaps he couldn't hear them.....

Navigating the Athens airport was pretty straight forward, the information staff were very helpful. The rain stayed with us.

Our first look at Turkey was quite surprising. I don't know what I expected, but from the plane it looked very fertile, lots of agricultural land.


The city was busy,  although when we arrived, the Turks were celebrating the Feast of the Sacrifice which goes is for four and a half days, where lamb meat is distributed to the needy.  It is a public holiday which meant that the Grand and Spice Bazaar where closed while we were in Istanbul which was a tad disappointing. 

We were staying in the old city.

Lots of curvy, narrow streets which seemed to go round in circles.  I found it quite disorientating.

We had a short walk around where we were staying and then headed back for dinner. There was quite a tangible atmosphere particularly when you hear the Muslim call to prayer at 5.30 am.  They are required to pray five times a day.

I was looking forward to the food. This dish was like a pasta filled ravioli and a yoghurt, lemon and pepper sauce. Really interesting flavours, a tangy sauce.

Next day was an early start with a tour guide. We were by ourselves, and the guide was really informative with fantastic English.

This was our first stop. The Topkapi palace was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years from 1465 - 1856.  It was also the place for state occasions and entertainment.  It is now a museum containing things important to Muslims, and collections of porcelain, robes , weapons, armour and jewels. At its peak there were 4000 people living in the palace community.

This is a model of the complex as it was in its heyday.

Quite beautiful architecture.

And many ornate ceilings and domes.

I know, food again, but this was a pistachio cake which I had to try as Turkey is the home of pistachios. Delicious nutty flavour in the cake part and filled with cream, crushed pistachio sprinkled on top.

Next stop was the Ayasofya.  

This building built in 537ad, began its life as an Eastern Orthodox Church. It was later changed to a Roman Catholic Cathedral in the Latin era, and then when the Ottoman Turks arrived, they fancied it for a mosque.  The architecture famous for its Byzantine nature has withstood earthquakes due to its unique brick construction.  It is now a museum where there are pieces of significance for both the Christian religion, and Muslim pieces side by side.

For instance, here we have a mosaic of The Madonna.

This picture is taken from the second floor balcony, note the round plaques in Arabic on the walls.  The walls are covered with marble and other stone, some of which were plunder from war campaigns from other historic sites as was the custom in those days.

Not far from here was our next stop, The Blue Mosque.

The Blue Mosque is so named for the blue tile which decorate the internal walls.  The mosque was built between 1609 and 1617.  It was built primarily as a worship place but also included hospital, school, market and a soup kitchen.  It is currently a working mosque, although has huge numbers of tourist traffic.  There are strict dress codes even for tourists which included hats off for men, scarves to cover hair for ladies and shoes off for everyone.

Quite beautiful inside and this also gives you an idea of the beautiful blue handmade tiles up in the domes and ceilings.

This is where we left our tour guide and caught the tram back to our hotel. We did have a look in a couple of shops, but I got a bit freaked out by the Shopkeepers very aggressive marketing techniques.  I will also remember the very persistent techniques of sale by the Rug shop owner our guide took us to.

The next day was our trip to Gallipoli.  We left Istanbul at 6.15 am for the five hour trip, passing along some lovely coastal views.  I did not expect to see this in Turkey.

 Following lunch, we had an orientation to Anzac Cove by our tour guide. 

This is the beach where the Anzacs mistakenly landed about 1 km from where they should have been.

Now it is a peaceful place of rememberance of courage and terrible carnage.  The cemeteries are well maintained and people visit them respectfully.

These are the cliffs that the Anzacs were confronted with when they were landed, which were protected by relatively few Turks who held the high ground advantage.

This is the famous Lone Pine. 

One of the entrances to the Turk tunnels.

Simpson's grave.  

One of the Turkish memorials.

Who would have thought this could be a scene of death?

We left Gallipoli around five.  This was our dinner stop.

Then back to Istanbul by 11 pm.

After getting packed up for our trip home, we headed out again for a quick spot of shopping in the morning, and I am happy to say we had a much nicer shopping experience.  In fact who knows how much I might have bought if we didn't have to catch a plane in an hour!

This man sold baklava, which I sampled two pieces of, a walnut one and then pistachio.

Lots of shops sold beautiful textiles made into bags and cushion covers, also ceramics and jewellery.

Now back to Istanbul airport.  If he asks me to be in one more photo...


Back to Singapore, and lucky to get an earlier flight back home.

and then back home, I think she was happy to see us again.

That was our trip.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Two days in Athens

We got back from our three day cruise early in the morning.  By the time we got into our rooms at the Hotel, we were much too tired to do anything, so we had a lazy day resting.  We ate at the Hotel restaurant which was a real surprise foodwise.  

This was my salad, it actually looked a lot more impressive than this photo.

This was my calamari.  The yellow package is a lemon tied up with muslin to catch the pips!  Very Greek!!!

This was Paul's veal dish cooked in a clay pot with risoni.

The next day was beautiful and sunny so we decided to find a beach, so we caught the tram and headed  down for a dip.  I have heard people say how weird it is not to have sandy beaches, and they are right, because you sink into the stones/gravel.

In the late afternoon, we decided to go into town and look at some more ruins in Plaka, the old part of Athens, so back on the tram.

This is actually the flea market, we discovered.

More Hadrian, this is the ruins of his library.

And we couldn't resist one more look at this spectacle.

And then more eating.  This was a delicious tasting plate of some Greek delicacies including a cheese pie, some meatballs like kofta, some grilled chicken pieces and some spicy sausage.

The Parthenon by night.

Some more Athens by night.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Minoan Palace and Santorini

Today we visited the ruins of the oldest civilisation in European history at Knossos on the island of Crete.  This area has had human habitation from the neolithic period until the 5th Century AD.  The island of Crete is the largest Greek island with a modern population of 600,000.  Heraklion has approx 160,000 people. 

 Crete has relatively few heritage buildings because of the extensive damage it received during WW2, but some  Venetian architecture remains.  At the port, there are arsenals and ship repair areas from the 16th century.

This is part of the MInoan Palace, which 4000 years ago was the centre of civilisation.  In 2600BC the Minoans arrived from an unknown area.  They brought bronze with them which commenced the Bronze Age or the Minoan Age. Power was given to the Royal families and the palace became the religious, political, commercial and agricultural centre.  The buildings we see are from1700BC.  Earthquakes destroyed the previous settlements, but they went on to rebuild on the ruins on the same spot.  The 1450 BC eruption of Santorini would also have destroyed buildings.   The palace was built next to the river which led down to the port.

About 500 people would have lived within the Palace, including servants.  Within the city around the palace it is believed around 20,000 people lived.  There were 1500 rooms, in labyrinth style built around a central courtyard, which divided it into four sections.

 This is the oldest throne room  in Europe, with the original marble floor and seats.

An example of  the fresco, where men were painted red.  Women were painted white.

An example of the pottery  found on the site.

These were the Queens apartments.  Note the dolphin fresco.  The bathroom contained a clay bath and a "flushing" toilet.

This was the KIng's room built with river views.  The rooms were large with many openings - forimphion  form meaning many doors.

This is the oldest known aqueduct in Europe.  Clay pipes slotted into each other into an extensive water management system.

This is the open air theatral area

adjacent to the oldest known road.

It was then back to the ship and Paul was just back in time to watch a fruit cutting demonstration.

Following lunch, Paul went up on to the open deck to catch some shots of our approach to Santorini.  You can see the various layers of volcanic rock in the mountains and the buildings on top look like snow.

Here are some shots on the island.

This little puppy was defending his turf from two much bigger dogs (labrador size).  They left after he shooed them away, and was just making sure they had gone, which is a bit tricky when you have to look up a hill!!

We drove up to the highest point of the island, and to get down to the port where the ship was waiting, we had two choices. The first option was a donkey, however this was discouraged as it can be perilous. The other option was by cable car. not very good choices if you ask me, however we  went with the cable car with eyes closed on the way down.