A Travellerspoint blog

Austria

No Kangaroos

semi-overcast 75 °F

We arrived in Vienna in the afternoon, just before sunset and quickly boarded the city tram. Immediately we were amazed by the transit options in the city. Train, air, light rail, underground, tram, bus, and well paved bike lanes. After realizing we had gotten on the tram in the wrong direction, due to our lack of direction without the sun and not understanding German, we quickly switched and headed to our stop, only 4 stations away. Following the directions that Kahlia and Rainer had left for us we easily found their apartment. Greeted by a cheerful 2 yr old, Acacia their daughter, or at least about to be two year old, her birthday being the next day we walked the 4 flights of stairs to our penthouse for the next 4 days. We use the word penthouse loosely; it was a beautiful old apartment that had been in Rainer’s family for years, in a prime location about 30 minutes from the city center, and on the top floor of the building. We spent a while in their kitchen while we chatted it up with Kahlia as she made dinner for her daughter and waited for Rainer to return home from work. She was from Adelaide, Australia and had been an au pair for a family in Austria and when she got home she realized she was pregnant with Rainer’s child so she returned and they got married. Kind of an interesting story, an Australian and Austrian getting married, two country’s names that are commonly confused with each other.

Once Rainer returned we headed out for a photography show by World Press photo. To get there we used some of the city bikes available for anyone. Only 1 euro for registration, the bikes were free to use as much as you wanted.

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Check out my ride!

We had a nice uphill ride to the gallery…the girls had a hell of a time during the first stretch. The show was quite interesting and hosted some great politically driven photos. After we were there for a few hours we were all starving so we went around the corner to a traditional dinner of schnitzel and potatoes…a meal that we would repeat again and again. Jen ate so fast she burnt her tongue on her schnitzel…ooops. We had a nice downhill ride on the way home and stopped at a park for a swing in one of the many hammocks that were hung between every pair of trees.

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Ahhhh, relaxing time.

After dozing off a little we all headed home and easily fell fast asleep.

The next day we headed out a little late, we were excited to see the city but had begun to realize that this trip was more of our life than just a short vacation. We needed to start paying close attention to our rest and not overdoing it. We had been under the weather too much already and wanted to enjoy the rest of the trip. We immediately headed for the market, this was our favorite aspect of every city, mainly because they were fun to just stroll, people watch, and you could fine cheap fresh food.

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That's my good side.

We had our first taste of falafel and did some “window” shopping. It was Friday so Rainer got off work at 12, nice right? so we met him at the Stephansdom for a tour of the city. He always enjoyed taking his hosts to some of the spots around the city that he enjoyed and we were super excited.

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We saw the cathedral and then headed down some streets, passing by a restaurant that was as old as the Columbia in Tampa, 1905, that had schnitzel bigger than the size of your plate. We also passed by some other interesting spots before meeting Kahlia and Acacia at the canal street.

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Baby Acacia doing her own thing.

We walked a few more hours by parliament and some museums and then hopped on one of the many busses back to the apartment.

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Parliament

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Officer on deck!

That night we headed out to a traditional guesthouse for some form of meat wrapped in a huge dumpling. Can’t remember what it was called but it was good…along with it some great sauerkraut. We walked around town for little bit and then hopped back on the city bikes for a quick ride home. We were really beginning to enjoy the bikes as a nice way to get around town, not having to wait for transit and just out right fun. We didn’t do too much this day but had a lot of fun just wandering the city. Vienna is absolutely beautiful and very friendly. We were lucky in that we were there during the “Witch’s Summer”, where every winter one week was comfortably warm. This year it just happened to be later in the year, according to Rainer.

The next day was Saturday which meant the weekly flea market, oh no, watch out Jen. We had planned to go to a show around 1:00 that afternoon but spent way too much time at the market. Jen bought a few more warm clothes and checked out all the little trinkets and items.

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Hey, I have that one.

We next hopped on the bikes and headed around the ring road where all the museums and historical buildings faced.

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Bird's eye view of the ring road.

It was beginning to cool down when we headed to a modern string quartet, a free show part of the Modern Wien festival going on in town. The show was interesting to say the least; the musicians seemed to be in a battle with their instruments. It was nice to see this part of the city though, even if we couldn’t understand a word of the intro as everyone was introduced.

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Ready...attack.

That night as part of our stay we cooked dinner for our hosts, vegetarian black bean chili (without black beans because they don’t exist in Vienna) and a mixed green salad.

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Beans anyone?

For dessert Rainer made a very nice treat that translated to “little black man in a shirt”. He was an excellent pastry cook as a hobby, which we enjoyed throughout our stay. We had decided to stay a few nights extra because we had been enjoying our stay so much, the city just drew us in.

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Little black man in a shirt.

The next day we headed out to see the sites that we had originally planned, the Belvedere and the Schonbrunn Palace.

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We ride in style.

Jen’s obsession with Gustav Klimt led us to the Upper Belvedere where we enjoyed many of his works among other Viennese artists.
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Ah yes...the Belvedere.
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Glimpse of the gardens...a little dead though.

For lunch we headed to the restaurant with schnitzel as large as your plate. What an experience, schnitzel within minutes after arriving and enough to feed an army, or one hungry redhead. We sat and ate for a while. I was able to eat all but two bites, so disappointed, and Jen had enough left for dinner. I was fine with never eating again in my life. It was quite possibly the best schnitzel I had ever eaten, since I have had it maybe only 3 times anyways.

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Holy Schnitzel!!!!!

Armed with a full stomach we headed to the Palace just before sunset. We were blown away by its sheer size. The gardens stretched on forever, without an end in sight. We could hear the lions roaring in the zoo as we headed up the hill. We watched as the sunset over Vienna. We had really enjoyed our stay in such a great city and were rethinking our plans for the future. What if we moved to Vienna? We might need to learn German and somehow find jobs, but maybe Jen could work at the market, and I could become a tour guide of some sort, who knows. We have plenty of time to decide and were enjoying our time so far. We biked back home that night and ate leftover schnitzel and salads. Rainer had made strudel for everyone which we happily ate, Kahlia was really lucky to have him cooking every night. I am going through some sort change, every chance I have I’m eating desserts…perhaps Jen’s love of the sweets is rubbing off on me, not sure how to explain it. I have to believe it’s the quality of desserts we are eating. We packed our bags that night, ready for our next trip to Salzburg for the day.

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Our wonderful hosts.

The next morning we were excited to riding Railjet again and headed on our way to Salzburg.

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A quick stop from Vienna and we were in the hills of Austria. We stored our bags for the day and headed to see the birthplace of Mozart.

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Honey do you know where we put the bike?

After grabbing a quick lunch we headed to the reason why we had stopped here, the Sound of Music Tour, a four hour adventure through Salzburg and the surrounding countryside.

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She could barely hold in her excitement.

The tour was lots of fun, alongside 2 pair of Americans and one Norwegian couple. Our guide was full of information about the film and the area and escorted us on a private tour in the minivan.

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Do, a deer, a female deer...
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Ray, a drop of golden suuuuuuun...

She informed us about of the many movie magic moments involved to make the film. We headed outside of town for some nice sights where the film was shot.

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The weather could have been better but it didn’t dampen Jen’s spirits as she sang along with every song while in the van.

Yoda Le Hee Who!

We got back that night and headed for the train station. We were planning an overnight to Venezia and didn’t know which one we were taking. We ended scheduling the 1:34 direct train. With about seven hours to kill we headed to the mall for some free internet until we were kicked out by the janitor after staying 30 minutes after closing. We headed to the grocery for a cheap meal of clementines, salami, bread, and cheese…our staple meal for the trip. With still time to kill we headed to a bar for a few hours. When they closed we headed to McDonalds for an eventful sitting. I sat there and tried to catch up on blogs while Jen researched hotels in Venice. Thankfully I had the computer open so I could document everything that took place.

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McDonalds in Salzburg
So the wait for our 1:34am train to Venice was extra special. We went to McDonalds for some oh so tasty fries, and to use their free internet to post some blogs. We slowly moved from our first choice of seat…further and further from the homeless man passed out at a table close to ours, occasionally waking to sip on his empty cup of coffee. We sat as the staff removed another man who had been passed out on the bar since we got there, no telling how long he had been asleep. After that, a guy was eating a double cheeseburger at the table next to us when another highly intoxicated man sat down with him who reeked of alcohol. The first man yelled at him a bit and then asked the manager to get him to move. From our rough understanding of German…and I mean really rough…we were able to figure that he was upset about his smell and the fact that he sat right in front of him at the same table. After arguing for a while and threatening to call the police, the manager proceeded to watch the drunken man finish his cheeseburger. The upset man finally finished and left with extreme disgust. You think that’s all that happened…oh you are in for a treat. The place began to fill with over 20 people who had obviously just finished at the bar. Three men sat next to us and with broken English figured out we were travelling here on vacation and left us with “Take it easy man!” Before leaving though they managed to smash a barbecue sauce on the table, flinging it all over the passed out homeless man in the corner we had been avoiding in the beginning. Needless to say this was all before 11pm as we sat next to a nice pair from Brazil who happened to be on the same train to Venice.
Later we boarded the train after searching for a while because there weren’t any departures listed to Venezia, which was where we were going. To our great surprise the train only had couchettes even though we had paid for just a seat, opting for the cheaper choice again. Our room had a nice couple in it from Austria/Serbia but we ended up staying in the empty one next door. While waiting for the train to leave for about an hour a strange, zombie-like man kept walking back and forth down the walkway giving weird looks every time he passed. It was like clock-work, every 5 minutes he would leave his room and pace back and forth, return to his room…and repeat. Between the Brazilians, Austrians, and us we determined that he was exercising. We finally left the station for pleasant trip to Venice.

Posted by smart alec 09:31 Archived in Austria Comments (2)

Budapest

Not just Hungary...Starving!

all seasons in one day 65 °F

We arrived early in Budapest, before anything was open and hunted for an ATM and the underground ticket office…we were now using the fourth currency of the trip, forint, and had to divide everything by 200 for the conversion. We had to wait a while till it opened and headed for the hostel…we couldn’t check in but needed to drop our bags off. After buzzing the bell a while we finally woke our host and headed for the city. We wanted to try and see all of Buda which included Gellert Hill with their Liberty Statue, and the old citadel and palace grounds.
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Good morning Buda!

It was a nice walk up the hill which revealed and amazing panorama of the city and the best view of the Danube River.
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The blue Danube.

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Wake up!

We next headed to the citadel and had our first taste of Goulash.

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Hello.

It was a lovely lunch and headed to the Fisherman’s Bastion next.

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After a while up there our overnight on the train began to catch up to us and we headed back to the hostel to check in and for a quick nap.

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The Chain Bridge

That night we headed to a hip new-age restaurant in the city, Menza, and had an amazing meal. The restaurant was decorated in a funky seventies modern style with interesting wall coverings and great food.

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Transported back in time.

The next day was spent lounging, Jen was beginning to catch a headcold and we laid low most of the day. Later we got some lunch at a nice, asian-inspired, restaurant. We were informed since Budapest was a well developed city that most the locals didn’t eat traditional food, much like you would find in any other big city. Later we went to the famous Gerbeaud for coffee and desserts. It was a fun experience and we began to feel like high society, then we saw how much it was and how cheap we were and were instantly grounded.
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Hello daaaaarling.

We went back to the hostel, stopping to pick up some groceries to cook dinner that night.
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Our beautiful hostel.

Another home-made meal of simple spaghetti. Later that night I ended up heading to a bar with the Canadians I had met while at the hostel, while Jen rested. It seemed that Canadians were taking over the hostel, much like the Asians while in Cappadocia. There were a fun group, none of them knew each other but all just happened be staying at the hostel.

The next day since Jen was getting over her cold thanks to Sinuprett, an herbal remedy that is the most prescribed medication in Europe, and I was nursing a mild hangover from the night before we headed to the Thermal baths for lunch and a soak. The baths were simply amazing. There were three halls, one public pool that was chillingly cold and two private baths, one for men and one for women. The experience was amazing, instant satisfaction and so much we spent a few hours there. We made dinner again including a mixed salad with grilled vegetable and a poached egg on top, pretty fancy for a hostel…and of course extremely cheap.

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Lady Liberty at night.

That night the hostel was hosting a wine tasting and we sat for a few hours trying traditional Hungarian “Bulls Blood” wine. The story goes that while the Turks were invading Hungary they tried to breach the walls of the city but while that watched the Hungarians fight back they looked like they had blood running down their faces, because they were so crazy to even be drinking bull’s blood for strength. It was actually wine but the Hungarians prevailed anyways. The wine was rather good, a little stronger than normal but they often cut it with soda water to make some sort of spritzer. Our host was Tomas, one of the employees of the hostel, and was very knowledgeable of his country’s history. We hung out for a few hours, meeting people from all over including: Portugal, Mexico, Bulgaria, Canada, Finland, and Argentina. The night was awesome and a great way to end our stay in Budapest.

The next day we went around Pest and visited Heroes square and walked back one of the main streets, seeing most of that side of the city.
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I'm a hero...no, I'm a hero.

Later we set off for a short trip to Vienna. This was our first experience with Rail-Jet, one of the lines for Austria, quite fancy. The seats were all leather with lots of room and included complimentary drinks and snacks.
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Oh Happy Day!

We were glad about booking the Eurail passes and excited for our future trips. That afternoon we arrived to meet our hosts, an Austrian/Australian couple with their 2 year old child, but that will have to wait till next time. We are trying to catch up on our countries and depending on internet will hopefully be posting more frequently. Thanks for the great comments.

Posted by smart alec 10:03 Archived in Hungary Comments (4)

Halloween with Dracula

Romania and the rest of Transylvania.

semi-overcast 54 °F

After debating whether or not to take to train to Bucharest from Istanbul, we opted for the short flight instead...saving about a days worth of travel. Arriving at night with no plans for the country we had a bit of a challenging time figuring out where a hostel was and how to get there. Added was the lack of many English speaking people and the fact that everything was closed at the airport. After speaking to some really helpful travelers we made it to our destination, the Butterfly Villa, our first hostel of the trip. The staff couldn't have been nicer, providing us with some great places to see, and even better restaurants to eat at. We had originally only planned to stay that night and head tomorrow to Budapest. After meeting with some other Americans in the hostel we decided to stay an extra day in Bucharest and then travel to the rest of Transylvania.

Armed with some well needed rest the next day we headed out to see Bucharest. You have to picture Bucharest, its the largest city in Romania, it has the old town in the center surrounded by newer development. You can see everything there in about a day but it was still nice to walk around. This was our first real day of bitterly cold weather with a little added precipitation...I sound like a weather man.
We headed to first see the Ministry of Culture building...the second largest building in the world. For reaching such a great accomplishment, it wasn't much of a building.
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So big it didn't fit in the picture.

Rather ostentatious and overbearing, the building was quite massive. The only other larger building being the Pentagon in DC. After watching a protest outside briefly we headed to our first experience at a beer hall.

The hall was absolutely gorgeous, decorated in the art nouveau style with detailed ceilings. The food, amazing...pork shank, souerkraught, polenta, and of course...beer.

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AAAhhhh Beeeer!

The atmosphere included a string quartet and a simple elegance to it all.Like every other European meal, we spent more than an hour there enjoying the atmosphere. We were glad to sitting inside, out of the cold, drinking beers together. After lunch we walked the old city as much as we could in the cold wind.

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Eastern Europe...reminiscent of India.

We headed back to the hostel to do some research about Romania and plan the rest of our stay there. Since we hadn’t planned to spend any time in Romania before we really didn’t know what to see. Talking with other travelers in the hostel really helped us narrow down some highlights of the country. Also our Lonely Planet book didn’t include Romania as part of Europe, guess it isn’t popular enough, so we relied mostly on the recommendations of others. After a few hours we had decided to spend the next day in Busteni, a small mountain town, and stay in Brasov for Halloween. We spent dinner at a nice restaurant serving Romanian food. It did almost resemble a Romanian Applebee’s but much nicer, and cheaper…Eastern Europe was proving to be very easy to stay under budget for the trip.

The next day we caught an early train to Busteni. We were finally activating our Eurail Passes for the trip and were excited to ride the train system.
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Train Time!

Romania actually has a very well developed rail system throughout the country. We boarded the train, 1st class, how posh, and headed on our way. A few hours later we were in Busteni.
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Beautiful Busteni.

We had heard of the town online and were excited to travel to the top of the mountain on a gondola. The views were absolutely amazing on the way up.
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The ride up was interesting, Bryan would have loved the heights.

We were literally above the clouds @ 2200 meters. We spent about an hour up top and caught the last ride down.
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Above the clouds.

With the air cooling off a little we headed to the train station to wait for the next one to Brasov. After a short ride through the mountains we arrived at the quaint town of Brasov.

We had pre-booked our hostel for two nights, our first plans we had made early all trip, and there was someone there waiting for us when we arrived. We checked in and settled down for the night, we were pretty beat, like most of the trip so far, and could use a nice rest. That night we walked to a traditional Hungarian restaurant and had a five star meal at a two star price, including our first taste of plum liquor that’s used to cleanse the palette and warm you up. It warmed us up for sure and made it easy to fall asleep that night, that and the bottle of wine.
The next day we headed to see the famous Bran castle…home of Vlad Dracul aka Vlad the Impaler aka Dracula. The town was quite small, more a village than a town, and lined with cheesy gifts and costumes for tourists. It was Friday and two days before Halloween and w debated whether or not to buy a mask for the celebrations. The castle was quite magnificent, our first castle of the trip. It had been renovated a number of times as a residence for a number of royalty in Romania, most recently in the early 1900’s.
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Creepy secret stairway.

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Princess Jen in her castle.

We spent a few hours there and caught the bus back to Brasov, riding along the bumpiest road we had ever been on. The bus looked like it was going to break down any moment and every bump…which just happened to be every foot or so…caused the ceiling to bounce about 6 inches. We made it home safely and decided to cook dinner for the night. After enjoying our two free beers for the night from the hostel, we hit the sack. We were checking out in the morning but debating whether to stay the next night since it was the Saturday of Halloween and thought the city might be a better place to celebrate since it was in Transylvania.

We decided to stay for one more night but had to use a different hostel since ours had been booked by a Serbian university group. We walked to our new place for the night, Villa Gabriel, to meet our hosts. It was a private room off the side of a sweet couple’s house. They only spoke Romanian and German so after a conversation of sign language the husband decided we needed shots. It was his own home brew of plum liquor and he insisted we have few. With a nice buzz we hit the streets to explore Brasov and the Black Church. Since it was Saturday the streets were full of people, especially at the market.

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The supposed smallest street in Europe or...maybe just a sidewalk.

We walked around for hours and then headed up the small cable car to the top of Tampa Hill. Romanians must have a fascination with Hollywood because Brasov and other cities had similar signs atop their hills.
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Hellooooo Brasov!

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Brasov from above.

It was nice day and a relatively small hill so we decided to hike down the trail back to the city. It only took about an hour and the scenery was beautiful…lacking a true fall and winter in Florida it’s nice to see the browns, yellows, and oranges of leaves in the trees.

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Finally...seasons.

That night we enjoyed Dracula’s stew and hot wings at a local pub and went out for drinks. After searching for a while and realizing that Romanians don’t celebrate Halloween at all…a missed business opportunity if you ask me…we found the loudest place on the street to have a beer. We think we might have crashed a party, there was something written on the door but we couldn’t read it so we just went on in. A little disappointed with the lack of celebration we headed home for the night. We were leaving on a morning train the next day to Sighisoara and needed to do some packing. Throughout Romania we kept seeing the most interesting TP everywhere we stayed, they must love their pink paper, just had to mention it.

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No comment needed.

The next day we checked out and headed to the train station. It was Sunday, Halloween day, and we were headed to Sighisoara, Romania…the birthplace of “Dracula”. Our hostel told us the train usually runs late and we thought we only had about 20 minutes till it left. She was right and the train arrived about an hour late. We made it Sighisoara and headed straight to the old castle. The city didn’t have much going for it and we knew that day we wanted to continue to Budapest on a night train. We walked the castle grounds for a while and saw the old clock tower, assuming it was no longer in use since it didn’t match our time. Later we sat for coffee and tea in the basement of Dracula’s home, now a hip bohemian coffee house.

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Watch out Dracula, there's a vampire behind you.

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Ahhhh, tooo much tea!

After there for a few hours we realized that we had spent the entire day one hour ahead. We check out of our hostel early, waited for the train that morning…arriving exactly an hour late… and assumed the clock tower was just old. Thankfully we were ahead of everything and not late for anything. In the rush of traveling we hadn’t realized that daylight savings changes a week earlier in Europe than in the US. With our time adjusted we planned for Budapest and headed for the train station. This was our first overnight train and we debated whether or not to get a cabin or not. It cost extra so we waited to see how full the train was first. We made it to the first class car, with only about 4 other people on it, and decided to just sleep across the seats for a free ride to Budapest. We were excited to be heading to our first developed city but had enjoyed Eastern Europe immensely.

Posted by smart alec 01:15 Archived in Romania Comments (3)

Turkey

Better than the one for Thanksgiving.

semi-overcast 55 °F

So as we entered Turkey for the first time we had a little reservation. Being a country that borders a few countries that I'm sure love Americans, you can probably understand. We had our backup plans...playing as Canadians from Toronto, being the only city we had ever visited in Canada, and with my love of hockey, it was all set. Our first day never required its use because the bus ride to Istanbul never really had any conversations, due mainly to the fact that no one spoke English anyway; and we met our host later that night and he obviously knew we were from America from our profile. With day one over we were ready to tackle our first day in Istanbul.

After an early start we headed immediately to the touristy area of Sultanhamet. We enjoyed our first glass of Turkish tea, which was great in the cooler weather, and because Jen could drink tea any and all the time. After breakfast we visited a number of the Mosques including the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Süleymaniye Camii.
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Ready, set, photo.

The buildings were absolutely amazing and the architecture stunning. Different pieces made each one unique in its own way, even though they were all similar in shape and form.

The Blue Mosque, which we mistook for Hagia Sophia initially...fired...was absolutely incredible with its hand painted tiles throughout.
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Check out those details.

We spent about an hour there wandering through the masses of tourists with their private guides, who we obviously listened in upon to get our free info, and enjoyed the free admission. The detailing of the Blue Mosque was just amazing. Each tile hand painted in a traditional izmit style. For the first mosque we were to see, we were absolutely blown away...everything had a double meaning and the architecture was amazing.

After we sifted through the crowds of people we headed across the lawn to Hagia Sophia. This mosque was completely different from the Blue Mosque. It was not as ornate and detailed but rather massive and grand.
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Its scale was hard to comprehend, being the largest Mosque in the world at its creation. It was also interesting to learn about its history...first a cathedral, then a mosque, and finally a museum. It was interesting to see the styles merged through history. With its restoration, frescoes from the original cathedral had been discovered, covered by plaster from later generations.
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We spent a few hours there admiring the architecture and then headed to Süleymaniye Camii, another mosque created during Ottoman times, around the 16th Century.

This walk is where we really began to see Istanbul. It was an interesting experience walking the streets of such a massive and old city. The streets seemed to wind in different directions and this was our first chance to get lost in the city, and it would prove to not be the only time either. You could see the minarets of the mosque from the waters edge but once among the streets and buildings all direction was lost. Added on top of that the lack of sun that day and we were completely turned around. After spending about 30 minutes climbing streets we finally found the mosque and decided to have some traditional Turkish food for lunch just outside. Like the Greeks, the Turks also enjoy a good plate of beans, kuru fasulye, and the meal was great...mainly due to our starvation after searching way too long for this mosque.

After lunch we enjoyed the grounds around the mosque. It was still closed inside for renovations that were to be completed in late 2009, oh well. The cemetery was quite interesting and we learned a great deal about the history of the mosque and who resided there. It told one quite interesting story of a slave that worked her way up to getting married to the Sultan and finally ruling the city. The story was full of deception, treason, executions, and the like. After a brief tour of the grounds we headed to the Grand Bazaar, the largest market in the world. We were able to find it pretty easily, which in this city is amazing, and walked the streets for a few hours. Everything you could think of could be found, stores dedicated to nothing but grommets, patches, pots, and such. Each within its respective district...the cooking district, or fabric district...etc. We saw hand made pieces and souvenirs while in the Old Grand Bazaar, a covered area of the bazaar, along with the kitchy t-shirts and blue eyes for good luck. Somehow, controlling our urge to buy, we made it out without purchasing a single item. This was not the case at the spice bazaar though.
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Spicey!

After only 5 minutes inside we had already bought enough tea to last us the entire year. After controlling our urge to buy any spices we headed out to the waters edge at dusk to watch the hundreds of fisherman along the Galata Bridge. We headed home after a full day in this amazing city.

The next day we decided to head to a more modern Istanbul, Taksim and Istiklal Street. The street was a joy to walk down, very little car traffic and it resembled Times Square in New York.
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Now getting the hang of this one handed photo taking.

Lined with modern day stores, and Starbucks every half mile or so, we felt a little like we were home. After continuing to walk south we finally made it to the Galata Tower. A quick ride to the top and we saw one of the most amazing panoramas of the city. As far as you could see was city, glancing across to the Asian side, and stretching in all directions. We also got a good glimpse of the Bosphorous in all its glory. It was amazing to see the number of mosques in the immediate area.
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We couldn't keep track of all the mosques.

After there we next went to Topkapi Palace, which Jen still can't pronounce correctly, due mainly to constant laughing while trying. We spent the entire afternoon at the palace visiting its various buildings, the most important being the Harem where the concubines of the Sultan were kept.
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Ahhhh, a new recruit!

Jen relived the lives of the concubines while strolling the quarters they inhabited. This work also designed by the great Sinan, was a marvel of architecture. The detailing in the rooms was absolutely amazing and anyone would have wanted to live in these quarters...getting over the fact they were to be a sex slave to the Sultan.

That night we headed to dinner with Onur and his brother's girlfriend at a great buffet. We enjoyed some beers and conversation and said our goodbyes.
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We were catching an 8am bus to Cappadocia the next morning and wouldn't have another opportunity in the morning. We had truly enjoyed our experience in Istanbul, the city was much more than we had expected...exciting, cultural, historical, and just good fun.

With reservations to travel further east eliminated we were ready for our adventure to Cappadocia. One day while in Istanbul we met the most interesting carpet dealer just outside the Palace, Huseyin, who was from Cappadocia. He invited us into for tea and talked with us about his business. He had traveled the US extensively and had friends in Temple Terrace...small world. After talking for about 30 minutes we left ready to visit the land of the Fairy Chimneys. We bought a book about a friend of his who spent a year working for him in his shop and his travels in East Turkey. I have enjoyed the book immensely and will share it with everyone when I return.

After a long all day journey aboard bus number 2 in Turkey we finally made it to our pension for the weekend. We checked into our room, which just happened to be carved out of a cave in the mountainside, and headed to bed.
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The Bat Cave.

The next few days we took it slow to recuperate from the hectic schedule we had been following. After our strength was rejuvenated we headed out for a day tour of the area.
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The rock formations were stunning and it was great to see some natural wonders on our trip...after seeing so many architectural wonders. Jen really enjoyed the pottery demonstration and we both enjoyed tasting the local wine.
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That morning the air had cleared and there were hundreds of balloons floating across the sky for the customary morning rides.
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After a sunset on the cliff's edge we headed for our overnight bus back to Istanbul. We had really enjoyed our extended stay in Cappadocia, without it we would have surely crashed harder than we actually did.
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Star Wars Country - Tatooine
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Back in Istanbul the next morning we took it slow, recapping our travels to Turkey. We had really enjoyed the week here, more than we could have ever expected. The culture has some real richness to it that you don't experience anywhere else. Turks seem to share some common characteristics among them all. From all that we were exposed to, they are a generous and thoughtful people...always ready to help you with anything...or teach you some of their language, thanks Onur. We can't think highly enough of all those we met and shared time with. We have already talked about visiting again and are definitely planning on it in the not so distant future.

Istanbul Call to Prayer

Panorama of Istanbul

Posted by smart alec 09:35 Archived in Turkey Comments (6)

Lesvos...the last of our Greek islands

The west of the east or the east of the west.

overcast 66 °F

Sorry for the delay of our blogs, we keep telling ourselves we will write after each city and we end up spending so much energy in each place we hardly have time to stay awake to eat dinner. Also with the patchy internet in some places we can't post as well. Anywhoos, we will try now to update you on our past travels.

We last left off leaving Santorini, the ferry ride was nice and calm and we arrived in Piraeus that night. Our next ferry to Lesvos didn't leave till the next night so we spent the night in the port city. After searching a little online we decided to stay at the Piraeus Dream City Hotel...ooo la la, doesn't that sound fancy. It was a nice hotel for the price and included an "American Style Breakfast", with the various selections of breads, eggs, bacon (I think), and coffee. We decided that day to travel to Athens for the day to see the National Archaeological Museum.

We could have spent all day there.
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Today was black shirt day.

It was filled with various statues and artwork ranging from present day to items from 2800 BC. It had the typical pottery you see in Anthropology classes in school along with hundreds of statues and personal items. The museum was a real treat for the day before our long overnight ferry to Lesvos. We boarded our ferry just as it began to rain a little and found a comfy seat. The boat was the Mytilene headed for Mytilini. The boat was the largest we had been on and had about 7 decks with garages, eating halls, seating areas, cabins, and outdoor decks.
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That's one smooth ride.

The ride was so smooth and we even got internet...or what they call internet, weak connection near ports and constant interruption. We actually got some sleep that night sprawled across 4 chairs, just under the armrests. It was nice waking up to a loud announcement and nailing your head on the armrest that was inches away.

When we arrived in Lesvos we easily exited the boat and headed to town. This was the first time we had landed on an island and not been hassled by hotel staff or taxi drivers looking for customers. We knew now that we were heading to a remote island that few tourists ever headed to. We found the nearest car rental store and rented a small Chevy. We had planned to see most of the island in our researching and knew we needed a car to get to our hosts house, unless we wanted to try and strap ourselves to the back of her small scooter. We also purchased our ferry tickets to Ayvalik, a day later than expected because that was the only time it left. Mytilini is a cute port city with a large castle on its East side and a large waterfront lined with businesses. We found some breakfast of pastries and coffee and called our host.
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Mytilini in all its greatness.

After waking her, ah the days of College where we could sleep till noon, she agreed to meet us in town where we could follow her back to her home.
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Lisa the WatermelonKid, as her profile stated, was such a sweet host.

She was going to school in Mytilini for Marine Science and had grown up in Crete. We arrived at her home just outside of town. It was such a beautiful place perched on a hill surrounded by olive and pomegranate trees. She lived with her friend Nadia in a cute house with two small rooms and a living room.

We sat chatting for a while with Lisa as her friend still slept. She was really interesting to talk with, her English was great, and she was very interested in our culture...as were we in hers. We learned a lot about Greek society from Lisa and Nadia (her roommate) and were truly blessed to have stayed with them. Their hospitality throughout our stay was the best. With our usual travel hangover we needed a little nap and did so that morning. We woke later and decided to see some of the island. Lisa suggested with we visit a small town just southwest of Mytilini, Agiosos. She said it was a nice small town untouched by the tourist industry, that felt like you had gone back in time.

We realized soon after leaving that Lesvos was the greenest of all the islands we had visited. It almost resembled what I can remember of Tennessee, with rolling hills and low mountains covered with trees. Everything was green and we were excited to see a change from the barren like mountain we had seen in Naxos and Santorini.
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Ahhhhhh green!

After a short ride up the mountain we arrived in Agiosos. We drove through the city center, on possibly the steepest and skinniest of roads we had been on this trip...right by the small coffee houses swarmed with old men sipping Greek coffees and playing backgammon. We wanted a closer look so we parked the car and walked back in to town. It was such a nice experience. This was the first time we had seen barrel tile roofs in the Mediterranean and were really intrigued.
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They put the Mediterranean in Mediterranean Revival

The town was set in the valley with Mount Olympos above...if we had the time we would have taken the hike up to the top by one of the many well marked hiking trails throughout Lesvos. We decided to stop for some coffee and needed a little pick me up. We walked back to town and surveyed the options. There were three coffee houses, and no women in sight, only older men. We questioned our plan but decided to head in anyways. When we entered the coffee house it was like an old western movie, dead silence...it was as if the law had just entered and everyone was too scared to speak. We found a seat near the entrance and sat down...we could feel their gaze upon us and it was quite akward for a little bit. After ordering coffee everything continued as before and we quickly drank our coffee and headed out.
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Coffee anyone?

We later asked Lisa if it was tabou for females to have coffee but she explained it was just traditional that he men hung out while the women stayed at home.

We headed off next to Plomari, we decided to take the shorter route by going straight over the mountain. It was easy directionally, pretty much no turns, but was difficult terrain. Like Santorini as soon as we climbed higher we were among the clouds. At least this time it was light outside and we could see a little further. The only added difficulty was the road became dirt once we got higher and stayed that way for a while. We were thinking what the hell are we doing up here but the views were just amazing. We again saw a beautiful sunset, I can't count how many of those we've had, and finally headed down the other side.
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Once again, beautiful.

I'm sure when we returned our car later that week the owner was wondering what the hell had we been doing. We made it to Plomari just as it got dark and headed to the coast. We didn't see much and headed back to Mytilini. Once there we hung out with Lisa and Nadia a while and headed into town for a traditional dinner.

It had started to rain pretty hard now and our rain jackets were getting there use. After stopping at two restaurants we decided on the third. There were no menus involved and Nadia ordered us a feast for the table including potatoes, tatziki, pork, sausage, fried calamari, and greek salad. The meal was amazing and we were starved, it was already midnight and hadn't eaten for hours. We still haven't gotten used to the Greek style of eating but were just excited to be eating. A friend of theirs, Nikos, arrived and sat down as we were finishing. He was such a character to be around, he reminded us of Borat a little with his voice and was constantly busy. Immediately after sitting down he began messing with the paper table cloth, ripping it into shreds, drinking ouzo and eating any scraps left on plates. We hadn't laughed this hard all trip and it was a nice treat. Later that night we headed to a friend's flat for a surprise birthday party for Lisa. After darting through the rain we were greeted by 10 friends at the door where we ate cake and drank beers for a few hours.
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Party time, excellent, wooooooo hooooo!

The next morning we woke to loud thunder cracks outside and were not in any hurry to get up after going to bed around 3:30. We slowly rose and headed out for a cross-country(island) tour of Lesvos. We really got to see the entire island this day and headed to the far west to check out the Petrified Forest, the largest in the world, the only other one being in Arizona. The island is filled with mountains as we drove around turns and up switchbacks. It really changed scenery from one side to the other, becoming more barren as we headed west, looking similar to the other islands we had visited.
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View from the Heavens.

After only about two hours of driving we arrived at the forest. Unlike the one in Arizona this one is set on the side of a mountain and stretches on and on. The park setting was just as beautiful as the trees themselves.
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Tree Huggers.

Next we headed to Eftalou Hot Springs on the north side of the island. We decided to relax a little and went for a dip in the springs. The technique is to first wash in the Aegean...a little chilly initially...then dip in the spring for a few minutes and then back to the Sea. Rinse and repeat a few times and supposedly it cures arthritis and other things. It was quite relaxing and we spent about an hour there. We went into Molyvos for a nice sunset and small snack at 6, readying ourselves for another late dinner.
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Holy Molyvos

Once it got dark we headed back for Mytilini and had dinner with Lisa in town at a small shop that sold pork souvlaki gyros. It was different here in Lesvos where they add mustard and ketchup along with the standard yogurt and fries in the pita. We went to bed a little earlier tonight since we had to return the car in the morning and wanted to do some laundry.

The next morning we returned the car and walked back to start our laundry. We had planned to run a load and let it dry all day while we saw the castle in town and spent the day in Mytilini. Instead it rained all day long and we spent a nice relaxing day with Lisa. It was a real nice change of pace to just sit and veg all day. It was also lots of fun to talk with Lisa. We learned all about her life, her mother being from Germany and her travels there. We also spent the day researching Turkey and its cities. That afternoon we checked our laundry and it was still soaking wet. Because of the rain we weren't able to leave it outside and it was air drying in the house. We decided other measures needed to be taken and we broke out the hair dryer. After a while the dryer shut off and we could smell something burning...it was our converter. We had managed to melt the interior and the whole thing was warped...sorry mom, it looks like it isn't returning home. After that failed attempt we broke out Nadia's iron.
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Iron Man

Seven hours later, everything was dry. We enjoyed an American dinner of pizza and beers and Nikos paid another visit at home. We hung out for a while and then it was time for bed. Nobody wanted the visit to end. We were Lisa's first couchsurfers and they had really enjoyed the experience.
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Nikos, Nadia, Lisa, Jen, and Alec

Off to bed for another early morning and our trip to Turkey. That morning we said our last goodbyes and headed for the port. We had a short ride to Ayvalik, Turkey. The ferry was nice and easy, very choppy water but everything was still on schedule.
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Fun times on the ferry.

We arrived in Ayvalik and went through customs. After an easy $20 exchange for a Visa and a stamp we were in, taking about 5 minutes. We worried a little about this point but everything went extremely easy, almost too easy. We knew we had a noon bus to catch but decided to head to the Otogar (bus station) and see what they had available. We had arrived to the port a little earlier than the 10:30 estimated time and were lucky enough to catch the 10:30 bus to Istanbul, putting us there around 8pm.

This was our first of many bus rides to come while in Turkey and we didn't know what to expect. Bus lines in America are sometimes scary and frequently stop at every town and we didn't have much expectations for this ride. It was actually amazing, we felt like we were on an airplane. There was an attendant who served us water and hot tea along with a selection of snacks, cookies and pretzels. He was well dressed in his tuxedo tie and vest and was extremely polite. The seats were similar to business class on an airplane and there were screens at every seat with music and dvds. Buses in Turkey are by far the best means of travel in a country with very little trains. The overall experience was quite nice.

That night we arrived in Istanbul around sunset time and headed for the Cevahir mall. The city was alive at night, not realizing that Istanbul had 12 million residents, we were surprised at how large it was. Cevahir Mall is the second largest mall in the world and the largest in Europe. At ten stories tall it was bustling that Monday night with hoards of people. We went inside to find internet and call our host. After calling him from Burger King he met and escorted us to his home, a nice apartment behind the new Trump Towers being built. He lived in a very nice neighborhood called Sisli, walking distance to the mall. He showed us our accomadations, gave us sandals to wear around the house, Turkish style, and whipped up a quick meal of chicken and peppers with pasta and a cream sauce.
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Turkish Style.

He had very similar cooking styles as we had and could easily throw something together. Onur is an Architect that had moved to Istanbul for work, who was married and lived with his brother. His wife was finishing her PhD in Malta while his brother was constantly travelling around Turkey because of work. We finished our meal and chatted for a while, it was easy to talk with him, his English was great...especially for learning it himself. His hospitatlity was amazing and we were excited to be staying with him while in Istanbul. He showed us some great spots to visit and recommended some restaurants as well, he too enjoyed food as much as we did. We went to bed, excited to see the city.

We will hopefully have our next post soon. Istanbul was a great city. We really love reading everyone's comments and look forward to more.

Cheers,

Alec and Jen

Posted by smart alec 08:31 Archived in Greece Comments (8)

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