Captivating Cape Town, sunning myself in South Africa.

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In the southern summer of 2018/19, I ventured to sunny South Africa.

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Seapoint

Some years ago, I lived in the spectacular Middle Berg region, in a special place called the Champagne Valley. With a name like that how can you lose?

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Heading towards Camps Bay

Since then, I’ve held a special place in my heart for this complicated country. Great food, wine, scenery, English speakers on tap, great mates and driving on my ‘right’ side of the road.

 

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Loin’s Head

This time I ventured to Cape Town and surrounds, an area I have visited several times before. Still magnificent, she continues to dazzle.

 

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Muizenberg Magic

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20181124_194727.jpgSadly however, South Africa is still plagued with internal conflicts, no doubt exacerbated by a former leader bent on tearing down rather than building up and a greedy taste for personal advancement to the detriment to this country’s varied population.

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The fascinating residential district of Bo-Kaap, one of the oldest of Cape Town’s oldest suburbs. The day we visited there were protests held by locals against the rise in house prices due to wealthy buyers coming into the market seeing their chance to profit from tourism.

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The disparity between rich and poor if anything seems to have grown. No surprise with a that previous corrupt captain at the helm.

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Enjoying Stellenbosch 

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Heaven on Earth (Hemel-en-Aarde) inland form Hermanus

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A stunning landscape to ride through in Tulbagh Valley

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Hope abounds however for the newish head guy. Let’s hope he can honour the hope placed in him to set things right.

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Jolly fine ice cream in cape Town

As a visitor though, you really couldn’t ask for more.

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Hospitality at Wild Rescue Wildlife Sanctuary. Volunteers encouraged – for details go to http://wildrescue.co.za/

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From Cape Town to the nearby wine regions and seaside towns, interior landscapes and abounding wildlife, what a place.

 

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Posted in Cape Town, South Africa, travel, travel blog, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Istanbul, never a dull moment; International Women’s Day Protest March, 2019

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Last night, I was in Taksim for Istanbul’s International Women’s Day Protest March. It was scheduled to traverse the 1.4km length of Istiklal Avenue, the main pedestrian thoroughfare and shopping and tourism hub of Istanbul.

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In recent times, I’ve become less inclined to place myself in the midst of such large groups of people. Back in 2016, following the attempted coup here, I developed an unsettling phobia about confined spaces, largely brought on by the panic that occurred on that night in July, 2016.

Read about it ……

https://girlviking26.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/and-now-for-a-coup/

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Additionally, it was a time of ‘terrorism,’ and indeed 5 died following a bomb explosion that occurred on this very avenue.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/istanbul-explosion-injuries-reported-as-tourist-shopping-area-hit-by-blast-in-turkish-city-a6940706.html

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Plus, of course, crowds can be dangerous places if people are panicked!

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Regardless, a couple of gal pals and I were close by at march time and the vibe was exciting, positive and peaceful.

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Rarely are issues of discrimination honestly and openly challenged in this country anymore. People talk constantly between themselves but rarely voice their concerns in public or en masse, as such gatherings are now banned. Though, you wouldn’t have thought so for all the people who came out into the streets to have their say.

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Lasy year’s 2018 Women’s Day March had been massive, peaceful and generally uneventful regarding police action or government intervention. I remember it as a damn impressive event and a breath of fresh air in a country that has had various human rights and other restrictions placed upon it’s citizens in recent times.

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The opportunity to particpate in this year’s event was timely. On my return to Istanbul from Australia, just over a week ago, I came with refreshed eyes. The contrast to Australia was palpable. Far fewer women visible on the street and in public than men.

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Someone might have offered a concept check:)

I don’t feel intimidated or threatened in my daily movements. I don’t feel fear or nervousness regarding my personal safety here. In general, I feel just as safe here as in Oz. But then I’m not easily intimidated and I can run fast but really this disproportionate representation speaks volumes regarding gender roles and social attitudes.

Participating in the march was fun when I was in the midst of it. In my world, feminism is not a dirty word. Along with women, many men were also in attendance and shouting protest slogans as loudly as their female counterparts.

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And, I’ve never experienced such a courteous crowd. High spirits prevailed and despite such large numbers in such a restricted area – the police had barricaded the avenue only one or two blocks into the length of Istiklal – protestors were polite and courteous to one another. ‘Pardon,’ was commonly heard and used as we manoeuvred through the crowd.

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Protestor drawing attention to the artist known as ” The Peace Bride,” who attempted to promote world peace by travelling from Milan to the Middle East in a wedding dress and was raped and murdered in Turkey in 2008. http://www.alearned.com/middle-east/

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It’s such a great energy when regular people get together freely and in common cause to attempt to direct positive change and to be with one another. I experience this every time my Tidy Turkey Clean Up group holds an event. It was sad, therefore, that there was some trouble after my friends and I had left the most crowded part of the march in search of sustenance.

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Prior to the march, there had been many police at the entrance to Istiklal and along the streets nearing Taksim Square. Mostly, they looked bored, playing on their phones and smoking. But yes, they were in full riot gear.

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Of course, no one likes a full-on police presence, but the vibe did not feel particularly threatening. Shame then, that the authorities directed the use of tear gas and riot control dogs to restrict the forward passage of protesters and to break up the march. Happily, to the best of my knowledge, no major injuries or catastrophes occurred. The question though remains, why on earth feel so intimidated by this peaceful protest??

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Such cynical actions, no doubt, are brought about for a myriad of complex reasons. Regardless, I’m really happy to have been part of it. It gives me faith that so many locals from this tousled country still have fire in the hearts and that it hasn’t yet been completely knocked out of them. Turks clearly remain a passionate people.

So, congratulations to all the women who attended and to their support networks, including all the men present in body or spirit, who also demand that womenkind be able to walk in public with confidence and without fear and to live in safety in their own homes.

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Thanks also to all those people who joined The International Women’s Day Clean Up event held last weekend. For information see the link below.

https://turkiyeyitemizle.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/international-womens-day-clean-up-belgrad-ormani/

Environmental and women’s issues share many crossover concepts and it was wonderful to be able to celebrate some of these with two great events this week.

Posted in flags, International Women's Day 2019, Istanbul, travel blog, Turkey | 1 Comment

Bulgarian Booty, Plovdiv Play

Lovely fountain found in Europe’s longest pedestrian ‘zone’.

I hit the pavement still relatively fresh despite a seven hour bus ride from Istanbul to Plovdiv. For this happy condition I thank a nanna nap on the bus and purposely travelling oh, so light. Having packed for only a few days, I easily strolled my way under peaceful, green canopies to my guest house – quirkily called My Guest Rooms. Hmm…

Our Walking Tour Guide

A walking tour of Plovdiv, My Aussie mate Tim thought our guide looked like a car salesman but they were mates by tour’s end.

The building itself was a grand old dame with parquet floors and no elevator! I questioned once more why there always so many stairs in my life??

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What are these?

Settled in, I quiz the owner for some restaurant suggestions. In the process he hands me some colourful, personal tales.

‘Your English is good.’ I say.

‘Courtesy of 3 months at The US president’s pleasure back 30 odd years. I used my time in the slammer studying English’, he quips.

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Thus he explains how in the dark communist days, he had attempted to visit what is now Trump’s kingdom via a land crossing at an unofficial Mexican border crossing.

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This adventurous guy suggests his language skills may indeed improve further as he’s yet to visit the Big Apple, a place he wishes to see. His initial escapades have resulted in a life-long travel ban to The States but he’s considering giving breaking in another go. Better get to it before that Mexican Border wall is up and running, I say.

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But I digress.

For me at least, entering Plovdiv was a breeze.

Off I set through the delightful city park in search of fodder. It was resplendent with fountains and dancing folk. Happily, I looked for and found pork and good red wine, the dream of many pig eating foreigners living in Turkey .

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Happy campers, mohitos, cheesy balls and proscuitto

There are many delightful parks in Bulgaria and certainly this one was well attended and appreciated on this dappled, summer evening. I had been told this particular park served as a ‘beat’ by a gay friend of mine in Istanbul.

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The Mosque that was once a Church – those sneaky Ottomans

Well, maybe he would know, but I saw absolutely no evidence of this, the most salacious activity I witnessed a weekend puppet show for the kiddies and locals strolling hand in hand along the pretty promenades. I was later informed for illicit encounters I would need a special app!

Next day, I hit Plovdiv’s central European pedestrian street. An Adelaidean, such as myself, would call this a mall but in the Adelaide sense of the word not the Turkish or American understanding of the term. This was no MMMAAAALLL but rather a delightful, pedestrian ‘zone’.

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This ‘zone’ is now apparently the longest pedestrian strip in Europe, having knocked Copenhagen off her perch by adding to it’s length in the last couple of years. Take that, you Danes, you.

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Regardless, it’s very pleasant meander and has all kinds of nice ice cream shops and a mosque that used to be a church and some decent ancient ruins smack bang in the middle of it all.

A few streets from here, Plovdiv’s hipsterville beckons. Kapana or The Trap in Bulgarian, was designed some centuries ago by merchants to ‘entrap’ clientele.

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Now, as then, it is a web of cobble stone streets currently decorated with pretty flags and walls of arty graffiti. It boasts coffee shops, juice and wine bars, tourists and local groovers and until a few years ago it was pretty down and out.

Happily, with pLOVEdiv being named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, creative locals have been subsidised to set up shop, which continues to reinvigorate the area.

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Tim is overjoyed to hear there is yet again a new Australian Prime Minister and Guy, that there was no cheese in his bacon and cheese, cheesy omelette.

Last of the primary sights of interest is the ‘old town.’

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Yet to get the makeover but soon, baby, soon.

Plenty to see and do here also, with old homes displaying art exhibitions and the ‘piece de resistance’ Plovdiv’s own Roman Stadium.

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So with Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Turks all having left their mark it’s safe to say Plovdiv is well worth a look and not just for the pounds of pork purchased by my mate to return to Istanbul with.

Posted in Bulgaria, Eastern Europe, flags, solo travel, travel, travel blog | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Turkey Tales – Election Time

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So, it’s over. All is said and done. What was hailed as Turkey’s most important election in living memory has run its course and to the victor the spoils. And they’re pretty impressive spoils as they go. In particular, the adoption of a new Presidential system, one the incumbent and now victor went to the polls for last year and which enables enactment of sweeping new powers.

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This election was called 1.5 years before it was due, a move partly calculated to stare down the flailing economy, rising inflation and the falling value of the local currency, before they got any worse. And even though the opposition got it’s act together far faster than many would have thought possible, still, as it’s turned out, an early poll date proved a successful tactic, as the incumbent won victory again.

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In the lead up to election day, of course flags galore and vans roaming the streets blaring slogans and blasting recordings of cheesy party tunes, elevating candidates to cultish heights.

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When results were called naturally it was a sad day for the opposition and their supporters. Finally, they’d got their acts together and formed viable coalitions and enlisted charismatic candidates. Countless locals, looking for an alternative to the current political status quo, found a new spring in their step as election day approached. Was change really possible for the first time in a couple of decades? Many dared to dream.

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But, not to be. The Monday after the Sunday election a sense of futility replaced that of optimism in those wishing for a shake up. Heartache, anger, and finally acceptance.

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In a heartbeat, flags and banners disappeared. No more ‘larger than life’ representations of pollie faces suspended above cobbled streets, swaying in the breeze. Except, that is, for those representing the victor. He now appears everywhere, ostensibly thanking his loyal constituents for his re election. Campaign advertising for other candidates has been swiftly replaced on billboards and in other public places by the usual hair shampoo and telco package promotions. Glossy locks and fast internet, a more obtainable source of satisfaction.

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But in the run up, before the results, on the Sunday afternoon of election day, was that a sense of optimism in the air? In hip Kadikoy, where I was out for dinner with friends, there pervaded a strange calm. Not so many people out on the streets relatively and no alcohol served in restaurants and bars for the day. But a subdued sense of hope that I have not experienced here before.

Well, there’s always next time.

Posted in flags, Kadikoy, murals, Politics, travel, Turkey | 1 Comment

Hungry for Hungary

Ms Pacifica, my Kiwi pal and I have just crossed the Danube on our way to Esztergom, on the Hungarian border with Slovakia.

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From our excellent vantage point aboard our comfy, airconditioned train the famous waterway doesn’t really whack one in the face with its majesty. Happily, it was much more impressive viewed in Budapest.

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But beware, in Budapest you’ll have to dodge bucket loads of other tourists doing the same thing. The northern summer tourism invasion of Europe is here although still only late May. It’s also hot, unseasonably so according to those in the know.

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But rather than whining on about the ravages of global warming I’d rather point to Budapest’s eclectic architectural mix and extensive culinary options, her thermal baths and ruin bars.

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The latter are located in vast, once derelict structures resulting from the deportation of much of this Jewish quarter’s population in the aftermath of WW2.

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These spaces are testament to the power of reinvention and are now famous watering holes boasting central courtyard areas and quirky décor. Slide on in and join locals and rubberneckers alike in socializing, imbibing and generally making merry.

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My mate, Amy, now resident in Budapest introduced me to the most famous of these, Szimpla. Interested to know more or read about Amy’s travel meanderings head to
https://budapestflow.com/history-ruin-bars-budapest/

https://storiesalongtheway.blog/?s=budapest

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Following Budapest, Miss Pacifica and I bit into more of the Eastern European apple with gusto.

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Next stop, and another Amy recommendation, was Eger. I’m a firm fan of wandering off the beaten track a little and Eger was a snug fit. This town is certainly not undiscovered, but the tourism here was much less in your face and its natural and man-made attractions called for an extension to our visit. So many things to see and do in such a relaxed atmosphere.

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With a population of around 60000, Eger boasts a cracking castle, impressive Gothic architecture, a wine region and some fantastic food which gallops streets ahead of your standard goulash and pork chop. Me thinks sufficient to rock anyone’s boat.

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Finally, a horse ride. Just out of Eger, in some sublime scenery, a Lipizzaner stud offers me the chance to explore aboard one of these powerful, majestic animals. Before boarding the enormous Igor, I was thoroughly interrogated by my stern Eastern European riding guide. She was a woman of few words.

“You ride cowboy or dressage?”

“I can ride either.”

“Here ONLY dressage.”

Before setting off, she tested my equestrian skills in the ring. No tongue clicking or casual reign holding here. Feeling thoroughly intimidated by this stern mistress, I breathed a sigh of relief once informed the many dressage lessons I’d taken in Adelaide’s North Parklands as a kid, had paid off. Igor and I were allowed to spend the afternoon together under strict supervision naturally.

So far in Hungary, I’m one happy camper😊
For more on our adventures head to Miss Pacifica’s blog
https://mspacifica.com/

Posted in Budapest, Eastern Europe, Hungary, travel | 1 Comment

Gallipoli, Troy and Assos – history and scenery: a winning combo.

Gallipoli, what a surprise.

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I enjoyed my visit. As I’m an Aussie, I’ve been hearing about this part of the world and the events that happened here, forevveeerrr! Happily though, I didn’t come away feeling like it was a crock of war glorifying indoctrination.

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A couple of years ago, prior to the April 25th centenary of the ANZACs landing on the Canakkale Peninsula, as part of the allied forces of WW1, even the most hardy ANZAC enthusiast in Australia must have tired of the media coverage.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany politicians droned on endlessly about the ‘mateship’ displayed by ‘our’ forces during a military deployment that essentially led to the slaughter of thousands of Turks and ANZACs. Yes, I feel cynicism for the motivations behind this coverage. But not for the soldiers or the circumstances.

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Having lived in Istanbul for almost three years now – and no one is more surprised about this than me – I’ve felt visiting this region was always going to become part of my Turkish experience.

The trenches

 

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Two sides

The memorials were tasteful and the location itself quite beautiful, the weather was sublime and the companionship top notch. I did wonder though, when visiting a cemetery of fallen Turkish soldiers, whether the Aussies and Kiwis who come here annually to participate in the dawn service, visited the ‘enemy’ grave sites, too. On this visit, a Turkish family, were wailing for their lost son, father, brother, so many years later.

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The following day we visited Troy.

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That too was a pleasant surprise as I’d been told it was really just a bunch of rubble but although the replica of the famous Troy horse was pretty cheesy the ruins themselves were interesting and the story surrounding their discovery also.

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A gold seeking German businessman essentially found, financed archaeological work on, and then plundered the site, causing permanent damage to the ruins dating back to The Bronze Age (around 4th Century BC – thankyou Lonely Planet!) but leaving a fascinating tale.

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Brickwork from 2 of the 7 different Troy incarnations

Both sites were made infinitely more interesting and enjoyable with the assistance of knowledgeable guides working for Crowded House Tours.

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Instantly recognisable to any Aussie or Kiwi, Crowded House is a very well-known band from NZ who now call Australia home, as far as I know. Anyway, I grew up with an earlier version of the Finn brothers and their music when they were in Split Ends. My point though, is that it’s obviously an appropriate name for a tour company specialising in this region. And they were good. And reasonably priced.

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A ferry to far away

Personally, I’m more of a muddle along solo rather than a ‘flag following’ kind of explorer, but this time, joining a tour worked a treat, They were on the money with transport, information, humour and bookings. Plus, the guides never waved a tour group flag at me, not even once.

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Dinner and a view in Gelibolu

One of the bookings we were helped with was for a place to stay in Assos. Tick, a charming hotel, looking out over the harbour and the Aegeon. Assos, is itself a place of mythology. At one time it was home to Aristotle and other stars of legend, and it is built amid ancient ruins.

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Assos

Now, I was only there for a day so I’m no expert but it was a really lovely, little spot.  I’m sure in peak season, locals will have boom, boom blaring from every musical orifice to drown out the tranquillity but week ago, in late May, all was peaceful and thoroughly chilled.

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Thankyou to Ramazan and the guides from Crowded House, thankyou to the bus driver who picked us up from the highway outside Troy and didn’t just drive by, and thanks to the powers that be that it wasn’t me that got taken off the bus by Turkish police and whisked away during the second of two identity checks we experienced en route back to Istanbul. Don’t travel without ID, people.

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There’s an election in the wind in Turkey, and it seems there is extra security entering and leaving the capital, no stone to be left unturned. My suggestion to counter pre-election mania, head to this beachy, informative historical neck of the woods to get on down to see these sights😊

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Posted in Anzac, Assos, Australia, Gallipoli, Greek Islands, solo travel, travel, travel blog, Troy, Turkey, WW1 | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Byron Bay, bush foods and beyond….

I’m converted, holidaying ‘at home’ is just the best. Which home, you may ask? Well, this time I’m talking the land of my birth. sunny Australia.

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Long ago, I used to aspire to living in ‘hip to the groove’ Byron Bay or beyond but somehow got side-tracked. But for some reason, on this trip home, I felt an overwhelming curiosity to return for another hit of the good life.

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Byron Bay

Byron itself is an eclectic town. She offers an easy-going lifestyle and open-minded locals. She is a mecca for an upmarket, hippyish lifestyle. ‘Ish’ I say because it’s been many years since a true hippy could make do here on free love and a few spliffs. Snuggled at the eastern most tip of the Australian continent, Byron’s famous lighthouse presides over stunning beaches and beautiful people sauntering around in bikinis and thongs (flip flops), checking out beachy boutiques. Very chilled.

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It’s the kind of place where vegans are well catered for, backpackers on working holiday visas serve chai lattes, and everybody does yoga.  You could easily drop big bucks on fancy restaurants and swanky accommodation but the more frugal can just as easily down a sneaky pie or kebab whilst staying at a hostel.  It’s fun for a few days and caters to all sorts, but watch out, if you want to actually relocate here property prices rival Sydney’s, Australia’s most expensive city.

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Brunswick heads

Brunswick Heads

But this region is much more than just Byron Bay. Each town in this northern New South Wales area retains its own distinct personality, and in many ways a distinct demographic. Where Byron does coiffed, Mullumbimby does dreadlocks.  Nimbim does drugs and dreds, and down to earth Ballina does business as usual, a regular Aussie coastal town inhabited by regular beach side Aussies. Yes, a simplified generalisation to be sure but you get the picture.

IMG_20180327_091928.jpgFor some time I had been feeling drawn to visit a couple of mates who live up this way and to set sight again on this special part of the globe. Both mates I know separately but each has called this neck of the woods home for many years.

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Bec, what are those pink things???

It’s been a long time between drinks with either of them. Both are creative and inspiring  and although space and time initially saw us first connect in quite different realities, the years haven’t dulled my enthusiasm for their company one bit.

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Rebecca was a Sydney pal. It was the late 90s and everyone was selling something at the Glebe markets in Sydney’s inner west. Creative passion ruled and days were sprinkled with arty folk, bongs and board games. Now the owner operator of an Australian bush foods business, Playing With Fire, not surprisingly Rebecca still thinks outside the box, creating more opportunity for the continued use of sustainable and interesting produce.

plums             12144884_865914546855952_4401765303982322343_nAlthough her business is based in Ballina, Rebecca’s home is situated on a macadamia farm inland from Lennox Head, a famous surf beach whose claim to fame is as the sometimes-resting-place of singer/surfer, Jack Johnson. The hinterland near her is also home to well known Aussie musician, Pete Murray, who has also got on the health and wellness bandwagon with his own style of music/exercise retreats.

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Fancy finger limes – a lot of buzz about these wacky things

My connection with Simon harks back even longer. 30 plus years ago we were part of a motley crew of high school students hooning around bareback on horses in Adelaide’s North Parkland.

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Now in Bangalow, he is a visual artist exploring the lush landscapes that are his surrounds. Not hard to do. Bangalow and surrounds are indeed pretty as a picture.

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Inland from Byron, Bangalow’s main drag drips with rural charm. Many local homes are charismatic ‘Queenslanders,’ featuring airy spaces of timber and corrugated iron, and lush tropical landscaping.

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So,  if you want to get away from it all,  hightail it to this unique part of the world. It’s creative area,  naturally spectacular and a lot of fun.

Simon Harriot can be contacted at                                                                 http://simonharriott.com/

Rebecca Barnes and Playing with Fire can be found at        https://www.playingwithfire.com.au

 

 

Posted in Airports, Australia, Bush foods, Byron Bay, solo travel, travel, travel blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ba’ and a Very Orkney Christmas

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Another year has almost rolled on by. Man, that was fast. It’s only now, as we speed toward Christmas 2017 and people occasionally reminisce as to their whereabouts at the same time last year, that I realise I still haven’t written MY ORKNEY CHRISTMAS circa 2016!

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Many years ago, in sunny Sydney I made a great mate. His name is Andy and he hails from the Orkney Islands, an archipelago off the coast of north Scotland, way up near the Shetlands.

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His mum and sister and her family still live on Orkney and his brother and sister-in-law, also an Orkney local, also head there during the festive season to celebrate with family. Andy now calls North Queensland home, and is happily married to a bonza, Aussie chick. In 2016 he flew back to Scotland to spend Christmas with these fabulous folk and asked if I wanted to come along. Sure, why not.

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If it was cold in Istanbul, it was colder in Orkney! A storm settled in just as I arrived and nature in her full glory was letting everyone know who was boss.

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I’d caught the train up from Edinburgh to Thurso to take the ferry to Stromness in the Orkneys, the next day.

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The view outside the train window en route

Descending from the train around 5pm, persistent drizzle and midnight style darkness ticked all the atmospheric mid-winter boxes for this part of the globe. And cold, did I mention it was cold???

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It was two days before Christmas and I had pretty much counted on all my travel arrangements going to plan, leaving no room for a contingency plan. Those plans were made well before the weather went and got seriously crazy.

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Overhearing punters on the last leg of the train journey from Edinburgh, I realised that the severity of the storm upon us might well result in the cancellation of the Orkney ferry service.

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I sat in trepidation, along with the many of my fellow train travellers, also hoping to make the crossing home for the holidays. On arrival in Thurso, there was good news for those travelling that night. The service was GO!

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However, there was no such surety for the ferry leaving the next morning. Double eek, the realisation of the real possibility of spending Christmas solo in this cold, dark, one horse town. Mmm. Off to bed with fingers crossed and seriously think socks on.

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The next morning, I ventured down to the rustic, hotel dining room enquiring en route for a storm and ferry service update at reception. I was in luck. The morning’s service would go but all following services for the next few days had been cancelled. Phew.

A mighty Scottish breakfast

Feeling relieved I sat down for a full Scottish breakfast the likes of which I’d never truly experienced before. The kind that will guarantee a hardening of the arteries. Haggis, sausage, egg, bacon, tomato, hash browns and baked beans, just in case I didn’t know I was in the UK.

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As I was making my way through this mammoth feast, a tall, fair fellow enquired if I was taking the ferry that morning and would I like to share a taxi with him to the port. Sure, why not. As it turned out, he was an ex Orkney local, well known to my mate, Andy and his family. Indeed, there was a strong family link somewhere…Everybody knows everybody in these here parts.

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The ferry crossing to Stromness was remarkably calm considering the chilling stories I’d heard about this journey. Apparently, we made a detour from the usual route to avoid super stormy conditions and my new friend from the shared taxi ride was informative and easy going company.

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On arrival, Andy was there to pick me up. In blistery weather we traversed the island en route to Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital and home to Andy’s mum and sister. I had arrived just in time for the full force of the storm it seemed.

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The previous days had been calm and pleasantly sunny.

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Decked out in full wet weather garb we stopped off at The Ring of Brodgar and despite the wild conditions this circle of standing stones were still eminently easier to visit than their more famous cousins at Stone Henge. No payment, no buses or queues to negotiate and yes, totally magical.

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Setting off again we stopped at a couple of stormy scenic outlooks. Experiencing tempestuous weather we traversed bridge crossings awash with poundings from not-for-the-faint-hearted, North Sea waves.

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On arrival in Kirkwall, totally fabulous wall to wall hospitality for the next few days, full of the usual Christmas fun, food and frivolity plus the added bonus of witnessing the famous Ba, a yearly football type competition which harks back at least 300 years.

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‘If you arrive in Kirkwall in the days or even weeks leading up to Christmas you might wonder if the town is about to be besieged. Wooden barricades are erected to protect doors and windows as if from some sort of violent attack. The truth is that the barricades are put up to protect buildings from hundreds of bodies that surge through the streets in pursuit of a leather trophy; the Ba’.’
http://www.orkney.com/about/history/the-ba

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The battle for the ball led us to the waterfront

Kirkwall’s Doonies (Downtowners) and The Uppies (Uptowners) battle it out for ultimate possession of the prized leather ball and the prestige of being the Ba’ winner. I can attest to the sheer madness and popularity of this twice annual event. Mad as cut snakes these Kirkwallians!

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Participants and spectators speed through the town regardless of the frigid conditions. The civilized stone streets of Kirkwall transform into a chaotic maze of bodies as competitors vie for supremacy. A real spectacle.

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Thanks Andy and all the Grants for such a great Christmas, if this year is half as good, I’ll be a lucky gal.

Posted in Ba', Christmas, Ferry, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel A- Go-Go

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Well, what to write about Israel?

The beach outside my very central Tel Aviv Hotel

Mid semester break during autumn set me thinking about warmer climates not too far away. A simple Skyscanner search and viola, location decided. I’d always wanted to visit Israel, not with a burning passion but rather a mild curiosity. So off I went.

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I’ve known some lovely Israelis, the odd individual I’ve travelled with, a few folk I’ve met and grown to know in Australia.

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There has also been some not so lovely encounters, particularly coming across Israelis travelling en masse, taking over guesthouses in Thailand or India prior to or following their military service. Still, that’s the nature of people. Some you like, some you don’t.

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Jerusalem’s famous market

Israeli men are conscripted into the armed services for three years and women for two. Not surprisingly, people I spoke with either thought of this as a beneficial rite of passage and security necessity or a complete waste of time.

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Unlike in Turkey, where military service is also mandatory, wherever I went young soldiers were easy to spot. In the street and out and about, they were highly visible, decked out in their uniforms and carrying mighty big guns regardless of gender. Local civilians didn’t bat an eye-lid at this status quo.

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My friend, Athina. The last time we met we travelled to Ani, in far north eastern Turkey. Read all about it at…. https://girlviking26.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/by-train-to-kars-and-ani/

 

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It is anything but common to see weapons nonchalantly displayed in my native Australia and such accepted practise always leaves me feeling uneasy. I was told that each soldier is responsible for their own personal weapon, so each accompanies their owners everywhere, even during mundane tasks such as grabbing a coffee or catching a public bus headed home for the weekend.

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A little overwhelmed by the masses

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On arrival in Tel Aviv, I went beachside with a German woman I met en route who just happened to be staying at the same place. As is so common amongst travellers, she proceeded to tell me her life story with the aid of a few beers as the sun set.

IMG_20171115_152636.jpgCoincidently, as my home is currently in Istanbul, her background was half Turkish. It’s a small world.

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The warm air, a fabulous beach view and a clear, blue Mediterranean Sea saw me happy as a clam for the next few days. Good coffee, hanging out in attractive Old Jaffa and a diverse range of cuisines to choose from made for a pleasant, easy going stay. Tel Aviv definitely felt the most cosmopolitan of the places I visited.

 

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In Jerusalem, I met up with a mate who lives and works in The West Bank, teaching at an American university there. She was a great guide whilst doing the tourist thing and also provided insider knowledge both to tourist sites and the political situation as she saw it. Back in Istanbul, the recent decision by Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital naturally found me concerned for her welfare when, as anticipated, violence broke out at this mind-blowingly whacko decision. Fortunately, she reassures me her area is safe but many must once again face more conflict.

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Hotel view in Jerusalem – looking out over a grave site to Old Jerusalem and The Temple Mount

We visited The Western Wall and Old Jerusalem. Although attractive enough and well organised, Jerusalem struck me as superficial and over-touristic. It’s a small place and easy to spot the parades of religious pilgrims following tour flags. Jerusalem is an interesting place for obvious reasons, but in general I found the locus of three great religions to be an unfriendly place and was happy to move on to Haifa in the north.

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One of Haifa’s beautiful beaches

Haifa, my last stop, offered a final day of beach time and a fabulous visit to the Baha’i Gardens and Golden Dome. Not only are the gardens beautiful but hearing about the Baha’i philosophy heartened me whist in this conflicted country.

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‘The main thrust of Baha’i teaching is that humankind is one, that the prejudices and barriers that divide humanity must be overcome, and that the unity of all peoples must be established through the evolution of the social order.’

http://www.ganbahai.org.il/en/learn-more/bahai-community/teachings

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Spiritually, I sit on the fence, but seeing volunteers of the Baha’i faith, having come from all over the globe to help take care of this beautiful horticultural creation for everyone’s pleasure and which is in itself a reflection of the sentiments expressed in the quote above, was indeed heartening.

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I am no fan of the crimes and punishments rort in God’s name by so many faiths and it was easy to relate to The Baha’i message that we should all be able to find a way to just get along!

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Good to know

At the end of my trip I felt each city I had visited offered its own distinct atmosphere. Overall though, I found with some marked exceptions, generally providers of hospitality in cafes and hotels, that locals were a pretty grumpy bunch. In the final analysis, I’m happy I went but will be in no hurry to return.

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The people of a place are its soul. On my return to Istanbul, hopping out of the taxi in the dark and the rain to buy milk and bread at a corner shop, I was greeted with the familiar friendly Turkish smile and casual welcome so common here. Sometimes it really is good to get home😊

Posted in Ani, Baha'i, Israel, Kars, religion, solo travel, travel, travel blog | 4 Comments

Loving it in Lesbos

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A few days ago the Australian government announced the implementation of a country wide postal vote on the legalisation of gay marriage. Statistically it is a change supported by the average Aussie ‘Joe’ and a topic that has been discussed at length for what feels like forever. Frankly, I wish the pollies would just pull their heads in and do it already. LGBTI folk should have the same rights as anyone else no matter how crazy I think they are for wanting to get married in the first place!

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Skala Mistengna Port

Anyway, when all this ruckus was hitting social media I was swanning around on the island of Lesbos, Greece. The comicality of this fact wasn’t lost on me.

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According to some random website I googled

(https://www.liveabout.com/what-is-the-origin-of-the-word-lesbian-2171260)

the inhabitants of Lesbos are all technically Lesbians, whether man or woman, this being the nomenclature used for a person with this island origin. That this same title came to be associated with gay women comes courtesy of Sappho, a famous Greek poetess from the 6th century whose poetry wrote starrily on attractions between fellow females.

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Compared to other Greek Island haunts such as Santorini and Mykonos, the latter of course which is internationally known as a top spot for boys who just wanna have fun -with each other, Lesbos is a relatively sleepy Greek Island, and from all reports much better value.

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Apparently, there is a bit of a hippy/gay scene going on somewhere on the east coast of Lesbos but hey, as I never got that far that information is anecdotal. I do know of a women’s only guesthouse over that way though so read into that what you will.

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Lesbos is the third largest Greek Island by land mass.

I seem to be riding a theme. I visited Cyprus in April, the second largest island, shared with Turkey. Crete, the daddy of them all, I visited many moons ago with a boyfriend from Oz. It was our big overseas adventure. We pretty much frolicked around touristy beach spots giving people hair-wraps for exorbitant amounts of drachma. Bald? No problem. My then boyfriend would use superglue to attach the thread to the head!

I remember this lifestyle produced green envy in many other expats working in bars for buckleys but it also required some expertise in packing up fast and running from the coppers on occasion.

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You can read about my Cypriot adventures here……

https://girlviking26.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/cyprus-head-north-young-friend

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Butcher, Mytilini

Lesbos is a hop, skip and a jump across the Aegean by ferry from Ayvallik in Turkey.

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Ayvalik itself has a lot of features which hark back to it’s Greek origins.

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Ayvallik, Turkey

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On the beach near Ayvallik

This was another solo holiday for me. Salina Island in Italy was the first one this year.

https://girlviking26.wordpress.com/2017/06/28/salina-solo/

And Lesbos was another good one.

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The little beach town where I landed was really peaceful, with only a handful of tourists and most of them local. It had a few restaurants and clear blue water and well, that’s all I really wanted.

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At times it reminded me of many parts of my home state South Australia with its the dry, yellow grass, olive trees everywhere, figs and grapes for the picking, warm and ripe.

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I had intended to have a bit of an explore, and I did, a little. One day I caught a dusty old bus into Mytillini, Lesbos’ unpretentious capital city, with her handful of galleries, castle ruins and a few nice churches. Apparently, there are a few mosques around too, once again speaking to the Ottomans and their jurisdiction over this region in times past.

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Other than this though I pretty much stayed put in my little beachside village of Skala Mistegna. It was a hassle to go anywhere as the bus service is totally antiquated and infrequent and  hiring a car was both expensive and seemed like way too much hassle for lazy-kins me.  I had found a fab spot and was really happy to just blob, read, write and chat with the other guests where I was staying, which incidentally which was a wonderful hotel with friendly and helpful souls running it.

http://www.9musses.gr/

It’s a tough life but someone’s gotta do it. And yes, one day I would like to return and take a better look around.

 

Posted in Australia, Cyprus, Greek Islands, Lesbos, religion, solo travel, travel, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment