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??

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

img_20180820_173257

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

img_20180820_184649

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

img_20180820_184240

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 .

IMG-20180828-WA0005[1]

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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. Rather it was what some refer to as a delightful, pedestrian ‘zone’.

img_20180820_172829

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

img_20180820_190215

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG-20180828-WA0002[1] - Copy.jpg

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.’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_20180821_122641[1]

So with Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Turks all having left their mark it 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.

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

Turkey Tales – Election Time

IMG_20180625_131140.jpg

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.

IMG_20180627_075542.jpg

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.

IMG_20180625_131013.jpg

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.

IMG_20180627_075500.jpg

When results were called naturally it was a sad day for the opposition and their supporters. Finally, the opposition parties had shaped up their act, forming coalitions and enlisting charismatic leaders. Countless locals, looking for a new direction for their country, 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.

IMG_20180625_131215.jpg

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.

IMG_20180627_135313.jpg

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 easily obtainable source of satisfaction, right now anyway.

IMG_20180703_123438.jpg

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 the way to Esztergom, on the Hungarian border with Slovakia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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 it is still only late May. It’s also hot, unseasonably so according to those in the know.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

img_20180530_120517-e1528831402662.jpg

IMG_20180530_121138.jpg

IMG_20180530_120946.jpg

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.

IMG_20180612_210922.jpg

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.

IMG_20180612_210944.jpg

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.   Onboard the enormous Igor I was accompanied by an old style, stern Eastern European riding companion. 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.

p5140993.jpg

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The following day we visited Troy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

IMG_20180522_140338.jpg

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.

IMG_20180519_071636.jpg

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😊

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

pictureta-map-of-australia-canvas-white_1024x1024[1]

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.

IMG_20180214_102537.jpg

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.

byron bay

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.

IMG_20180216_115740.jpg

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.

rebecca

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.

IMG_20180327_092139.jpg

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.

No automatic alt text available.

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.

bangalow main street

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.

simons

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.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

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

 

IMG_20161226_130306.jpg

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!

IMG_20161224_141449.jpg

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.

IMG_20161224_125710

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.

received_10154272604378870

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.

IMG_20161222_120147

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

IMG_20161221_105101

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???

IMG_20161222_114906

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.

IMG_20161222_113248

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.

IMG_20161222_121914

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!

IMG_20161224_141406

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.

IMG_20161223_144713

IMG_20161223_144722

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.

img_20161222_092938.jpg

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.

IMG_20161222_092809

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.

IMG_20161222_111347

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.

IMG_20161222_132840

 

 

The previous days had been calm and pleasantly sunny.

IMG_20161222_133153

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.

IMG_20161222_122319

IMG_20161222_124111

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.

IMG_20161226_130759

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.

IMG_20161226_130221

‘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

IMG_20161226_131846

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!

IMG_20161226_130232

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.

IMG-20161225-WA0000.jpg

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

IMG_20171116_103402

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.

IMG_20171114_124740   IMG_20171114_125324.jpg

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.

IMG_20171114_124520            IMG_20171119_085821

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.

IMG_20171115_145438

IMG_20171115_160559

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.

img_20171116_141555.jpg

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.

IMG_20171115_144627.jpg

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/

 

IMG_20171115_151934

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.

IMG_20171115_152330.jpg

A little overwhelmed by the masses

IMG_20171115_150042

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.

IMG_20171115_144819.jpg

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.

 

IMG_20171115_150007.jpg

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.

IMG_20171116_103402.jpg

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.

IMG_20171117_140023

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.

IMG_20171118_124123.jpg

‘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

IMG_20171119_053628.jpg

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.

IMG_20171117_201145.jpg

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!

IMG_20171116_172542

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.

IMG_20171119_053540.jpg

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

IMG_20170807_142356

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!

IMG_20170809_191131

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.

IMG_20170809_191221
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.

IMG_20170809_190718
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.

IMG_20170807_141354

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.

IMG_20170809_193823

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.

IMG_20170809_190438

You can read about my Cypriot adventures here……

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

IMG_20170809_192705

Butcher, Mytilini

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

IMG_20170812_171828

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

IMG_20170810_090603         IMG_20170806_135022

IMG_20170810_090725

Ayvallik, Turkey

IMG_20170810_090643

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.

IMG_20170807_093319

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.

IMG_20170809_192437

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.

IMG_20170811_090845
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.

IMG_20170810_180329

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

Barcelona’s THE BOMB

 

IMG_20160625_125536

Arc de Triomphe

Barcelona, is, has been and maybe always will be THE BOMB! I lived in this dynamic city some years ago having gone for a weekend and becoming so totally enchanted I stayed.

IMG_20170706_190528

Istanbul follows me everywhere even in Las Ramblas

As I now technically live in Europe – Turkey’s Europe – I can go whenever I like without having to sell my fictional first born and spend 24 hours on a plane from the ass end of the world. (Australians travel for long periods partly for this very reason, once we are out of our homeland we want to pack everything in so as to avoid future long haul madness.)

The glorious Santa Maria del Mar - Gothic Grandeur, El Born

Gothic Grandeur – Santa Maria Del Mar, EL Born

I was again in BCN a few weeks ago to catch up with friends.

IMG_20170713_185146

Hitting town early I  caught Plaza Catalunya in dreamy morning light. First up Café Zurich for a coffee, Cort Ingles for a little browse and then to La Floresta, 20 minutes by train to where my friend lives.

San Cugat

San Cugat

Barcelona is a popular weekend trip for punters throughout the year. In summer though she literally heaves with tourists. It’s easy to understand why, she’s a magical place. These days though I appreciate staying a little out of it all away from the maddening throngs but still with easy access.

IMG_20160625_142135

My first meal of course consisted of pinxos. Tasty Galician flavours, a fun style of eating. This is one of my all time favourite dining experiences. Washed down with a little local cava – stupendous.

IMG_20160624_212232

 

IMG_20160625_094434

The next night we trooped off to The Cruilla Festival, one of the many music festivals that grace BCN’s shores during summer in this city. Afterwards the idea was to cruise off to up to The Pyrenees for a few days.

IMG_20170708_124235

Patrice at Cruilla

Not such a bright idea in hindsight. On arrival in La Poble de Segur around 5am a grumpy fatigue had well and truly triumphed over any latent concert buzz. Regardless one of the beauties of BCN is it’s access to both mountains and the sea.  At specific times of year, as locals point out, you can ski in the morning and swim in the afternoon within a few hours drive.

IMG_20170709_153933

A quick Pyrenees dip

So, I am not going to wax lyrical about Gaudi or Barcelonetta or cava or Barcelona’s vibrant vibe.  Neither am I going to go on about her charming labyrinthine old city with  laneways that surprise with artistic features at every twist and turn, her atmosphere heightened by the cool,  musty stone smell of old medieval cities tinged with an occasional whiff of urine provided by some partying night reveller unable to find a bathroom.

IMG_20160625_134036

BCN for shoes – yeah!

I will say though that I’m sad that the timing of my trip meant missing Gracia’s street festival or Festa Major in August, which is an absolute treat. For two weeks annually the residential blocks in this quirky suburb come alive with creative mini environments based on a selected theme.

Giant paper mache dinosaurs flag a Jurassic concept while space men occupy lunar landscapes another block over. It’s a free for all and every year brings new creative wonders out into the streets. Truthfully I’ve never encountered anything like it.

Long live Barcelona – she’s a gem.

Posted in BARCELONA, flags, Spain, travel, travel blog | 4 Comments

Salina – Solo

Wanted – solo holiday destination.

IMG_20170620_095244
Needing a getaway ‘sans’ others? Where to go when you want to hang with yourself?
My requirements for a holiday with myself are fairly simple but sometimes hard to find.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There must be enough to do but not too much. There must be random strangers to befriend but no too many. There should be sufficient public transport to get around without hassling with car hire and there must be local restaurants and characters that won’t look at you with pitying eyes when you rock up alone for a meal.

IMG_20170616_201716

IMG_20170619_142504
Bagged it!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In conversation with a good mate with numerous Italian connections I got the word about a group of islands off the north coast of Sicily, The Aeolians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Her suggestion came on the back of knowledge that prior to my ‘me time’ break, I would be road tripping around Sicily with some Aussie friends.  Discovering these little gems so close by therefore was a happy surprise.

IMG_20170616_141135

This group of seven islands, all UNESCO listed, the love children of dramatic volcanic activity stretching back hundreds of thousands of years, are an easy hydrofoil ride away from various ports. I ventured forth from Milazzo, on Sicily’s north-east coast but Palermo, Messina and various mainland Italian cities also provide transfers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In addition to the requirements listed above I wanted somewhere green. This immediately discounted the two islands with active volcanic activity and relatively barren landscapes. Silencio not doof doof was also a priority so Lipara the most populated and partying paradise was also off the list.

IMG_20170617_114741-1

 

IMG_20170617_132131

Luigi and famous, local Malvasia wine, he can be contacted for boating adventures at
bceolie@gmail.com

Looking for a sign I jumped on Mr. Google where I struck gold. I discovered Lonely Planet’s blurb about the lushness of Salina Island. Bingo. Salina it was.
Then I discovered a bit of her history and an Aussie link with the islands in general.

IMG_20170617_115044

‘In the wake of phylloxera and two world wars, the islands were left decimated by mass immigration, much of it to Australia. Talk to a local here and they all know someone in Australia. In fact, there are so many people from the islands in Melbourne that they sometimes refer to Melbourne as the eighth island!’
http://www.trembathandtaylor.com.au/news/salina

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The permanent population on Salina is still less than it was in the 1950’s when the bulk of the exodus occurred. Indentations formed by abandoned grape vine terraces are still clearly visible. And if I wasn’t convinced about the Aussie link, on arrival, after hopping on the local bus that potters around the 6 or 7 charismatic villages of Salina, what should I hear straight up but an Aussie accent.

IMG_20170628_134923

IMG_20170628_134603

I was momentarily taken aback, where was I again? So anyway, the fella and his little boy and I got chatting and it turns out his wife’s family had originated in Lingua, the very spot where the bus was headed and where I had chosen to stay.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That night, I ate at A Cannata, where I would become a semi regular during my week long stay mostly due to the rocking food but the warmth shown by the owners didn’t hurt. ( http://www.acannata.it )

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

‘Mum’ embraced me like a long-lost daughter, having settled in Australia some 40 years ago for roughly 4 years after which she’d returned to Salina, leaving behind 4 brothers who still live in Sydney.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Vineyards overlooking Malfa and the Mediterranean

So off you go. Salina is the spot in June for solo breaks. Go in August when the place is full of holidaying Italians if you’re after a completely opposite set of requirements which includes less tranquillity and more partying.

 

Posted in Aeolian Islands, Australia, Hydrofoil, Salina Island\, Sicily, solo travel, travel | Leave a comment