Monday, June 17, 2013

Final stop - Istanbul

The final post for this blog concludes our almost two-year adventure to the UK and beyond. As I write this, many of the countries we visited are in flood, Istanbul is experiencing riots and we read today that the cities hotels are experiencing a 99% drop in reservations.

We caught Istanbul at the perfect time and have certainly been fortunate with all our travels. May brings good weather without the crowds and I'd recommend anyone to travel the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year. Istanbul is likely to be the destination most remembered by both Pip and I.

Pip loved Istanbul and I grew to love it. I say this because I experienced my first culture shock/travel exhaustion when arriving in Istanbul. We arrived at the Sabiha Gokcen Airport on the Asian side which required a one and a half hour bus ride to where we were staying on the European side. This was fine and I attribute my negative feelings to the amount of travel already completed. The scale of the city, it's population, and my fatigue all caused me to dislike the place at first.

On our first day, I decided I have better get over myself. Istanbul has so much to offer that I soon forgot my unease and settled into life in the historical Turkish city. We stayed at a backpackers hostel just down from Taksim square. Route 39 was very basic and a little bit dirty but it served us well. The owner grew to like me and was very generous with helping us out. When I say that he 'Grew' to like me, I am referring to when we first arrived, he sat us down and explained the rules in a way which made us feel as if we were entering a prison. Often, these things are purely a misjudged personality and this proved to be the case. The hostel had a free breakfast on the rooftop balcony which overlooks the Bosphorus and provided a daily hit of inspiration to accompany our food..

Over the five days in Istanbul, we did all of the touristy things. Visiting the Blue Mosque, Hagia sophia, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, the Museums, Galata Tower and a day trip to Buyukada island. All of which are definitely worth seeing. Our favorite day was our visit to the island. We barely made the ferry in time and had to sit on a wooden step for an hour and a half, but the beauty of the island made it worthwhile. We took a horse and carriage to the foot of a hill and walked up to the highest point on the island from where we could see Istanbul stretch from one horizon to the other. 

The other highlight of our trip to Istanbul was the food. We love Turkish food and were not disappointed. We ate at a few fantastic restaurants, we ate at the markets, and my personal favourite was a fish Kebap from a seaside vendor. The gentleman certainly took great pride in his work as his ingredients were so fresh, thus he always had people buying from him. I'll include some photos below so you can see what I mean.

We flew out from the main airport bound for New Zealand. Pip and I were both excited to go home but sad that our trip had come to an end. Not only this mini month of traveling but the 19 months we'd spent in England. It was our first major overseas adventure and the first time overseas at all for Pip. We wouldn't change a thing. We had a rough start, but the opportunities that came out of it has lead to great life experience. We now live in Wellington, but we hope to get out at least once a year to see more of the world.


There is so much more to see. Steve

Turkish coffee

Pip and Hagia Sophia

An OJ on the long shopping street

Galata Tower

Basilica Cistern

Grand Bazaar

Outside the Bazaar

Skeleton at one of the museums

Buying Turkish delight

Fishing on the waterfront

Pip inside the Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia

Ice Creams on Buyukada

Travelling by horse

Walking up the hill with the city in the background

Roaming horses

All the ferries trying to reverse at the same time

Looking back at the island

Sunset silhouettes

Fish Kebap dinner


Our room

View from our rooftop balcony


Lamb


Spice Bazaar

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bosnia

I'm ashamed to say that up until now, I have had an impression of Bosnia which was unfairly negative. Growing up with the war on the 6 O'Clock news every night had left me with an impression which I'm now happy to say I have overturned.

When a previous flatmate once mentioned to us that he'd been to Bosnia, the image I conjured up in my mind was of him walking down a dusty dirt road, possibly in search of water. The breakup of Yugoslavia which played out over my young and impressionable years had clearly pigeonholed this country.

We have only spent two full days here but in that time, we have seen the beautiful Mostar with it's bridge and old town, turquoise rivers cutting through lush green gorges which rise up to mountainous peaks of jagged rocks as we made our way on an old bus to the capital of Sarajevo.

The two places we have stayed in Bosnia have been the best out of the whole trip. I can especially say that of our place in Mostar. The Pension Cardak is run by the most lovely couple who were very welcoming and gave us a room which we could have easily paid five times as much for. To top it off, they drove us to the bus station the next morning and we were shown where the fighting was at it's fiercest and how the city has recovered since. Having someone who has lived their whole life in this town show us a bit of history was very special indeed.

Everywhere in Bosnia you will find buildings with bullet holes them. It's sure rough around the edges but the hospitality of the people here and the natural beauty of the country is worth coming for. Plus it's very inexpensive and the food is amazing.

The bus ride to Bosnia

Making Turkish coffee

Mostar




Sarajevo




Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia

Our Busabout tour concluded in the Adriatic seaside town of Split. We had a final official meal which took place at one end of the waterfront. There was a bit of drama as everyone was keen to try some locally caught fish only to learn that they were out of fish except squid and seafood risotto. We (except two of girls) stayed anyway and ate and when Zakk and Claudia went outside for a smoke they noticed other people eating fish.. Our tour leader had a word to the staff who made excuses about the catch only just arriving.

Our only full day in Split was spent wandering around. The central tourist area of Split is very small and so once the random storm passed over, Pip and I headed up the hill where we took in some great views of the city.

We met the few tour people left in Split for dinner that night and all went out for a really nice meal and back to one of the hostels for a couple of drinks.

The next morning Pip and I were off on our own once more, this time down the coast on a bus.

Traveling from Spilt to Dubrovnik by bus is fantastic. The road is almost entirely costal, and you are treated to some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. When we arrived and made our way to the information center just outside of the old town, it began to rain. What followed was a very uncomfortable hour of contacting and trying to find our host who could not find us in the crowds of people sheltering from the storm. We tried to find the address twice in the pouring rain to no avail.

Dripping wet with big heavy bags on or backs, we were about to leave the information center one last time when I found myself standing next to a lady who matched the description I'd been told on the phone. Luckily I asked her as she was a very passive person, but it was indeed our apologetic host who showed us to our amazing room in Dubrovnik.

We were staying in a very flash B&B style apartment two minutes walk from the main entrance to the old town. A beautiful cove and white stone walkways with cute apartments awaited us. This was the neighborhood where we would be spending three nights. This is the sort of thing that you need lots of money for right? Well not if you do your research. Dubrovnik in May has not hit the tourist high season yet so we found that wherever we went, we had space to ourselves. Because of this, we got to stay close to the old town, walked the town walls where we had all the space in the world to explore and take photos. It was warm enough to go for a swim at the beach but not too hot that you need to seek air conditioning all of the time.

The first day we explored the old town which is very beautiful, and the second day we swam in the ocean and took the cable car to the top of the cliff overlooking the town for views which were just unbelievable. Having only a few people up on the hill made the experience very relaxing as we sat in the outdoor restaurant overlooking the city and out over the Adriatic sea sipping drinks.

If we are to ever tour the Northern Hemisphere in future, it will be in May. It's not hot enough for everyone else it seems, but it suits us just fine. We can deal with a rain day here and there if you get to experience these incredible places, usually filled with tourists, in peace.

Split

Split
Split again
Nice view of Split from a big hill
Fish markets
Art market. I know none of these people...

We arrived in Dubrovnik as drowned rats

Luckily we had a washing line



Pip and I on the town walls