A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul, Turkey, Safranbolu, The Black Sea

sunny 21 °C

We arrived in Istanbul at 11 pm by bus from Plovdiv Bulgaria. Metro Line, originates in Sofia. The bus left Plovdiv at 11 am. Nice Turkish bus with tvs and an attendant who passes out water, cakes, coffee and tea as well as hand sanitizer. The bus is clean and seems quite full.
At 2 pm we went through the Bulgaria section of the border. At 8 pm we finally cleared the Turkish side. We were told we could get off the bus for fifteen minutes to use the washroom. Then we hung around the bus for five hours and forty five minutes.
Not an auspicious entry into Turkey.
This was the first hole in the floor washroom I encountered. After using it and paying for the privilege, I noticed a bathroom marked English, well too late. I find the squat washroom difficult to use, consequently for the rest of the day I barely moistened my tongue with water. No, there isn't a grab bar. However, if all the Turks use them and prefer them there must be some merit and squatting solidly into old age without support must keep them limber and flexible with strong leg muscles and balance.
We took a cab from the Istanbul bus station to our hostel, Cordial House hostel in Sultanahmet. We experienced some pretty fancy? Crazy? driving. No matter what the official count, several people have told us there are twenty million, maybe more, people in Istanbul. They say you drive five cars, your own, the one in front, the one behind and the two beside you. If you are a pedestrian watch out, you wait for the car. Drivers are aggressive. Pedestrians do not have any right of way.
Quick to hit the horn, never mind signalling, yes we just avoided that head on collision, whew thank god we made it.
We had a twin room, actually there were five beds but we had the whole room, you could barely move for all the beds, did not have a private bath, but ok for one night. Hostels are not that cheap in Istanbul, but this one is about twenty two dollars each. So we thus spent the night of October twenty seventh. On 28 and 29 we got a private twin with ensuite, way nicer, better view, better sheets, way nicer air pillows for fifty canadian, some kind of deal I made with the clerk, forty euro for ensuite. Also this room had a tiny tv and we got CNN so lots about US election and Hurricane Sandy.
Sultanahmet Square
This is Istanbul's old town. We are fortunate to be a short, maybe two block walk from the square.
Istanbul, Constantinople, Byznatium, one of the world's oldest cities - has a long and storied history. I am thrilled to be here!! It is hustle and bustle, with horns honking, people calling to you to come into their restaurants, tea-boys rushing about, tourists, people of all ages and manner of dress.
Cordial House is a short walk to the Blue Mosque. So on Sunday 28 Oct after we got our room straightened out and moved our stuff over to the private twin and head out for breakfast and coffee. Waiters stand on the street and call you in, turns out this first place is really expensive so we each have turkish coffee, a thimblespoon of strong black coffee, for six tl each, that is more than three dollars, eegads I usually like milk in my coffee, but when in Rome, the dainty cup is at least one third sludge but....... you get your caffeine fix and I love strong coffee.
We are walking on the square approaching the blue mosque, when we are greeted by a pleasant, English speaking "skout". This isn't the right word, he is a look out, finds tourists and brings them back to the family carpet, kilim, ceramic, leather shop. Well I am really not interested and we are going to have breakfast, but no wait, he knows the perfect place for breakfast, not too expensive, and what do you know on the way to the family shop and he situates us at a pleasant outdoor cafe, he will be back.
The breakfast plate has a hard boiled egg, olive paste, nutella, some other sweet paste, tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, honeycomb, olives and bread, likely some other stuff, I took a picture. Very good, eaten on a patio, a cat curls up on the chair next to me.
Breakfast in Istanbul

Breakfast in Istanbul

Well our skout came back, yes we need ten more minutes, we did almost get away but he was there, in we go and the carpets are deftly flipped out, displayed, explained, now the elimination process, kind of fun, interactive, say yes in turkish or no. Now you have narrowed them down, walk around, see how the colour changes, which one do you choose?
We turned down the offer of tea so as not to tip the obligation factor scales, we did not buy a carpet even though being the first customer, it was a special religious holiday, for the luck, we were offered a scandolously low price, never to be repeated, whew we are out on the street, no carpet, heading for the Blue Mosque.
Which has six minurets and is free to the public, you have to put your shoes in a plastic bag which they provide, and wear a scarf, also available there.
There is quite a bit of turquoise in the stained glass but in the tiles are lavender blue. Very beautiful inside and out.

It is a lovely day we have tea on a patio and sit on the grass in Gulhane Park.
There are women wearing a wide variety of clothes, bare headed women in sleeveless, women with head scarves,
A real mix. It is funny to see a woman covered from head to toe and her male companion dressed in whatever casual ensemble, just as he pleases, modern day and ancient tradition, this is not my concern, this is a secular country. I wonder what they wear under the scarves to give them that shape though. A lot of women wear what looks like a conservative pastel or grey coat, they wear a scarf and almost like jeggings and nice shoes with it. I think it must be warm, it is about 23 degrees C today. There are a lot of good looking people, very nice hair and expressive eyes. Then there are the tourists, well without the backpacks I do not know if I could pick them out, the Aussie accent is a clue.
We have kabobs for supper.
Turkish Delight is everywhere. They call it Lokum. The oldest lokum shop in the world is located in Istanbul and dates back to the eighteenth century and is still owned by descendents of the man who invented what we today know as Turkish Delight. Made famous by the CS Lewis book, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, it has become a special treat for those who grew up with this book. Like countless tourists before me I will take home a box of Turkish Delight, in all its luscious, pastel glory.
29 October
Monday. We tour Aya Sofia, 25 tl each admission, Ataturk was smart to turn it in to a museum, a real meaningful church, Christian first, then turned into a mosque, Christians and Muslims and the merely curious flock to it, 25 tl a pop, pretty good income.
Onward to the Archeology Museum, which is a bargain, ten tl, takes up three buildings, we spend at least two hours here, too many artifacts to take in, but we leave with a blurry impression.
Archealogical Museum

Archealogical Museum

On to Topkapi Palace which may be the richest palace or the oldest palace, I just forget now, but I was impressed with the bowls of egg sized emeralds in the treasury, the huge diamond, all the gold, jade, rubies, pieces of the prophet's beard, just mind boggling, dna.
There are some nice viewing points to take pictures at the castle. Oh admission here was 25 tl.
That was quite a bit for one day.
standard meal in Turkey

standard meal in Turkey

30 Oct
So we go to the Grand Bazaar for which Jeff has zero interest, it is like being at a huge market, or like all those booths at stampede, like a maize, but these booths are selling leather, furs, gold jewellery, carpets, junky souvenirs, candy, turkish delight, 4400 booths under a roof, I am scared I will lose Jeff, get lost and never find him, it is a relief to get back to the square and blue sky. The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. The original shopping mall. Something like 300,000 people visit daily. It is a real hullabaloo with vendors calling out to you, tourists hustling by, tea boys running around with tea for the merchants and their friends who squat casually outside their booth.
The Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar

Tea seems to be the common drink, served in little glasses. At restaurants, if they like you, they give you a free glass of tea at the end. We could never figure out why or why not tea was offered, but we learned to tip accordingly.
We now make a tactical error and move from our nice hostel, so well located, out to the apartment of a couch surfing host. We have couch surfed four times all very positive experiences.
We take a tram, transfer to a bus then transfer again. One hour, easy..
We arrive, the place is on the twelfth floor there is an elevator.
Our host serves us tea and cookies. Later his friend from the states stops by and later two other friends who don't speak English are visiiting. Eating sunflower seeds is an art form here, crunch crunch, very slick. Out comes the water pipe, they have apple tobacco, bought specially for us as they know Jeff smokes and in Turkey that is not a problem, the patios all have ashtrays.
So it is a late night, Jeff is practically comatose the last two hours, and announces at 1230 am he is going to bed, so that effectively ends the socializing as he is sleeping on the couch. I get my own room. i get next to no sleep but on 31 I wake jeff up at 930 and again right now on Nov 1 at 845, still he is tired and I am cranky, we have sights to see. The location is a drawback but the good parts included the food, served on the coffee table, taken up from the central dishes with bread, really good eggplant and tomato dish, tea made in a double pot served in special glasses on little saucers, a good lentil spread, lively conversation, some funny stories. The location was a drawback, but near shopping. Halvah, which we love, is so cheap here, we are eating way too much.
On 31 October we take a one hour city bus to near where the boats give tours of the Bosphorous, For fifteen tl each we relax on the deck and see the European side and the Asian side of this huge city located on two continents divided by the Bosphorus. Really scenic, pleasant, talked to a doctor from Saudi Arabia who trained in Edmonton for five years, a surgeon, he may train another year in Vancouver, and a Japanese family from Tokyo who live in Kuwait, he works for energy and has been to Calgary. So, do you speak English?

Regarding couchsurfing in Turkey - we had numerous offers from men, none from women or married couples. I would recommend that females travelling and surfing alone have a hard look at the profile and references before making a commitment. Maybe Turkish women are out of bounds and western women considered loose. At 63 who am I to judge? But the young men at our couch surfing abode did talk about western women hitch-hiking in Turkey and they thought it was foolish. Yes, they will get rides.
Just exercise a little caution here please. Turkish women are largely reserved in public. Therefore, behaviour considered normal to us may be misconstrued. Some of the guidebooks do warn you not to be too friendly. This was written in one couch surfing reference by a guest regarding her male host, "I should have known better than to allow him to give me a massage, but then, so should have he." Otherwise he had lots of good references, but this type of comment should be a red flag.

Now 1 Nov we are on a metro line bus heading east, it is 26 degrees C today, the bus is air conditioned, 24 canadian each for this trip. Not bad. We are going to Safronbolu, a Unesco World Heritage site due to the large number of preserved Ottoman era wooden homes, near the Black Sea. We hope to take a day trip to Amasra on the coast.
The bus leaves at 1300, the trip is 6 and a half hours. The first 1.5 hours we are making our way through Istanbul. Good-bye ancient Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul, the beating heart of Turkey.

Safranbolu, World Heritage Sight

We arrived after dark in Safranbolu. The days are really getting short which is the down side to travelling this time of year. It is November 1 and it was 28 degrees C today.
We were going to board a mini bus to Centrum but seemed the bus driver and a cab driver encouraged us to take a cab to our hostel, which we did.
This cost twelve tl which is so funny when you compare the price of the cab to the price of the entire bus trip there.
We arrived at the hostel, not right in front but down a little hill like ten metres, and were shown to our room by the owner, who spoke next to no English. We sign languaged that we were hungry so he showed us the restaurant next door, which was very relaxed, about a four year old boy was watching cartoons, there were plastic water bottles on the floor and people were just standing around talking and smoking.
We ordered, the lady was nice, spoke some English and while she was busy in the kitchen behind the cash register area, not that there is a cash register, she whipped up some fresh flat bread using one of those thin wood rolling pins. I drank original sprite and Jeff had mineral water while we waited, then the food came, iskender kabab and meatballs, fresh bread. It was ok but a lot of yogurt and tomato sauce is involved in the iskender kabab and Jeff isn't that fond of dairy.
We ate, the child went nuts when a certain cartoon came on, really excited, it was cute. They also bring a big basket of white bread and it is a challenge to cover it up to protect it from the flies.
Back to our room, aching for sleep, it is tiresome taking the bus.
The bathroom floor seemed kind of wet and the bathroom smelled musty but we had wifi and tv with two or three English channels.
And so we settled in.
At two am I am awake and mad. Jeff is snoring and our room is right off the common area and somebody out there is watching tv. I get the playbook and go on the internet for awhile, cannot sleep, and the battery warns me nine percent but I am busy reading about something, maybe Safranbolu, and what do you know the computer turns itself off. So I plug it in but it doesn't seem to light up like normal. Anyway, hoping for the best, it is now quiet, I go to sleep for a few hours until five am or ten after when the call to prayer is beamed straight into our room, so loud. The loudspeaker is pointing right at our room. So now I check out the playbook and it is at zero. There is a fly bugging me but I can't seem to nail it. I fiddled around with the charger, now I am getting worried this has been our lifeline, what shall we do. Maybe Jeff can fix it. So it was a long wait til I woke him up at 8 am and he fiddled with it trying to make it go. Finally it seemed to take a bit of charge but then it just turned itself off. Breakfast came with this hotel so finally shortly after nine am we were advised the tea was ready so we said we would like nescafe, no they didn't have any so we had our tea and by nine thirty in a little area off the sitting area, not too sanitary looking we each got a plate with cucumber, tomatoe, a boiled egg and some olives there were over fifty flies hovering around but I ate, oh and there was cheese also. The young guy went out and came back with some fresh bread which he sliced up and presented. I put a napkin over the bread to protect it from the flies. For thirty four dollars a night, this is what you get in Saffranbolu. Pasa Mustafa Kunagi - don't stay there. I was afraid to eat anything as they do not have proper facilities and it is not very clean. However, I did eat the bread and drink the tea and never got sick.
We went exploring, it was a gorgeous day, so warm and sunny, walked around and had nescafe at an outdoor cafe and I did some shopping. First we asked if there was a post office near by. Then we went to the post office. Well we needed to go to the international post office in the centre but he gave us a nice box. Back to the hotel, picked up a tablecloth I had bought in Romania, a few other things, because now I am going to mail a parcel so I don't have to cart this stuff around. We also pick up the playbook and charger and head back out and I buy some souvenirs, there are souvenir shops everywhere, saffron in a little box, saffron soap, a little tablecloth, some candy, and then we take the mini bus down town which costs us about 1.25 tl and walk around looking for the post office, get directions, look some more, finally find a post office and it is closed til 1330 so we stop for a drink and lunch. I am drinking this yogurt drink, quite like it and Jeff is drinking mineral water. He had a good wrap, I wasn't hungry. Back to the post office and there is a huge line up so we go to a phone store and they sell blackberry and the guy hooks us up with a new adapter for ten tl, we plug it in, seems to be taking a charge whew big relief.
Go back and stand in line at the post office and then it turns out this isn't the right post office and eventually we do find the main post office and then it costs almost 60 tl to send this stuff home but I do it as this has been such a rigamorole, and I don't want to cart it around.
Then Jeff needs a swimming suit and we shop around, I should mention that before we left Istanbul he got a very nice long sleeve shirt although we were looking for a tea shirt. Anyway we found some nice shorts that will double as a swimming suit, a tshirt and the guy threw in a pair of socks. Turns out the tshirt is kind of small but it was only 25 tl for the whole works so we are ok.
Take the bus back to the hotel, go out for a walk and have supper really good chicken kababs in a nice atmosphere, salad big enough for two, and this all came to 35 tl.
Safranbolu is a good place to shop for souvenirs: lots of nice wood items, trinkets, scarves, tablecloths, spices, saffron and things made with saffron like soap, Turkish Delight (lokum), evil eye bracelets and fridge magnets, there are numerous souvenir shops. Apparently saffron can dye a liquid 100,000 times its own weight.
Two things you see a lot of in Turkey are pictures and statues of Ataturk and evil eyes.
Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal, was an army officer who was born in what is now Thessaloniki, Greece, but was at the time of his birth a part of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk became his last name because he was the first President of Turkey. Private homes, hotels, hostels, restaurants, stores, shops, often have a picture of Ataturk hanging somewhere in a prominent place. Ataturk, 'father of Turkey,' still revered today although he died in 1938.
The evil eye ornament, key chain, fridge magnet or bracelet is a popular souvenir for tourists. I guess it deflects a person with an evil eye from putting a curse on you. Therefore, an evil eye key chain isn't a bad idea as it will either be in my car or in my purse so I will effectively be protected whenever I leave the house. It is like a blue good luck charm.
Back to the hotel, the playbook is plugged in, not seeming to charge much it is now at one percent. I look up some info and it says never let the battery go to zero all kinds of people have had all kinds of problems. Anyway I read up on it and spent an hour or more fooling around with it and I think by next day we maybe had thirteen percent. This is now Friday night and the noise is bouncing up from the street, there are people in the common area talking and drinking tea til two thirty in the morning, I wear earplugs and did get some sleep. Jeff had a shower the day before, the bathroom is the shower, like there is no stall and the water does not completely drain away. It was disgusting really but there were rubber shoes that we set by the bathroom door and waded in.

The Black Sea

Safranbolu is in a mountainous area east of Istanbul fairly close to the Black Sea. It has a lot of old Turkish heritage houses and that is why it is a UNESCO world heritage site. Very pleasant little city, quiet really, easy to walk around. Anyway Saturday morning there was a new guest at the breakfast table, Kim from Korea, who spoke a bit of English so we swapped travel stories. Jeff asked the young guy who made our breakfast about getting to Amasra by the Black Sea and we had apparently two options. Take the public bus for 25tl each and that would take two hours and a transfer or his friend who spoke English was a travel guide and would take us for 120 tl all in and show us around. We opted for the latter and that was a hoot. The car was so old and did not have seat belts in the back seat as this is where we both sat, the driver, guide and the young guy, Salim, from the hotel sat in the front. Neither one of them spoke much English. But they could say some things like Let's go, picture, how old are you, they were students, stuff like that. I got a kick out of Salem, nineteen or twenty years old, and so joyous. It seemed like he was having such a good time, very enthusiastic, the music was blaring, nobody wore seatbelts and they smoked and texted the whole way. The Turks have very expressive faces. "You nice people," Salim remarks. "How old are you?"
It crossed my mind once or twice that I did not want to be spattered on this road in Turkey, that I wanted to live to tell the story, fingers crossed, we would make it safe and sound back to our little hovel in Safranbolu. We careened along the mountain road, past farms and greenhouses, sheep in the fields, scenic little villages, forests, and then we saw the sweeping view, the Black Sea and the picture perfect Amasra nestled on its shore, 6500 people a real resort town in the summer. We parked the car and walked around and got to lots of wonderful picture taking opportunities, and then stopped for lunch, conveniently they knew the guy that worked there.
Keep in mind this isn't our first meal in Turkey it was a pida place and when we were advised it would be twenty tl each my job dropped. This was a blatant rip off. But we paid.
Flower pots in Amasra Turkey on the Black Sea

Flower pots in Amasra Turkey on the Black Sea

Anyway we would never have been able to get there on the bus and find all the good vantage points on our own in five hours. We careened back to Safranbolu, known for its saffron, and went out for a nice supper that cost for two, in a nice environment, better and nicer food with our main beverages as well as complimentary tea, twenty tl for the works. Not twenty each.
Then our hotel which was pretty much a dump, worse place we have stayed and we stayed three nights, don't ask, it just gets tiresome moving, had advertised free shuttle service to the bus, we tried to convey this to the owner, not understanding, he charged us ten tl. Petrol costs money. so this kind of sours me off, no matter that they say they like us so much, we are nice people. Salim carries my pack to the car he actually has tears in his eyes, goodbye. Gule gule.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 14:14 Archived in Turkey Tagged churches art boats castle budget backpacking Comments (0)

Madrid Spain

sunny 17 °C

We flew from Rome to Madrid. Our ryanair flight has been booked for months. Five euro to take a direct bus from Rome Termini to Campiano pronounced champano, from MAD we took a bus and two subways to our hotel. We pass churches that look like wedding cakes, they are iced with elaborate detail, lots of spires, Rome was more into domes.
We feel we are in the lap of luxury, nice hotel, less than a block from the metro station, TRYP Washington, 52 Canadian a night on Expedia, Since I have been up since five all I want to do is rest today. It is November 22, gorgeous sunny day, but I am worn out from all the walking in Rome for the past four days, plus my right shoulder and right knee are bothering me, taking some kind of pill from Turkey for it but not as good as ibuprofin. So for the first time in two months I have a hot bath. Luxury. Showers are quick and efficient but a hot bath is heavenly.
There is a bakery right next door so Jeff brings us coffee and cheese croissants, and we watch the news on BBC. I have a little nap and then we go out for a tapas supper. To a neighbourhood Tapas bar. I have a wineglass of beer and wish I had ordered a bigger one. The owner cuts us off a slice of ham from a big hanging ham, looks like a side of pork, it is good. The whole thing, plate of olives, some meatballs, bread, backbacon, salami type sandwiches was twelve euros. On budget. We stop at the bakery and eat our dessert in the hotel.
Our room is large and quiet, does not face the busy street, there are lots of towels in the bathroom, the linen is nice and the bed feels softer than the board I was sleeping on in Cristina's Residence, that bed was so hard.
Nov 23
We are going on the free three and a half hour walking tour at 11 am and tonight, when the galleries are free we will go to see Goya, Valesquez, Titian, el Greco and Picasso. The Prado is a world class museum and I am getting wiser and have our route all planned out. Las Meninas, Death of a Virgin and The Garden of Earthly Delights are on my must-see list, then on to the Reina Sofia to see Picasso and Dali. Guernica and Woman in Blue are my must sees there.

Alfred Adler said, 'The chief danger in life is that you may take too many precautions.'. Quitting my job, moving to Victoria and going on this trip may be a new leaf for me. Throw caution to the wind, life is short, reality will set in come January. 'Freedom's just another word for...nothing left to lose' ..... rock on Janis Joplin, your song is stuck in my head.
Well she didn't write the words, but her version is great.
TRYP Washington Hotel does not include breakfast but has a good coffee machine and is walking distance to Mayor Square. Right next door is a nice deli restaurant/bar with good and cheap food and we are eating a lot of tapas, appetizer type food, so are on budget.
Yesterday on the plane from Rome I set my watch ahead an hour. So today we were an hour early for the free walking tour because the time did not change. We started out in Mayor Square which is all set up as a Christmas market. During the Spanish Inquisition they used to kill people right under Mayor Square. The Spanish Inquisition gets a bad rap though, as in 350 years they killed, at most, 3000 people. Various methods were used, one was the garotte, a wire placed around the neck, tighter, tighter.
The last time Spain used this less than humane method was, can you believe this: 1974.
1492 was a banner year in Spain, they got rid of the Moors (muslims from northern Africa), Columbus rediscovered America and the Spanish Inquisition started. One reason Spain has such good pork and ham is a result of this. To prove they had converted to Christianity the moors and Jews remaining in Spain would hang up legs of pork. Now there are numerous delis and tapas bars with hams hanging in rows.
Hams behind the bar

Hams behind the bar

The Austrian empire ruled Spain for centuries and the Hapsbergs were the royal family. To keep the bloodline royal they would marry their cousins. Finally they produced a king and heir who had numerous health problems, and besides being mentally retarded was also impotent so then the Bourbans took over.
Palace in Madrid

Palace in Madrid

We saw the oldest restaurant where Hemingway and Goya hung out. We did not dine there, but we did have paella for lunch. Very good.
The weather is good, lots of buskers, street entertainment, etc. How do they do this:
Tonight, 23 November, we spent three hours looking at art. At the Prado, saw all the works I listed and also Raphael's The Cardinal.
The Reina Sofia took the longest as it doesn't have as good of a map and list of favourites like the Prado. Besides The Woman in Blue and the Spanish Civil War Guernica masterpiece we saw Dali's Woman at the Window and several other works including Picasso's Woman with a Handkerchief Crying and Table With Musical Instruments.
We have now seen enough art to hold us for awhile. What is so amazing about these galleries is how close you can get to the paintings. You are close enough to touch them. And both are free in the evenings. Amazing. We just saw the highlights, it would take a whole day to see everything.
My favourite for some reason was The Cardinal. It was small and very vivid. Of course, Rome was loaded with Raphael but for some reason this painting was so personal, probably because you could get right up to it, so close.
The weather has been wonderful. People are still sitting on patios and outdoor cafes. They do provide a kind of fake fur blanket at some. Pansies are blooming. A lot of deciduous trees still have green leaves but the maples have turned to gold and lots of leaves crunch underfoot.the
The subway system in Madrid is great. Second only to Stockholm on this trip. People speak with a lisp. Grathiouth.
The streets are alive at night. Old, young, all walking around, eating in tapas bars, going out, kids on skateboards doing ollies off ancient steps, two words that are important here, siesta and manana.
The siesta gives them the energy to eat late and stay up to enjoy a visit. Supper starts at nine pm, friends meet up at 11 pm, the clubs are open all night, hot chocolate and churros in the early morning, energy to get back home.
Starting tomorrow we will be teaching English as volunteers. We have been accepted by Vaughantown to participate in their program. In return we will receive free upscale lodgings and meals for five days at the ElRancho resort near Segovia. This works for us because our trip is lengthy and Spain was on our itinerary. 17 Anglos and 15 Spanish will spend time together speaking English. English must be your first language to qualify as a volunteer. We learned about this on the internet completely by accident and decided to register.
24 Nov - We do not have to check out of TRYP Washington (near Spanya station in Madrid) til noon, so we sleep in. This is Saturday. We move hotels today and since we missed the hotel's laundry service yesterday we must do laundry. We are going to be with the same thirty odd people for six days so we need to start out clean. At noon we trundle off on the subway with our packs and get off at Via and by 130 we have located the laundromat. It was not that far from the station, just hard to find. We asked for directions a few times and did a bit of sightseeing along the way.
Almudena Cathedral is a newer church, started in 1882 and completed in 1993 it gives a whole new meaning to manana. In front of the Cathedral you can see the old city wall from the ninth century.
Madrid Cathedral and old city wall

Madrid Cathedral and old city wall

When we finally arrived at the laundromat we threw our jackets in with everything else, they have not been washed since we left home.
We drink take-out coffee and eat pastries while we wait.
A lady from Boston, of Japanese decent, strikes up a conversation so the time passes quickly. She is in Madrid to take flamenco lessons. She tells us the highest quality flemenco shows are in Madrid. The shows in Saville are very geared to tourists. Who knew? She gave us some good suggestions of where the best flamenco dancers could be viewed, quite close to this laundromat actually. I will try to book tickets for next Friday. Flamenco is really popular in Japan.
At three our laundry is all packed up, two trains to Eurohotel in the embassy district, by now it is four and the tapas reception is at 5. This is the most expensive place we have stayed in, 77 Canadian. It is a suite. Huge. Living room, dining area, six closets, mirrors everywhere, cute little kitchen. Bigger than my last apartment, on the thirteenth floor, great view. Now I dye my hair. I am not about to meet 30 strangers with an inch of grey roots. The fact that I traipsed across a continent this way didn't bother me.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 13:56 Archived in Spain Tagged art history budget backpacking Comments (0)

Cordoba and Seville, Spain

sunny 14 °C

Cordoba is 244 miles south of Madrid. It is the capital city of the province of Cordoba, in the region of Andalusia. We arrived on the AVE, high speed train from Madrid, at 917 pm on 30 November. Travel time was just under two hours.
Note that we sometimes in English refer to this as Cordova. Locals can not distinguish between the ‘b’ and the ‘v’ sounds. Victoria, Bictoria, sounds the same to them,
Cordoba was founded by the Romans in 164 BC. Seneca, the Roman philosopher, was born here. The Moors, medieval muslims from North Africa, arrived in 711. Moorish Cordoba became the wealthiest, most opulent city IN THE KNOWN WORLD and was made capital of al-Andalus.
The territory of al-Andalus took in most of Spain, Portugal, Gibraltor and part of France.
In 1236 the Christian army from Castile took Cordoba. The Mosque, the most emblematic monument of the Spanish/Moorish culture, became a Christian church. Later a Cathedral was erected in the centre. It may be the third largest mosque in the world.
On one side of the Mezquita-Catedral is the Guadalquiver, Andalusia's largest river, and on the other side is our budget hotel. Great location. We walked across the Roman Bridge, built in the first century.
Puente Romano, Roman Bridge, Cordoba

Puente Romano, Roman Bridge, Cordoba

The streets are narrow and twisting in the old town. Numerous small souvenir shops selling tiles and flemenco style aprons. Lots of engraved leather, tooled leather, a craft passed down from the Moors.
We are adjusting from the four star hotel in Sagovia to this one??? star hotel and from our three course meals in a dining room with linen to tapas bar fare. Do not order pizza, it is nothing like pizza as we know it, not a drop of tomato sauce, the one we had as a quick meal option at midnight was awful. We are staying two nights at Los Patios right across the street from the mosque, the location is excellent, rate for room with twin beds and private bath including tax is 33 Euros per night, no breakfast.
Do order tortilla (egg and potato omelette), or paella, rice with saffron, vegetables and either meat or seafood. You cannot go wrong with these two dishes.
Tortilla in Cordoba

Tortilla in Cordoba

Now it is December 1. The days are short. Two words I know in Spanish. Manana and siesta. There are a lot of orange trees here. I think they make marmalade with the oranges, which are in season
There are a lot of orange trees in the courtyard of the mesquita.
On Dec 2 we move hotels in Cordoba. Los Patios is very well located and less than forty five dollars a night, but our room was just over an enclosed courtyard where food is served so two things, noisy and the window did not face the outside, it faced the overview of the courtyard. Not good for me, I like quiet and the opportunity to see blue sky and the streetscape. So this turns out to be a one star, very good reviews by the way, and we are moving to Cordoba Centro, a three star, for only a few dollars more. 35 Euros per night.
Salmorejo is the signature dish of Cordoba. It is a cold soup, some similarities to gazpacho, they both have pureed tomatoes, did I say that? However, it is made differently, has a garnish of ham and chopped hard boiled egg and it is good.
Signature dish of Cordoba

Signature dish of Cordoba

We had hot chocolate with cake doughnuts while waiting to check in. This is Sunday. Our room is nicer, has a big window, therefore, lots of chilly air comes in through the glass. Nice heavy draperies though so ok, if I peak through the drapes, the sun is shining and the sky is blue.
I had bull's tail and veggies for supper. It looked like a whole pot roast on my plate, lots of potatoes, but actually was not all meat, of course. The meat was tender and flavourful, I do not know if the bull was killed in the ring. Ole.

We toured the mosque (Mezquita) on 3 Dec, it is huge, converted to a Christian church, has a massive pipe organ which was played for a time while we were there. The mosque interior is free to the public between 830 and 930 am. You must arrive well before 930 though or you will not be given access. Very impressive by the way, it has 856 pillars. We are heading out for Seville today ( Monday), by train.
Cordoba has a population of 325,000.

We caught the 1255 pm high speed train from Cordoba to Saville on Monday 3 Dec 2012.
The AVE can reach speeds of 280 km per hour.
We arrived in Seville at 140 and were soon checked in to our 'boutique hotel", very clean twin room with private bath, friendly staff, no breakfast but well located and it costs 32 Euros a night, Callejon del Aqua..
A short walk, lunch at a tapas bar, stroll around the neighbourhood and then at 645 pm set out for the only flamenco museum in the world which happens to back onto our hotel.


We wanted to see a flamenco show, and with a twenty percent off coupon which I stumbled upon in the 'The Tourist' magazine, we got tickets for 16 euros apiece. The set up was intimate, three rows back from the stage, a singer, a guitar player, a female and a male dancer.

When i was about five my grandfather gave me a little plastic doll, maybe six inches high. She came in a clear cellulose tube with her name printed right on the container. Carmelitta. She had long black hair, done up in a twist, and a bright red satin dress with ruffles in the long skirt and she was soon removed from her home in the tube. She was constantly waving as one rigid arm was permanently held over her head. Her other arm was behind her back and she carried a little fan. She was a sultry observer to my games of hopskotch and jacks. When I attempted to give her a new hairdo, her fine raven coils let go from her head and now Carmelitta was bald. My mother tried to glue her hair back on, but she was never the same.

In the first dance the female wore a black long sleeve pullover and black ruffled skirt. I was engaged by the hand movements, the clapping, finger snapping and the intricate footwork as well as the interaction with the male dancer who looked like Gene Wilder crossed with Nickolas Cage in tight pants and a bolero.

In the second number the female dancer wore a long red dress, ruffles, a train. Carmelitta had come to life with rooted hair. There was passion, turmoil, salvation, determination.
She was fierce, defiant, beaten, triumphant, omg she was every woman, the tears were streaming down my cheeks. I do not know if I got it....sort of shades of The Tin Soldier and the one legged ballerina, forgive me Hans Christian Anderson!! but if flamenco is music, dance, rhythm and that something else that has no name, then for me this was a moment. As my tears dried and pulled on the skin of my cheeks, I pondered this.
Seville is the beating heart of flamenco which was created by gypsies after they arrived in Andalucia in the fifteenth century. It is believed they came from a region in northern India called Sid, now in Pakistan. Guitar music and the tapping of feet were added later, and many cultures including Castillian and Arabic contributed. Fusion music and dance.
Seville, el flamenco

Seville, el flamenco

4 December
A fine sunny day, good weather for the free walking tour that started from the square near the giroldo/cathedral at 11 am. Our boutique hotel is well situated, walking distance to everything we plan to see, no central heat, very drafty. So I slept in two jackets and with my hood up, not cool. I was frozen. Note to hotel owners:. If you provide a hair dryer and a lousy space heater the hair dryer may be used as a heat source. In the morning as I bent my stiff fingers around my toothbrush I had a eurica moment and used the hair dryer to thaw out my hands. Then I shot hot air up the sleeves of my jackets, warmed up a scarf, and wearing four long sleeve tops, a fleece and a jacket set out. It was warmer outside.
First we booked our bus tour to Morrocco, leaves from Tarifa, three nights in a four star hotel in Marakesh, stops in Rabat, fine. Company name is Calin, we found it online and totally coincidentally their office is a block from our hotel.
Churros and Hot Chocolate

Churros and Hot Chocolate

La Giralda was converted to a steeple from the original minaret. When the Christians added the Giradillo, a weathervane shaped like a woman, atop a Rennaissance style belfry, the giralda reached almost one hundred metres. There are 35 ramps to climb to the top. When the Moors used the minaret the muezzin, the guy who did the call to prayer five times a day, road a horse or donkey to the top. When the Christians took over the only part of the mosque they retained was the towering minaret and then they built the largest gothic cathedral in Europe around it.
Near the converted mosque is the alcazar, fortified palaces with orange groves in the courtyard. Clever little canals in the brick pavement provide irrigation.
Queen Isabel was married to Fernando, her cousin, a marriage based on convenience. Fernando was impotent and Isabel lusty. It is speculated she had an affair with Christopher Columbus. She had a sewing house in Seville where she sewed one month a year. In seven years she managed to sew one dress.
Christopher Columbus is buried in the Cathedral. He died thinking he had discovered the passage to India via the West Indies. He may have brought an std back to Spain, it is said Fernando had syphyllis and that stds came to Europe from America.
All of the potatoes, gold, cocao brought back from America came through Saville, a tax was levied from the gold tower. Tiles on the roof of the gold tower sparkle in the sun. Torre del Oro was built as a defensive tower in the thirteenth century, its arabic name, Bury Al Daheb means golden tower. Now it is Saville's Naval Museum.
The Golden Tower

The Golden Tower

When the Christians defeated the Moors all residents were expected to convert to Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition looked after this.
The Plaza Espana was built in 1929 in a kind of semi circle facing west like an embrace to the Americas. It was not the huge tourist draw anticipated due to the financial collapse on Wall Street. Today it is the most appealing square in Seville, five degrees warmer than the rest of the city. The temperature is about forteen degrees C today, but the humidity is high. It must be an oven in July.
A lovely city park, Parqe MariaLuisa, is adjacent to the Plaza Espanya, still green in early December.
The University of Seville used to be a tobacco factory and it was the setting for Carmen. (Carmen was a beautiful gypsy, worked at the tobacco factory, she seduced a French soldier who was guarding the factory so she could smuggle out tobacco and sell it on the black market, Napolean was running the show at the time, had an affair with a bull fighter, the soldier wasn't happy, etc).
Across the river from the Golden Tower is the district of Triana, the birthplace of flamenco. In the old days there was no bridge connecting Seville with Triana, Seville was rich, poorer people like the gypsies lived in Triana.
Note if you want to take flamenco lessons go to Japan. They have over 2000 schools of flamenco.
Spanish includes over 10000 words derived from arabic. The Moors ran the show for 700 years and their influence is apparent in the architecture, the cuisine and the language. Any word starting with al is arabic origin, alcazar, for example.
Right across from the town hall is a park with a statue of the Duchess of Alba. She is currently famous for marrying a man thirty years younger, if you see her picture you will decide to grow old gracefully, google her. She is extremely rich and has a lot of special privileges. For example she can enter the cathedral in a horse and buggy, has more titles than the queen of England, quite an intriguing old girl. She is something like 85 years old, her new husband is in his early fifties. Love match.
There was a demonstration at the Town Hall, seemed pretty peaceful, clapping and singing, several police on the scene. If they were civil servants wanting more money they do not have much public support with unemployment over 25 percent.
It cost seventy euro each from Madrid to Cordoba, 19.50 e each from Cordoba to Seville this was a deal, reg price on AVE is 35 and 18.50 from Seville to Tarifa by bus.

We eat several times in a tapas bar a few blocks from our hotel. I like the tortilla, served cold in a pie shaped wedge with a dollop of mayo maybe its aioli on the side and Russian Salad, potato salad with tuna. This bar closes for some hours in the evening, reopening at eight pm. Good for a late lunch or late supper. Tapas are like appetizers, we make a meal of them. In Granada the tapas are free with your drink, not so common in Seville. But at two euro each you can have a nice supper for eight euro.
Shopping - hair combs, fans, Lladros, tiles, shoes and leather.

Seville has a population of about 700,000.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 13:38 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Lisbon Portugal

sunny 16 °C

Portuguese is a Romance language, also spoken in Brazil. In fact at one time, in the early 1800s, during the Napoleonic Wars, Rio de Janeiro was the capital of the Portuguese empire. But I digress. Lisbon is the capital today.

I am pretty much awake when we arrive in Lisbon by bus from Seville an hour ahead of schedule at 430 am on Dec 11. Nothing is open, the buses aren't running yet or the metro, there is nowhere to sit inside. The bus station has an open air roof, drafty.
We share a cab with a nice Portuguese guy, Dino, and hang out with him for a few hours at the main train station, he is catching the 8 o'clock train, going home for Christmas. Here they have coffee machines and seats inside and it is warm.

We cab it over to our hotel at nine, they let us in, we crawl into our beds and try to warm up. At three we find a restaurant and eat our first proper meal in two days. I have steak and an egg, this is served with both rice and fries, and a beer. We try the custard tart and it is good, tomorrow I will have that with hot chocolate.
It sucks to be sick in a foreign country, but things are looking up. We are staying at la Botica, a nice big room, wifi, tv with lots of English channels, the heater works, clean, three star, thirty euros a night. In Canadian funds this is a little under forty dollars a night at the current exchange rate. We have been using hotelscombined and booking.com and getting good hotel rates. Right off a very nice street, Ave de Liberdade, where the rich people shop, quite a steep three block climb from that street and transit, likely explains the price.
Very nice staff, they rush to open the door for you, things like that. Bonus, it has an elevator, we are on their third floor, we would call it four. The main floor is 0, etc etc. The elevator has a door that you pull open and holds three small adults.

There is free port in the lobby for new guests but I refrained, can't explain it, just never felt like a glass of port when it was available. Darn. Port, Portugal, fortified wine - I like it better than wine actually. Not being a wine aficiondo, kudos to those who are though. We can walk to Rossio Square from here and there are a lot of restaurants in the area.

Portugal is hurting financially also, Dino told us the people are depressed, something is going to give, maybe on Dec 21. I am glad we are back in Canada by then, I would like to see these folks in the good times, they seem to be always talking and laughing, but likely the depressed people stay home.
In 1997 South Korea was bankrupt. Look at them now. Things change. South Korea paid back their loan to the IMF something like three years early. The citizens donated their jewellry and actually impacted (lowered) the price of gold back then to get their country back on its feet.
One other example. Iceland's crisis in 2008. They took a novel approach and let the banks fail.

Dec 11 -
Lisboa, Lisbon, has the best climate in Europe.
Sunny and temperate. Average temperature in December is fourteen degrees C. What a lucky break, ending our trip here.
We are going on the free walking tour, great way to get oriented.
Lisbon is built on seven hills and is situated on a wide salt water river, the Tagus, at a strategic point where it intersects with the Atlantic Ocean. The longest bridge in Europe spans the Tagus, the Vasco de Gama.
Lisbon, older than Rome or London, safe harbour.

Safe Harbour

Safe Harbour

Allis Ubbo is safe harbour in Phoenician and it is believed they settled here in the 12th century BC.
St Vincent is Lisbon's patron saint, it is said crows protected his body so it could be returned safely to Lisbon, following his death by torture. Lisbon's colours are black and white,
Black for the robes of St Vincent, white for the robes of the Crusadors.

On Nov 1, 1755 Lisbon suffered severe damage from an earthquake followed by a tsunami followed by a fire that burned for five days. It was All Saints Day, the churches were full, candles were burning. The estimated death toll was between 10,000 - maybe as high as 100,000, considered the deadliest earthquake in history, felt as far away as Italy and Denmark.
85 percent of Lisbon was destroyed. The king decided to rebuild the city with wide, straight avenues, according to the latest fashion. Lisbon, therefore, is not a medieval city, although there are still medieval neighbourhoods. The roofless Convent of Carmo stands tribute to the earthquake, naked arches against the skyline, never restored.
Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon has the fanciest metro stations. The subway tiles look amazing. The transit system includes trams, a ferry and an elevator. Santa Justa Lift. The purpose of the 45 metre elevator is to bring people from the lower lying streets to Carmo Square. Designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel its appearance has similarities to another famous tower.
Not the Eiffel Tower

Not the Eiffel Tower

While waiting for our tour at Rossio Square Jeff was approached twice, marijuana or cocaine? The guides say they are selling fake drugs.

After our 2 hour tour we walked up a few steep side streets to a mom and pop restaurant, no name, just number 99 on the door and a chalkboard menu outside.
European style we were seated with another customer, nobody spoke English, the menu was in Portuguese. Jeff had a wonderful bowl of soup, the rolls were large and fresh, I ordered fried sardines or some small fish with saffron rice and we got the best tomato salad, so flavourful.
I ordered a glass of red wine for eighty cents and got a whole pitcher of very good wine, keep in mind I am not a connoisseur. I tried to give some to the other lady at our table, I hate waste but could not drink all of it, I had to walk back down that hill. We had coffee too, a nice experience, thirteen euro, a bargain. I am wondering why the tomatoes are so much better here than at home. Maybe they use heritage seed.
The lucky thing about me is that I am not a picky eater. Or a connoisseur. So long as it looks and tastes relatively fresh, I can eat/drink most things put in front of me.
13 Dec - another sunny day, warm enough to sit at an outdoor cafe. We bought rechargeable transit cards at a machine at the subway station and took the ferry to the town across the river, Barreio.
The port for the ferry is just past Comercio Square, a huge waterfront square where the royal palace stood until the earthquake of 1755 destroyed it. Still it was here that King Carlos and his eldest son were assassinated in 1908.

Commercio Square is the largest and grandest square in Lisbon, bordered on three sides by arcaded yellow government buildings, bisected by the Triumphal Arch and home to the biggest Christmas tree in Europe. At 36,000 square metres, Commercio Square, or Terreiro de Paco is one of the largest squares in Europe.
Commercio Square Lisbon

Commercio Square Lisbon

In the evening we took in a Fado show at an atmospheric tavern in the district of Alfama, an area near the port that survived the earthquake, therefore narrow winding streets. Medieval structures still stand.
A classic guitar, a 12 string, lute-shaped Portuguese guitar and a singer are the basic ingredients. Fado was invented in Alfama, the wrong side of the tracks back then. The first identified fado singer was a prostitute. Songs of longing, rejection, lost love, sort of dramatic, performed in dim light, no spotlights, no talking during the performance, everyone is attentive, we clap loudly after each number. Four songs in a set, break, another set, we see one female singer and two males, this will go on from 10 pm til 3 am. We leave just before 1. Part of the Fado admission of fifteen euros included a jug of wine and green soup and chorrizo sausage which was flamed at the table.

In the afternoon we stopped for a coffee at an outdoor patio. I was admiring my purchases when the lady at the next table said, ‘do you speak English?’ Hey that is my line. She was Portuguese but had lived in Toronto for thirty years. She had travelled across the country singing......fado. She loved Canada but had returned to Portugal as her son and grandchild are here. In her estimation Portugal is worse now than when she left in the early seventies. Too many pickpockets now and small time thugs. She was feisty, likely eighty, well spoken, stylish, opinionated. Lina. We wished each other Merry Christmas and kissed both cheeks on a warm December afternoon 8348 kilometres from home. It was 17 degrees Celsius.

14 December - raining but not cold. We walked around Alfama and toured the Fado Museum. Really Fado was the music of the lower classes, ordinary people with tattoos and scars, sailors, pirates, guys in jail, songs made up on the spot, passed around, embellished and then the aristocrats and poets got involved and Fado became mainstream, then they put out Fado records, etc.
Salazar's fascist dictatorship which lasted from about 1932 to 1968 sanitized the fado and made it politically correct. The Revolution of the Carnations, a bloodless coup, ended the dictatorship in 1974.

Fado magic happens in a small, crowded bar, candles flickering, one guy playing classical guitar, another guy on Portuguese guitar, a lady with an alto soprano voice, the performers gather in a dark corner, the guys sit on chairs, the singer motions for the lights to be turned off, the patrons are drinking wine and beer, cigarette smoke is thick in the air, no stage, they are right beside us. We are sitting so close I could reach out and touch them, then a balding man with a grey moustache whispers a word to the guy on classical, a few chords are played, he surveys the small crowd, speaks, the guitars are playing along, this is all in spoken word, his voice rises and falls, he rolls his rrs with gusto, he is telling a story, biggest applause of the night, the audience was engaged, we were part of it, I don't know what he said but it was mesmerizing.

Saturday, the time is ticking down, it is a cloudy day but sixteen degrees, we are warmer here than in Spain, walk, shop, have cappuccino and custard tarts, admire the Christmas Lights on Rossio Square after dark, cab fare is cheap here we decide to take a cab back to the hotel,we have the hotel card with address to show the driver, he drops us off at the wrong hotel, we did not notice til we got out, this hotel is on a hill too, has a green hotel sign just like ours, we are somewhere??? Of course the driver took off the second we stepped out, now we walk, down though, at least it is not uphill, we have a map, the desk clerk at the wrong hotel gave us directions. I bet I walked 10 k today with a swollen knee, hope I can walk again tomorrow. Lisbon seems pretty safe, lots of other people walking, warm, wish we hadn't tipped the driver, likely further than if we had walked back from Rossio in the first place.
16 December - Day 88 of our adventure
Yes it was cloudy but the temperature was 16 degrees C. Since a lot of the museums are free on Sunday between 10 and 2 we got an early start. First walk down the hill to a cafe for cappuccino and custard tarts (pastel de nata). Then walk past Rossio to catch tram 15 to Belem. Just buying your ticket on the tram is expensive, two euro eighty-five.
Then there was an event up ahead so we had to walk the last ten minutes. Bonus. It was the changing of the guard at the pink palace, marching bands and cavalry, a great spectacle that we observed by sheer dumb luck.
This is the ULTIMATE changing of the guard. There are a couple of bands, they have dogs, they have horses, ninety people must be involved maybe two hundred. This only takes place one Sunday a month outside the President's residence, Belem Palace. Colourful, lively music, horses, guards, free - this is the best one we have seen by far!!

Better than the musical ride!

Better than the musical ride!

Then on to the church and Monastary of Jeronimus where Vasco de Gama is buried. The service was just finishing so we watched the guy playing the pipe organ, likely our last foray into a church for awhile. The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos dates from 1496. Then on to the museum of Modern Art, not our thing, but I was taken with the Christmas trees made of wine bottles.
The big 'Christmas Tree' in the Commercial Square is like a giant three sided triangle, as you walk by the tree films you like a tv screen. Interactive.
Around one pm it starts raining, we stop for a coffee and then continue to Torre de Belem, lots of stairs. The tower of Belem, a fortified tower about 100 feet tall, built in the 1500s on the north shore of the Tagus River in mainly manueline style from local limestone. It is a UNESCO world heritage site.
Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

We had lunch in Rossio Square, piripiri chicken, basically grilled chicken. Lots of grilled fish and meat in Lisbon.
If the waiter provides bread, a cheese tray, a bottle of water, anything you did not specifically order, do not eat it unless you intend to pay extra for it. It is a good idea to inquire if, whatever it is, comes with the meal. If not, then say simply, you can take it away.
Shopping - cheaper than Spain, buy shoes, boots, trinkets here, clothes, tablecloths, nativity scenes and religious icons, lots of rooster themed souvenirs if you like that type of thing. Buy port and olive oil.
The rooster is an unofficial symbol of Portugal and is said to bring good luck.

Getting There
We traveled from Morocco to Spain then on to Portugal. We needed to be in Lisbon on 17 December for our flight home.
9 Dec - long van ride from Marrekesh to Tangier, arrived in Tarifa around 630 pm, the time changes, we started out at 7 am and we both have the chills, coughs. So go to our hostel and do not leave, just wrap up in blankets and I dream that we are in Egypt. Turns out we have to go back to Seville on the bus and the trip into Portugal is going to get us into Faro at 2 am.
10 Dec - I finally crawl out of bed to take an ibuprofin, decide I might warm up in a hot bath, crawl back into bed, something kicks in and by 10 we are drinking caffe con leche, pronounced cafay con lechay, coffee with milk. They have good coffee here and excellent hot chocolate.

We trundle our packs down to the bus station,18.50e each to Seville, leaves at 1230. The bus to Portugal doesn't leave Seville til midnight, this is likely different in the summer. We decide to go to Lisbon, forget Faro, at least we will arrive at a more civilized time. When the sun goes down it is chilly, this bus station as well as the restaurants and bars leave their doors open and it is a damp kind of chill. Now we are in toques with our hoods up, freezing, I wish I had bought that blanket in Morocco. We huddle together at the station, I have booked a hotel, we can sleep all day tomorrow. Finally it is midnight, The bus is nice and warm, not crowded, things are pretty quiet til 2 am and then the driver turns up the radio and we are jolted awake by bon Jovi's I Want to Lay You Down on a Bed of Roses, yes I am relating now to the bed of nails part, oh but here is Sarah McLachlan with The Arms of the Angels, the driver did not seem to understand me when I asked about where to sit so I marvel about him listening to these lyrics in English.
We walked back to our hotel, admiring the wide avenues, the designs of black and tan cobblestones in the walkways and squares, the rain had stopped, lots of people out walking, enjoying a drink at a sidewalk cafe, we decide Lisbon makes our top ten must visit European cities. Obrigado. Thank you. Obrigada.

Getting there

It is hard to believe that our adventure is almost over. When I get back home to Victoria I will have traveled almost 31,000 Km (19,000 miles), walked 890 km and visited 17 countries for the first time. At 63 I backpacked across a continent, taking in a bit of Asia and North Africa as well as Europe. I could not have been an extreme budget traveler without the support of my son. Choose your travel companion wisely, I did. Also, you cannot go everywhere in 90 days. We chose places we had never been. We found places we would like to revisit. It has been unbelievable, memorable, incredible, wonderful.
We could, in fact, have spent less than fifty dollars a day, had we done a few things differently. If I can do it, anybody can do it. The budget airlines in Europe make travel very affordable for Europeans and we too can take advantage of this type of travel once we get there. We did use Couch Surfing for seven nights, others could use it more extensively. For us, it was just the right amount. If you want to travel but think you cannot afford it, think again.
A journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 13:25 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Stockholm Sweden

semi-overcast 15 °C

Hej, we are in Sweden.
On the flight between Heathrow and Arlanda I sat next to a guy who appeared to be chewing snus. Snus (pronounced snoose) is more popular in Sweden than smoking and over ten percent of the men chew it. So I suspected he was Swedish. After a brief chat I learned that he was, indeed, from Stockholm. He taught me four words, please, thank you, hello and something else that I now forget. In fact, I only remembered two words, hello and thank you.
And that was all we needed.
Hello is Hej, pronounced Hey as in Hey dude, only without the dude part.
Thank you is Tak pronounced tuck rhymes with luck.
So I approach people and say Hey, pause, "Do you speak English" and they do. The Swedes switch over to English as quick as you please, without batting an eye, very little accent, very fluent. It is so smooth. I am amazed at their grasp of English and of ordinary phrasal verbs and slang. They say it is because anything in English like tv shows or movies, are broadcast in English with Swedish subtitles. This would include cartoons, so kids pick up the English.
We arrived in Stockholm at 825 pm, and found our way to the central station by bus, then took the subway system to the appropriate stop for our bed and breakfast. We took a few minor wrong turns but by eleven pm we were standing outside an apartment building, arguing mildly when a man and dog came out.
Petra, our hostess, had emailed that her brother was going to meet us at the apartment so I took a chance, "Hej, do you know Petra?" I asked and what do you know, this is Petra's brother. We are at the right place. So up we go to the large apartment and he shows us our room and the two common area bathrooms and explains that Petra is in Paris so she asked him to look after us as her husband is a taxi driver and works nights.
This bed and breakfast is through Airbnb, I booked two nights a long time ago, about seventy seven Canadian dollars a night which, for Stockholm, is very reasonable.
Well, it wasn't the welcome I had imagined before I learned that Petra would not be home, a warm hug, coffee and fresh cinnamon buns in a cozy kitchen, talking about cats and gardening. But her brother Hagar was very lively, talking a mile a minute with a Swedish-American accent. He told us he loved Jesus right off the bat. What do you figure, in a country where ten percent of the population go to church and most of them are Lutheran, what are the odds? He explained that he had been in Scientology, seems to have been a falling out, that he drinks a lot of special water that has the PH balanced, look, they have a machine. Over the course of two hours we heard a lot about water along with other tidbits such as the special water had cured him from drinking alcohol so now all he did was speed and prescriptions. I suggested he should try using the water to get off speed and he was enthusiastic about the idea.
Finally, after consuming about five glasses of the water, it was good and seemed to make me thirsty, I retreated to the bedroom which was right off the kitchen. We had travelled five thousand kilometres over fifteen hours, including the three hour layover in London.
Hagar and Jeff went to the living room so they wouldn't disturb me and the sound was somewhat muffled after that. Jeff begged off after another hour and then during the night got lost on his way from the bathroom and ended up sleeping on the living room couch til I woke him in the morning. What are you doing here? Well, they must think we are kind of weird as well!!
During the night I was thinking, maybe there was no Petra. Maybe Hagar was a psychopath and he lured people to a bed and breakfast with a picture of a pleasant middle aged woman who looked like she baked and made good coffee. Maybe the water was spiked and we were going to be drugged, murdered, and disappear forever.
In the morning light the apartment was large and cheerful, even though Jeff did run into Hagar in his speedo underwear in the kitchen at 830 am, but he was only getting another glass of water and went back to bed. No sign of breakfast. Jeff to mom - Let's get out of here.
We were tripping over each other to get out before anybody else woke up so started our day at nine am.
21 Sept 2012
The day is sunny, we buy a twenty four hour transit pass and off we go to Gamla Stan (old town). The subway system is easy to follow. We walk around the old town, admiring the narrow, twisty, cobbled streets, the tiny shops and cafes, the people. There are still lots of tourists, but families are out as well, pushing prams, walking dogs. Most of the streets are pedestrian only, and we noticed wherever we walked that pedestrians had the right of way. On the main sidewalks there are bicycle lanes and lots of people are riding bikes, even though it is definitely fall weather.
Gamla Stan, the cobbled, medieval section of Stockholm, dates back to the thirteenth century. The narrowest alley is less than a meter wide. The main square is called Storgorget.

This is Stockholm

This is Stockholm

The Nobel Museum, the Royal Palace and Stockholm Cathedral are located in Gamla Stan.
We paid six dollars Canadian for a coffee in the old town so that we could hook up to Wifi and the wifie didn't work so that was disappointing. While we were there a beggar came in and very quietly asked for money, good English too. People are so quiet here, even the beggars are quiet. A lot of them are out on the street kneeling, with their head on the ground, a money dish right in front of their forehead. I shouldn't say a lot, there were only about three that I noticed as we walked around the old town and the newer shopping area.

Stockholm Gamla Stan

Stockholm Gamla Stan

I have my Blackberry Playbook along, it works as both a camera and a computer and is small. We have no cell phone. After a time we end up going to MacDonalds, yes, that is bad, but they do have free wifi and coffee was cheaper. The MacDonalds is packed, but we can still sit and talk, people talk quietly, laugh quietly, I swear to God the babies cry so softly you can barely hear them. I would have heard Jeff if he had whispered across the table.
Stockholm is built on 14 islands, hence it is sometimes called the Venice of the North.

We had been reading the outdoor posted menus, quite expensive, but we noticed at one establishment, a kind of nice restaurant/bar, that lunch was cheaper after one thirty. So we went there and enjoyed a salad bar, coffee, and Swedish Meatballs and lingonberries, satisfying and filling as there was also mashed potatoes. The coffee is strong and good. We have decided that we will eat one kind of authentic meal for sure in each country. Tick, we have done Sweden.

Our twenty four hour transit pass included a boat ride to Skepsholm Island where the Museum of Modern Art and Architecture is located so we took the ferry over and enjoyed a nice walk looking at all the boats before going to the Architecture Museum which is free. There was a fun outdoor park on Skepsholm Island with colourful, lifelike??? sculptures.
Park in Stockholm

Park in Stockholm

We got back to our B and B after nine and Petra's husband was there, breakfast was laid out for the next morning, he chatted with us pleasantly until he had to go to work.
22 Sept - this is Saturday, we eat a good breakfast of dark bread, coffee, different cheeses, a tube of caviar which we didn't try, and then headed out with our packs which we put into a locker at the Central Station. We went to the changing of the guard. Note, check the schedule, it changes depending on the day of the week and the season.

The royal palace has 1430 rooms, one of the largest in the world and is still in use as offices and for official meetings. The royal family does not actually live here.
Following this free, about 40 minute event, we people watched, walked around Gamla Stan and eventually took a bus to the Viking Line Ferry - we are crossing to Finland overnight and have a cabin.

I love Stockholm. The people are so polite. Nothing is noisy. The people appear animated, talking, visiting, but not shouting or screeching with laughter. When that happens it is likely a tourist and I notice that they seem to tone down to the environment. What an incredibly civilized place and how wonderful that we started our European tour here!! We have been to Norway and Denmark in the past but either of these countries would be a good starting off point as well. Starting here, it kind of eases us in, old buildings, unknown city, foreign language all around but easy to communicate in English from coffee shops to transit workers, they all speak English fluently and graciously. The money is the Swedish kroner.
The medieval old town, the changing of the guard at the impressive royal palace, the canals, the "Venice of the North," all pale in comparison to the linguistic ability and civility of the Swedish people. Our time here was short but I will never regret visiting Stockholm.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 13:12 Archived in Sweden Tagged boats castle budget backpacking airbnb medieval_old_town Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 20) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 »