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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)

Rome, Italy and Vatican City on a Budget

sunny 22 °C

18 November.
Rome, the eternal city, built on seven hills, located on the Tiber River, the capital of Italy is home to almost three million people and has been in existance since 730 BC.
We are going on the free walking tour which in my mind is at the Spanish Steps at eleven am. We walk four blocks from our hostel to the central train station and buy metro tickets, they are one euro fifty each and good for over an hour. The train is packed. We get off at Spanya station, find the Spanish steps and wait around. Really busy, all kinds of people taking pictures and we take pictures too. Today is Sunday.
The Spanish Steps

The Spanish Steps

It is not cold but you need a light jacket and it is overcast so the pictures will look dreary. A band comes marching into the square, looks like the Salvation Army, it is all quite jolly. Rome is a hilly city, thus the need for the steps to get to the church at the top.
The Spanish Steps should have been called the French Steps as the church at the top is a French church and France paid for the steps. But the Spanish Embassy must be here and also Keats used to live right next door and now there is a Keats and Shelley museum just to the right as you face the Spanish Steps. There is also a fountain with a statue of a ship at the bottom of the steps and a nice picture taking opportunity. There are all kinds of underground springs feeding the fountains and the water is suppose to be good but I am not taking any chances and stick with bottled water.
band playing by Spanish Steps

band playing by Spanish Steps

At ten past eleven I dig out our notebook and discover the tour started at ten but there is another one at four. OK. All is not lost. We climb to the top of the Spanish steps (156 but who is counting?) and take some pictures, then walk around. The first coffee shop we come to is a definite stop and we enjoy a cappuccino, I like a good coffee to start my day. Expensive, though, when you sit outside, cheaper if you have it inside, likely standing which is not my favourite thing as I like to sit down and rest when I get the chance. I am sixty three and being a backpacking budget tourist is really exhausting.
So we look at the map and decide we will see the Trevi Fountain and all the sights along the way. We walk down the street where all the expensive stores are, Gucci, Prada, etc and I take a few pictures of things I will never wear, or own and really who cares. We get to the Tiber River and snap a few shots, and when we are close to Trevi fountain, stop for a quick lunch of pizza and sandwich and water, shared.
The Trevi Fountain is really spectacular, crowded with people, but there are seats along the wall and we score a spot and sit awhile enjoying the view and the idea, here we are at the sight where so many people have been, movies have been shot here, people have cavorted in the fountain and we throw in coins and take pictures like everybody else.
Trevi Fountain

Trevi Fountain

Now we walk to the Borghese Park which is a city park next to the Borghese Mansion. We take a circuitous route and by the end of the day we for sure will have walked ten k if not ten miles. There are some tremendous views of the city and lots of people are walking, we make our way back to the Spanish Steps, walk down 156 steps, and wait for the four oclock tour which we never did find. Oh well, I really do not know if I was up to a two hour walking tour that would have ended at six pm and we would have staggered home in the dark. As it is I am complaining at the metro when we take the wrong door out, I do not want to walk one extra step. We stop at the grocery store and buy instant cappucinno for the morning and also little dixie cups of gelato. Yummy. Back in the room, eating my gelato, savouring it, I feel rejuvinated. Tomorrow is another day, maybe I will sleep well tonight and tomorrow we will go to the Colosseum. I think we did quite well today, saw some sights, got a good handle on how the subway system works, walked in a city park with Roman families pushing prams and leading dogs on leashes, no rain, a fine day.
November 19 2012
We flew out of Calgary two months ago, Sept 19.
We have been to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and now we are in Italy.

A note about Calgary, Europeans know it first for the Flames, second for the Olympics and third for the Stampede which they seem to think is barbaric.

Have you been to the Colosseum?? Built to seat 75,000 spectators, up to 65,000 people would be given free passes to watch gladiators duke it out. During the half time show they killed Christians. It would have been quite a spectacle, there are elevators built in to bring the animals, maybe lions, onto the stage from underground cages.
The Colosseum

The Colosseum

The admission to the colosseum includes the Forum and Palentine Hill and costs 12.50 euros but we bought a Rome pass which includes free admission to two museums and unlimited rides on the metro for three days. Costs thirty euro and saves a lot of time if you are taking the train. Also you bypass the line up at the Colosseum.

We spent at least four hours walking around these sights, maybe a total of one hour sitting. Then we went to the museum near by, more recent history, wars of independence, emigration, first world war, etc and numerous stairs of the Vittoriano which are worth it for the views of Rome from the terraces. This is a stunning building, very white with many statues outside, really dominates the landscape and is not well liked by residents apparently but us tourists just love it.

Rome was not on my bucket list but it should have been. Tick. I don't have a bucket list but going to Turkey was a vague kind of goal. Tick. Tuscany was not even on my radar until I noticed Siena was close to Rome. Then as it turned out our cheapest flight from Izmir to Italy brought us to Bologna, therefore to Florence and into Tuscany.
From Palentine Hill

From Palentine Hill

It has rained during the night and a bit of gentle rain in the late afternoon today, but still quite warm, the roses are blooming on Palentine Hill and the oranges are hanging on the trees, they are in season here too. Not exactly shirtsleeve weather but a light fleece jacket is enough and you can still sit outside and enjoy a coffee or a wine at an outdoor cafe. Actually it feels a bit like spring, but the leaves are starting to turn. I have seen more maple leaves in Europe than I ever see at home in western Canada. Here they cover the sidewalks on some streets, all golden colour. In Finland they were shades of red, maybe because it is colder there. However, the trees that signify Rome to us are the striking umbrella pines.
Umbrella Pines in Rome

Free Walking Tour - Bernini's Fountain, Vatican City

Most major European cities have a free, donation accepted, walking tour. We find them informative, a good orientation, an interesting introduction.
The walking tour usually lasts about two hours and the distance covered could be four kilometres, you start out at one point and finish somewhere else. On the Rome walking tour the starting point is near the Spanish steps and on the Vatican walking tour the finishing point is St Peter's Square.

OK this is Tuesday and we finally got on the free walking tour. First it turns out that it does not operate on Sunday so we wasted a fair amount of time on Sunday hanging around the Spanish steps looking for the tour.
Then we were all set to take it Monday but for the first time on this trip I slept in and we did not get going til after ten. So we missed it. We did think we might hook up with the four pm tour but after all those hours at the Colosseum, etc we just could not take a walking tour plus we would have had to rush to finish up at the Forum.
So today we made it to the Spanish Steps and could not see any tour. Wow. This was bad. Then it turned out the tour starts by the Spanish Embassy which is just down the block and thank goodness we managed to participate.
After a brief stop at the Spanish steps we walked down the Fifth Avenue of Rome and looked at Prada through the windows. Then we stopped at Piazza Navona the baroque square with Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers which is every bit as impressive as the Trevi Fountain. We saw the Parliament Buildings also and the Shell Fountain.
The highlight of the walk was the Pantheon. Raphael is buried here. Also a bunch of kings. The cement dome is forty three meters wide and forty three meters tall, it has no windows as windows would jeopardize the integrity of the structure. Instead there is an opening of nine meteres round in the roof of the dome. This is the only source of light. When it rains it rains into the Pantheon but holes strategically placed in the floor carry the water away. The Pantheon is so well preserved even if the bronze from the columns out front was removed and recycled at St Peters Basilica and the white marble that covered the building inside and out has been removed. The Pantheon started out as a temple to some other gods but became a Christian church, therefore as in all of Rome, as a church, there is no admission.
inside the pantheon

inside the pantheon

well preserved in Rome

well preserved in Rome

We walked over the Tiber on the Angels Bridge, designed by Bernini. Two of the angels were done by Bernini, the rest by his school.

Angel's Bridge Rome

Angel's Bridge Rome

On the other side of the Bridge is Castel Sant Angela where the pope used to live. There is an old penitentiary in the basement. It is now a museum, the Pope having moved to the Vatican about 1929 when the Vatican became a separate state. We will tour the Castel Sant Angela museum tomorrow as our second use of the Rome Card which gives you two free entrances in Rome, but not in Vatican City.
Our guide brought us to St Peters Square and explained how the Pope did his Sunday greeting from the second window on the right and if the window was open you knew the Pope was in residence. In the summer he goes to his summer place.
We tipped the guide, had our apple juice and a snack sitting on a bench in St Peters square and then went to find the Vatican Museum which turned out to be quite a hike.
Vatican Museum - The line-up was non existent, it was now about half past noon so we went through the security entrance and bought our tickets: fifteen euro each. We went to see Raphaels work including his masterpiece the School of Athens.
The School of Athens

The School of Athens

The colours are so vivid in Raphael's paintings it is like the figures are three dimensional and the book, for example, is coming out of the wall. There are corridors of sculptures and I took some pictures of feet to prove my point from Florence that the feet and everything else are really detailed even though they are carved from marble. There are maps, antiquities, tapestries, paintings, sculptures, it is huge. We did not look at everything and pretty much skipped over the modern stuff.

Then we headed into the Sistine Chapel and were amazed by the Michelangelo paintings on the ceiling and walls, other artists are represented here as well.
We did manage to get out the right hand door as suggested by Rick Steves and all kinds of other travel posts. We could not find a tour group to hook up with but just headed out when nobody was looking and this exit put us very close to St Peters Basilica where St Peter is suppose to be buried. We have already seen the burial spot of Saint John in Selcuk (Turkey) and really that was pretty much a thrill.
St Peter's Basilica, being a church, is free. Here, behind glass and quite a distance from the admirers, is Michelangelo's marble Pieta. Mary holding her adult son Jesus, lifeless in her arms, it is very moving, the color is a wonderful warm ivory, very beautiful. Words cannot describe it really, you have to see it.
Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo's Pieta

Also Michelangelo designed the dome and the church is marble, gold, bronze, paintings everywhere, sculptures, and you can take pictures here as well. The only place you cannot take a picture is in the Sistine Chapel, the Japanese have the rights to the pictures, go figure.

Now we went to the Peoples Square, Piazza del Popolo, and enjoyed the wonderful fountains and the ambiance, sitting on a marble bench with a light misty rain. The Egyptian obelisk is pink and is about four thousand years old. Then we went to the Republic metro stop to find St Suzannas church so I could pick up the passes for our audience with the pope tomorrow. A donation is requested so I did leave them about ten US dollars, it is an American RC church, they fly the flag and everything. Then home. We did stop once on our way for a cappucino and a light snack but this day was very intense with walking, we can hardly navigate anymore, we are really worn out, about six hours of steady walking today. At least tomorrow we can sit during the pope's service and I am really looking forward to that. It is not every day that we get to see a king, a head of state and have a guaranteed seat. I wouldn't be able to get that close to Harper. They suggest you go two and a half hours early to get a good spot but that is not going to happen.
The Vatican is a rich little state, the world's smallest country, less than nine hundred people. Imagine. Right in the middle of Rome.

Audience with the Pope - Ok we were in the audience

Wed Nov 21
We walked into St Peter's Square at 930 am. Tickets for our free admission in hand, we were directed to the end of a three block line. The audience is inside today. It is gorgeous weather, warm and sunny. I do not need my jackets. Plural. I am wearing my raincoat and fleece.
The line moved quite fast, we were behind a Spanish bride and groom. She had a satin dress and wore a mantilla.
The current Pope's name is Benedict XVI and I had to look that up, it is not just off the tip of my fingers. He was born in Germany near the Austrian border in 1927, so not a spring chicken. He will be 85 in April 2013. Imagine, at that age, to be the in charge of over one billion Catholics worldwide.
By 10 am we were sitting in the chapel/auditorium quite close to the front. There were maybe 100 people in front of us and 6000 beside and behind us. Just the way people got streamed in from security, we were lucky. I really did pinch myself, I was so in awe of being there. I cannot imagine how the Catholics felt.
At about 1030 the orchestra played a tune, then two Swiss guards came onto the stage and stood on either side of the throne. Dressed in gold and purple, the Swiss guards have been guarding the Vatican for over 600 years. There were already about two dozen cardinals sitting on the right hand side of the stage.
Then, in a wave, everybody in the audience/congregation, stood up, like you do at a wedding, and the crowd erupted. Jeff leaned over to me and said, 'The pope is like a rock star' and I was clapping along with everybody else when the small old man with white robes and a crown of thick white hair came out on the stage. He said a few words and raised his arms, he was speaking Italian so ....Then we all sat down and people were snapping pictures to beat the band.
A cardinal read a passage from the letter by Paul to the Corinthians. I know this as it was read in several languages including English. Then the pope, who remained sitting in a big chair with two cardinals in smaller chairs on either side of him and the two Swiss guards standing on either side of the cardinals, then the pope, as I was saying, gave a sermon. It was in italian (or maybe Latin) but I could understand the gyst of it, God, Jesus and Paul, antagonistic, the service revolved around the Bible passage.
Then one after the other, cardinals spoke. In English, the pope would bless members of our families who were sick, then the pope spoke in heavily accented English, well he read something and there was polite applause. He mentioned England, the states and Sri Lanka. I had a hard time understanding him but he was basically bringing greetings, welcoming the 'English as a first language' attendees. Then the same thing was repeated in German, polite applause. When the pope spoke in Spanish there were boisterous cheers and again when he addressed the Portugese speakers, loud cheering and waving of flags. The Italians waved white handkerchiefs.
But it was the Polish segment of the audience who stole the show. A group with red head scarves stood up while the pope was speaking Polish and started singing, the Poles scattered around the huge auditorium were clapping along to the tune. It was quite a long song and when it was finished the pope resumed talking and right away another group started singing, interrupting him for the second time.
When we went on the walking tours of Warsaw and Krakow, it was so evident that Poland is a Catholic country and they were so proud of the Polish pope, John Paul ll.

There were a few more languages covered, but it was pretty subdued. Then the pope stood up and gave the Apostolic blessing, which also would cover our relatives and loved ones who are sick or in agony. and when he was finished the cardinals lined up and kissed his ring.
Our audience was over.

The man on my right had wiped away a tear during the Polish singing so before we left I touched his arm (his back was towards me) and when he turned I asked ' are you Polish?' and of course he was, I said 'Canada' and shook his hand and he hugged me and kissed my cheek and for me this was a moment.
I don't care if you are Catholic, Protestant or agnostic, today's papal audience was powerful, and we both are glad we came.

Jeff and I left the chapel and proceded to Sant Angela's Museum. Which has a lot of stairs and some great views of Rome. Hadrian is buried here. Then it was a long walk to Piazza Fiori, yummy lasagna for lunch, nice square where they used to execute people, now it is a produce market, Campo di Fiori, narrow winding streets, artisan's shops, Sergios was closed (Ali from the Tulip Art Shop in Turkey had recommended this restaurant, likely opens for supper at 730), and we got home at five.
We are staying at Christina's Residence, about four or five blocks from the main train terminal, cost is 34 Euros per night and includes breakfast which is set up in your room, you make your own instant coffee with the electric kettle provided and there is a fridge.
Tomorrow we fly Ryanair to Madrid. Caio.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 18:41 Archived in Italy Tagged churches art museums history budget backpacking seniors budget_hotels Comments (0)

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