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Segovia Spain - Volunteer Teaching English

sunny 16 °C

While planning out trip I read a blog about teaching English is Spain as a volunteer. Following up on this possibility, we discovered Vaughan Town and since Spain was on our itinerary applied to volunteer.
We had to pay for our own trip to and from Madrid but from Sunday to Friday our meals and hotel bill would be gratis. On Saturday night VaughanTown hosts a complimentary tapas reception at five pm at the same hotel the bus leaves from on Sunday morning. I booked us into this hotel for the Saturday night so we would be at the right spot on Sunday.
We made it to the tapas reception at the Eurobuilding in Madrid by five past five. This is where the Anglo contingent mee each other. We are the only Canadians in this group. There is a couple from Australia, fiveI or six from the states and the rest are from the UK. At least three of them seem to be living in Spain though. Several have done this before.
Two paid staff will accompany us to the resort and ensure everything goes smoothly.
I drank sangria, enjoyed the appetizers, this is supper. Our bus to El Rancho near Segovia leaves tomorrow at 10. We will meet the Spanish students then and we are encouraged to insist on conversing in English. No problem. Glad I have learned very little Spanish so it won't be a temptation.
The forecast for Segovia is for snow by Tuesday. Dress appropriately. Fine. I do not have room in my pack for more clothes, I will layer. And stay indoors as much as possible.
I do have a knit cap and gloves which came in handy in Finland in September. I guess we will be in the mountains. Today in Madrid was sunny, no jacket needed, just a long sleeved shirt.
25 November
We have a one bedroom suite with a small kitchen. I got up at 730, made coffee with the instant cappucinno pouches left over from Italy and enjoyed the view. The couches have such deep seats, like almost twice as deep as a sofa back home, really wonderful for tall people.
Our bus departed shortly after ten, every Anglo must sit with a Spanish person and chat. It must have been successful as I did not see much scenery and all of a sudden we were here. It is like a small village, el Rancho Resort.
I have my own room, in la posada el rancho, large room with floor to ceiling window with a study alcove. We had a three course lunch with wine and now get a two hour siesta break. Then more talking, supper is at 9. I have been voluntold for some kind of presentation maybe tomorrow night. It is a bit nerve racking, but we are all in the same boat. Everyone has been very nice, had lunch with two men from Spain and a guy from Scotland.
We are expected to mingle and eat with different people, 2 Anglos, 2 Spanish, all conversation in English. I had swordfish for lunch with fruit for dessert. The marzipan cake looked wonderful though.
Segovia is a province in the Castile Leon area of Spain. The Iberian Penninsula.
There is also a city called Segovia and Walt Disney's castles in Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella were both influenced by the Alcazar Castle located here.
Isabel 1 was proclaimed Queen of Castile on the spot where the gothic Segovia Cathedral stands today. She promised the financial backing for Columbus to rediscover America in Segovia.
We are not in the city though, just in the general vicinity.
Alcazar Castle

Alcazar Castle

After our siesta we spent three hours talking one on one with Spanish participants. Supper was at 9, same drill as lunch, only choose different tablemates, 2 Anglos, 2 Spanish, talk. Both red and white wine are on the table, I drink water and sip a mouthful of red wine to be polite. I am exhausted. The Anglos are suppose to do 65 percent of the talking so the Spaniards can hone their listening skills. What does proactive mean, what is payoff, explain behaviour, wish I had lugged along a thesaurus to help me come up with synonyms. And a dictionary. Long day.
We get two wake up calls a day. The first one is at 815. Breakfast is compulsory. Then we go into our 50 minute assigned one on one sessions. It is really impressive how well some of the Spanish speak English. The lady I am with is a human rights lawyer. She started learning English two months ago. We have a complex conversation about her work with women in South America. I admire her for doing good works. She points out that by volunteering to teach English I help people like her go on to China or Africa to fight for human rights. Another man, 52, retired banker, is learning English so he can travel and talk to the people he meets along the way. He is very fluent, really good vocabulary and hardly any accent. We talked about Mark Carney leaving the Bank of Canada to head up the Bank of England. He was incredulous that the UK would hire a Canadian. Don't they have any good bankers in England? Apparently not. There are a lot of students here, recent graduates, mechanical engineering, business administration, there are no jobs, they are learning English to improve their chances, they are prepared to move, English will be their ticket. Interesting. Proactive and expensive. This will be one of four week-long retreats they attend during a ten month intensive course. It is costing them twenty thousand euros. I read our dollar dropped on the Carney news, you do the math.
Most of the Spanish are in something called the Master's program. There are four of these intensive "retreat" type events in the program. As the Anglos (native English speakers) come from a variety of countries the accents vary considerably. I can barely understand a few of the Anglos. We don't have anyone from South Africa among the Anglos or that accent would be in the mix. Thank goodness there aren't any Newfies or we would all be in a lot of trouble - well it would just add to the fun. We have a good group.
The youngest Anglo is from Wales and is not yet twenty. The oldest is at least my age. The Spanish are likely from early twenties to mid fifties at the most. A lot of people stay up partying til all hours but I am not one of them. I do not have that kind of stamina. The Spanish are great socializers and excellent dancers.
The challenges for the Spanish are daunting. First a fifty minute session with an Aussie. Then a fifty minute session with an American from the deep south. Then a Canadian. Then a Brit. We all sound different. They can party til two am and concentrate on English the next morning.

Also, among the volunteers is a young American woman who is married to a Spanish husband and lives in Madrid. She is a guitar player, singer, and composer and has entertained us in the evening, very good. She is, by the way, blind - but that does not define her. We are all impressed by her huge personality, and independence. So - if you are a decent human being and speak English as a first language you might like to volunteer. You do not need a hidden talent or be a ventriloquist or anything but if you can juggle or play the guitar you may well share your talent with an appreciative audience.
The second wake up call is at 430 pm. We get a siesta or free time from three to five. Anything between ten pm and nine am is free time.
Unemployment in Spain is over twenty four percent and the recent graduates blame the civil servants. Too many, too de-centralized, too much duplication. Of course if we trim all the fat from the public service there will be more people looking for work.
Did the USSR fail because they were broke, was the Ottoman Empire just too big to manage, where are the Romans now? Spain is in bad shape but Greece is in terrible shape. You would think Greece could use some tourists' dollars, why are the transportation workers on strike?? Why are shareholders more important than customers, how can Finland offer free University and free health care, why are Norwegians richer than Albertans, I ponder these questions before I go to sleep.
27 November, Tuesday
Chilly and overcast, it snows late in the afternoon. A group of us Anglos had free time so we went to the small medieval city of Segovia where a huge Roman aqueduct from the first century is the best preserved in all of Europe and the world. A very pretty, remarkably clean old town boasts a city wall, the last gothic cathedral to be built in Spain (completed in 1768) and the enchanting Alcazar castle.
Roman Aqueduct

Roman Aqueduct

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia Cathedral

Segovia is an easy daytrip from Madrid. Also, it would be a pleasant stop for one or two days relaxation.
A recommended restaurant for coffee, tapas or meals is Meson Jose Maria, located between the aquaduct and the town square. A local recommended it to us and although we only had cappuccino I feel confident it is good, with reasonable prices, it was very busy with locals.
Teaching English as a volunteer was a good decision. It gave us the opportunity to meet a lot of Spanish people from all over the country, different age groups, different occupations, very interesting. Now that Spain is in the EU speaking English is more important. They are very expressive people and our job is to converse and explain the slang, the way we really talk, so that they can pick up the rhythm and the meaning. "Horsing around" "back to the drawing board' phrases like that.
It is rewarding to see the improvement in the Spanish students' pronunciation and comprehension over the course of 5 days of total English immersion. A few seem to take it really seriously and allow no phone calls, texts, emails in Spanish, they eat, sleep and dream in English for the duration.
Also we sample a lot of different Spanish food, the meals are large and we have selections to make every morning, what do we want out of three choices for first course, second course and dessert. Meals are lively occasions, conversing, drinking wine, breaking bread, do not use butter on the bread, use olive oil instead.
Also drizzle olive oil on vegetables - it is the Spanish way.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 16:12 Archived in Spain Tagged churches buildings history castle budget teaching_english_with_vaughanto Comments (0)

Budget Travel Tips - Europe on a Shoestring - Epilogue

So how did we stay on budget, fifty dollars a day, with the arguably well known expensive stops in Finland and Sweden as well as a guided bus tour of Morocco on the itinerary?

  • we couch surfed seven nights: to find out more about Couch Surfing go to couchsurfing.org. Often used by students as a place to flop for a night or three, we discovered the cultural joys of being hosted by locals proud to showcase their city. Twice I had my own bedroom and the other times we were either on mattresses or hideabeds in the living room.
  • we volunteered for free room and board for five days - teaching English with Vaughan Town in Spain. Met some lovely people doing this. To find out more about volunteering to teach English in Spain go to vaughantown.com. You must be a native English speaker. Spain was already on our itinerary - you pay your own way to Madrid. Then on a Saturday night there is a free tapas reception. You must also pay your own accommodation on the Saturday night. Then from Sunday after breakfast until Friday after lunch all your (four star) accommodation and meals are gratis.
  • we took two all night buses so did not have to book a hotel

So out of 89 nights 14 nights were free

  • we ate some meals in our hotel room, just food from the grocery store. I bought plastic spoons, good for eating yogurt or spooning olive spread on bread.
  • we usually chose our restaurants carefully, but ensured we had one good, typical meal in every country.

We chose to stay in private rooms with bath in hostels or in hotels with private bath.

Could you do it for less? Yes, you could stay in a dorm in a hostel, or you could stay in a room with a shared bath

  • You could cook your own meals in hostels rather than eat out in restaurants as much as we did.
  • you could drink fewer cappuccinos which was our splurge
  • you could couch surf almost everywhere
  • you could fly more with budget airlines rather than take buses or trains.
  • You could take no taxis and always use public transport or walk

You could bypass Sweden and Finland and go to more eastern European countries like the Ukraine or Moldovia
I would spend more time in Serbia and Portugal if I did this over - very inexpensive but good quality.
Portugal is cheaper than Spain
Serbia is cheaper than Hungary or Poland

Things we learned

  • There are free walking tours (tip encouraged) in most cities. Learn the highlights, get oriented, go early in your visit so you can go back to see sites in more detail
  • The Metro bus system in Turkey has a free service bus that takes you to the centre of the city. Most bus stations in Turkey are outside the city or on the outskirts
  • Spend a week in Rome - if you have never been there make a point of going.
  • Hotels are often as cheap as hostels if you want a twin room with private bath. I used hotelscombined.com and booking.com and once expedia was cheaper,

Travel light - two pairs of pants and three tops is enough, wash light clothes in your hotel room. I bought a few cheap tops and scarves in Turkey to supplement my wardrobe.
Take a waterproof, windproof shell and a lightweight fleece that will fold up small.

Discount airfare with Ryanair and EasyJet are cheaper than the bus or train sometimes. I booked Krakow to Budapest for nineteen dollars each in advance, from home, as well as Rome to Madrid for under fifty dollars. You are only allowed one carry on (and purses qualify as carry on) or you pay extra for checked and this can cost more than your flight. I took along a small cloth tape measure to ensure our backpacks did not exceed the carry on limit which is 21.6 by 15.7 by 7.8 inches or 55 by 40 by 20 centimetres.
No food or drink is free on these flights. Who cares, they are short flights.
I used skyscanner to find the cheapest flight from Izmir Turkey to Bologna Italy which turned out to be Pegasus Airlines for this trip.

I budgeted fifty dollars a day for food and hotel, and one thousand dollars extra for transportation such as buses, cabs, trains, flights within Europe. I was successful on this budget. I did purchase some gifts and souvenirs which is extra.
Due to carrying a backpack and being on a limited budget I purchased carefully and because of the time of year of our return, 17 December, I brought back all my Christmas gifts.
I can honestly say that the fifty dollars per day and the thousand for transportation was achieved. We traveled in the shoulder season, cheaper than traveling in summer. Hotels are based on two people sharing and splitting the cost.
I am 63 years old and I traveled with my 36 year old son. We needed two beds and always tried for a private bathroom. Hello hotel in Bucharest, La Botanica in Portugal, TRYP Washington in Madrid, for example were clean, nicely appointed three star hotels for under fifty dollars per night.
In our entire journey I think we spent four nights in hostels with a shared bath. These rooms are always cheaper than a private bath so we could have saved more money had we gone that route.

We found people watching, cafe culture, taking public transportation, shopping in grocery stores, walking from our accommodation to and from public transportation gave us a different perspective and feel for the country than staying in a fine hotel and always taking cabs.
We were out and about with the common people, people in fact, like us. We spent time in public parks in many cities, sat on park benches, watched children play and old people take the sun. Staying with families, four nights with airbnb and seven nights with couchsurfing, gave us a better appreciation on how people live. We met some nice people this way and had lovely conversations.

Our trip was sort of the road less traveled, the Balkans, the Baltic, the Black Sea coast. However, if you look at the map you will see that it all made a nice route, starting out in Stockholm and finishing up in Lisbon. We flew with AirMiles, the carrier was British Airways, we were able to land in one spot and leave from another.
British Airways was very good, both ways we had to change planes in London so we saw a bit of Heathrow. We got a meal and a snack and lots of drinks included in our second class fare. I should mention that the snack was a sandwich so it was satisfying. They give everyone a pillow and a blanket and there is decent leg room. You also get a toothbrush and toothpaste and earphones - I could not sleep coming back so watched three movies. Also we could check our bag for free.
You can't go everywhere in three months. We did not go to cities that Jeff, who has been to Europe five times previously, had already visited. Therefore, in Turkey we did not go to Cappadocia or Pamukkale as he had already been there. In Italy we did not go to Venice, they were having floods there anyway, but it was never really on our agenda. We had hoped to go to Greece but with the transportation workers on strike there we did not want to chance being stranded. Also Jeff had already been to Athens. In Spain we bypassed Barcelona and Granada for the same reason. All the other countries we visited were new to him as well.

I first went to Europe in 1974, backpacking on five dollars a day. We went to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Holland.
The second time was in 1986. We lived in Germany and traveled to France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Belgium, England, Norway and Denmark.
The third time was 26 years later, from 19 September to 17 December, 2012, and I backpacked for fifty dollars a day. We went to Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco, and Portugal. This was the trip of my lifetime so far. A feast of memories.

Note, I am a card carrying couch potato. I did not work out before the trip. Still I managed to walk ten kilometres on lots of days and carried a backpack that weighed about eighteen pounds when we left in September and about 38 pounds when we returned to Canada in December. A lot of my purchases were made in Lisbon though.
I was typically the oldest couch surfer my hosts had met and the oldest person in the hostel. We were outside most days for at least six hours. We did not carry a cell phone nor did we carry an umbrella. I took no jewellery (other than a cheap watch) nor make-up but did break down in Istanbul and purchased mascara I was so fed up with looking like an albino, but it did not help much. Most days I started off looking neat but by noon was bedraggled and my pictures show pretty messy hair from having my hood up or from being in rain or wind. I took one of those small fold-up scissors and periodically trimmed my bangs.

My blog was written over the course of our travels from Stockholm to Finland to Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Serbia, Brasov, Transylvania, Sofia, Istanbul, Florence, Rome, Seville, etc. Seventeen countries and about forty cities and towns where we either stayed or visited on day trips.

Traveling light, traveling the way we did, I am very proud of myself. If I can do it, you can do it. I hate camping and "roughing it." On a normal vacation I like to stay in a good hotel, minimum three star, prefer four star. But in order to afford this trip I needed to stretch my money. Therefore, the trip was a choice and the way we traveled was a choice. Every day was a new day, a new adventure, places to go, things to see.
I would do it again. Next time maybe it will be Greece, the Ukraine, Moldovia, Belarus, Turkey, Serbia, Cypress, Portugal, Norway and Warsaw.

A few days after returning home I went for a pampering facial. The esthetician commented that my skin looked good, and asked me what I used. I said "I haven't been using a thing". I haven't worn foundation or anything else for over three months and I've spent at least six hours a day outside. "I just backpacked across a continent and I am 63 years old."
By this time there was lots of attention to our conversation and the chorus of "Good for you!" warmed my heart. "On fifty dollars a day!" I beamed. Another round of "Good for you!" I was on a roll. The next thing they are going to do is pat my head.
Still I sensed a new respect from the bevy of young girls surrounding me. I looked at them benevolently with my glowing skin and rhymed off the seventeen countries we had visited.
Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Vatican City, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. Damn, I'm good!!

Yes it was an incredible journey unless you think about the KonTiki crossing the Pacific in 1947 or consider the incredible journey of three Canadians and some kittens in 1956. Strapping nine telephone poles together with rope, they embarked from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. 88 days later they had crossed the Atlantic and landed in Falmouth Harbour, Britain.
Why hasn't somebody made a movie about this? Think of the adventure, the drive, the passion of these three men: Henri Beaudout, Gaston Vanackere and Marc Modena. They were the first to cross the Atlantic on a raft. Somebody, do something, while they are all still alive to tell their story!

Still, mine was an incredible journey.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 17:34 Tagged budget backpacking Comments (0)



We took the all night bus from Vilnius to Warsaw. We left in the pouring rain at 1030 pm. Anna, our couch surfing hostess, had emailed that she would meet us at the bus, she would have to get up before five am to accomplish this!!
Believe it or not the bus just lets you off on the street at Centalnya which we assume means Central Station. Anna was a bit late and we were unsure if we should walk over to the building or stay outside hanging around this side street. We did go in briefly but no sign of a stranger looking for us so after a little argument we went back out to the deserted side street and there was one person walking in our direction so we eyed each other in the dim light and she said "Are you Cheryl?". And I just hugged her I was so relieved.
It was 540 am. She lives in her own two and a half storey townhouse near a forest in the city of Warsaw. Pronounced vawrsavah. Chin-quee is how you say thank you. Not as easy as Lithuanian which is achoo.
Anna works part time so as soon as we got to her house she gives us coffee, buns, two kinds of cheese, cold cuts and then tells us to rest, she has to go to work but will be back at 10 and take us on a tour.
Warsaw Today

Warsaw Today

Our beds are all made up in the living room, we lay down for awhile and then Anna comes home with muffins. 'Energy' she says. Now she takes us on the subway, we will have a tour. These people are great walkers. We must have walked ten miles. We stopped at a pretty patio and Anna ordered a selection of perogies. Potato and cheese (Russian), meat filling, and cabbage and mushroom as well as dessert perogies filled with cottage cheese, served with whipped cream and a raspberry garnish, a perogie sampler.
Dessert Perogies in Warsaw Poland

Dessert Perogies in Warsaw Poland

Besides taking in the views from the thirtieth floor of the Palace of Culture and Science we walked through the old town and a really large city park that used to be the king's garden. Lazienki Park is located in central Warsaw. The Royal Park was built in the 17 Century and covers more than 100 acres.
Royal Park in Warsaw Poland

Royal Park in Warsaw Poland

Along the way we came upon the end of a free walking tour. We tagged along with them, into a bar where everyone was served a free shotglass of vodka and the local bar snack of bread and fat. I liked it and had two snacks, one ice cold vodka. In Poland they drink their vodka neat, and say that they invented it.
We got back to Anna's place around 5, she prepared a gourmet cheese soup with herb garnish from her garden. We ate sweet grapes that grow in her yard.
Then we all went to a jazz concert, Anna had noted an interest in music in our couch surfing profile and made sure we would see a show. We were all exhausted by the time we got back at 11 pm. Anna put out bread, cheese, cold cuts and served tea from a pretty pot with cups and saucers. We chatted like old friends. After our refreshments we fell into bed.
Warsaw is an interesting city. 85 percent has been built since 1945 as it was reduced to rubble by the Germans in the second world war.
In 1939 it had a population of 1.3 million people. By the end of the war in 1945 it had 1000 inhabitants. The old town was destroyed but you would never know that today.
They rebuilt it. They used old bricks and put it back together. Today over 2 million people call Warsaw home. 100 percent of the infrastructure was pretty much blown up (like street lights and bridges) but they were determined people.
Mermaid in Warsaw Poland

Mermaid in Warsaw Poland

I cried so much at the statue of the boy soldier and thought about how terrible it was, the Germans were burning everything, Poland expected the Russians to come, they were just across the river, but no help came. Then. after the war Poland became a part of the USSR.
Lots of people say, don't bother to go to Warsaw, all the buildings are new. This is precisely why you should go to Warsaw. I was so impressed with how they rebuilt it, their old town may be only sixty odd years old, but it looks authentic.
Warsaw's Old Town

Warsaw's Old Town

Warsaw is the birthplace of Chopin and his heart is here. I am not that interested in body parts so we didn't bother visiting Chopin's heart.
Madam Currie was also born in Warsaw, her maiden name was Sklodowska. She married a man from France and did her research on radium in Paris. Poland, polonium, who knew. She actually died as a result of radiation exposure and none of her body parts are in Warsaw as far as I know. She won two nobel prizes. Between her and other members of her family there are five Nobel prizes.
On October 5 at 230 pm we took the train to Krakow. We had spent the morning with our wonderful hostess, walking around Warsaw, we took the entire free walking tour, and had a free drink of vodka at the end. These free walking tours are excellent and give a real overview of the inner city.
Before we left Anna gave Jeff a book about Warsaw - Destroyed and Rebuilt. It will be a treasured reminder of this city which is now a favourite in our memory.
If a traveller just dropped into Warsaw and had no knowledge of history, lived in a bubble, did not read guidebooks or google, whatever, took a quck turn around the charming streets, tick, saw the capital city of Poland, and left, they might not realize that nothing much is older than sixty odd years. Really this amazes me.
One Polish Zloty is about thirty two cents, so divide by three and get the rough conversion. If the meal is fifteen zlots then you have paid about five dollars.
We took the train from Warsaw to Krakow, ended up standing for three hours as we had not reserved seats. Advice - reserve a seat.
Krakow October 6,7,8,9 Hejnal Meriaki, St Mary's Dawn

Historically Poland has been an agriculture based economy. Translated, Polish means country people.
Krakow is pronounced krack-awv.
The main market square, Rynek Glowny is the largest square in Europe. It is surrounded by medieval buildings like the Cloth Hall, the town hall and Saint Mary's Basillica with the two towers. We saw the barbican and the main gate where all the kings of Poland entered the square and proceeded to the church to be crowned.
Since medieval times someone has played the trumpet from an open north facing window in St Mary's tower to announce the top of the hour. There is a famous urban legend about why the trumpet plays - an American wrote a book about it in the 1920s, but it is not true.
Krakow Poland

Krakow Poland

Eric Kelly wrote the children's book "The Trumpeter of Krakow" in 1928. It is still cited as an important historical book. The trumpeter plays the Hejnal Meriaki - St Mary's Dawn. In medieval times it was played at dawn and at dusk when Krakow's gates were opened and closed. It is a traditional five note Polish tune. Very haunting I might add. Every day at noon Polish national radio broadcasts the Hejnal live from the tower of St Mary's Basilica.
They have been broadcasting this bugle call daily since 1927 - well it did stop for a few years during the Nazi occupation. During WW2 a Polish bugler played this tune from the battlefield to announce the Polish victory at Monte Cassino in May 1944.

For lunch we went for perogies and sausage to a milk bar, a holdout from the Soviet era, state subsidized no frill eats.
Milk Bar in Krakow Poland

Milk Bar in Krakow Poland

Sort of like a cafeteria and no English subtitles we got 12 russkie perogies, potato and cheese, the other customers and the lady behind the counter were helpful, one old lady was getting perogie take-out and she told me "yum, yum" and I hugged her for her effort as not everyone has been so friendly and helpful. So they gave us two plates and we split the perogies and then we each got a plate with a large sausage on it, so we ate that with mustard and I super enjoyed the tomato wedge garnish as I am not eating enough fruit.

We had Italian for supper. Mainly because it was the only nicer restaurant we found when we ventured out again in the pouring rain. A bit fancy for us, kind of a formal place, but they served us, bedraggled as we were. Still, for two people, the bill was 60 zlots or 20 dollars. My pasta had a white wine truffle sauce and Jeff's seafood pasta had octupus and entire shell fish. We got a small plate of crudites and I again enjoyed the tomato wedges, very flavourful, there was carrot, zucchinni, red pepper and a chive dressing as well. I am explaining this to give an example of what ten dollars gets you in Poland. The waiter pours your tonic water as though he is pouring wine. Real flowers on the table and a nice lamp.
I enjoy the atmosphere and looking at the other guests sipping wine. We had the cheapest meal on the menu and the cheapest beverage and it was all very relaxing and nice, even though my hair was a fright, even my socks were wet as it is pouring rain. I haven't seen makeup now since 19 Sept, I do think a little foundation and mascara would improve my look but what the hell, I am 63 and it is what it is.
Beer is cheaper than pop here. At the store a big bottle of beer is about one $ C or 3 zlots.
We have a twin room with private bath - total per night is 144 zlots or about 45 dollars Canadian. These rooms are pretty plain and the mattresses leave something to be desired, the sheets are thin but we are comfie, snug as a bug in a rug. No I don 't even look anymore. They do have a nice breakfast room and although breakfast is not included you can purchase it or make your own.
So my budget is fifty dollars per day. Twenty three for the room leaves me twenty seven to spend on food, and a bit leftover. We had a late lunch yesterday afternoon of perogies and cabbage rolls and that cost about four dollars each. We spend a fare amount on coffee and I pay for ambience, usually have cappucinno for a treat.
We have whiled away time in a lot of atmospheric konditoris and chocolate shop cafes.

Oct 9 - When the Sun is Shining in Stare Miasto
Our last day in Krakow is sunny. Thank God or I would have missed the true charm of the Old Town.
We managed to hook up with the free walking tour at noon and took in the castle and touched the wall in the Wawel Castle courtyard which is a chakra site, one of seven in the world apparently, for those who are into that type of thing. I really need to recharge my batteries but did not feel anything, maybe it is subliminal.
Krakow Poland Chakra

Krakow Poland Chakra

The Tale of the Krakow Dragon
Long ago a king built a castle on a beautiful hill. It happened that a dragon lived in a cave near by. The dragon ate sheep and goats but if there was not a sheep or goat to be had the dragon had to dine on virgins.
The king had a young daughter and he did not want the dragon to eat her so he called upon the noble warriors and offered the reward of his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever slayed the dragon. Many tried but none were successful. A tailor approached the king and asked if he would qualify for the reward if he slayed the dragon. The king thought the proposal absurd but agreed. The taylor killed a goat and then stuffed its stomach with sulpher and sodium, sewed the goat up and laid it at the mouth of the dragon's cave. Sure enough, the dragon woke up hungry and gobbled up the goat. The dragon felt its throat was on fire so ran to the river where it drank so much water it exploded.
This is why Krakow has a statue of a flame-breathing dragon near Wawel Castle.

Krakow Poland

Krakow Poland

Poland is a Roman Catholic country. Germany was predominantly Protestant. Russia was Orthodox.
Being Catholic in Poland is a statement, but it is rude and too personal to inquire about religion.
Their native son, Pope John Paul II, was allowed to visit Krakow during communist times.
On June 10, 1979 Pope John Paul, held an unpublicized mass in Blonie Field on the outskirts of Krakow, advertised only by word of mouth. Two million people gathered to hear him even though, our guide told us, public transportation was shut down that day in honour of his visit and working hours were extended. It was the largest crowd in Polish history.

Did you know that Krakow is the new Prague? That's what they say!! We are not going to Prague this trip so we are glad we came to Krakow. It has the best preserved medieval old town in Poland, in stark contrast to the rebuilt old town in Warsaw. Each has its beauty and appeal for entirely different reasons. One is preserved, the other was decimated and rebuilt. I have a bias to the one in Warsaw as it was so feisty of them to put it back together, but of course, it is not "authentic." Visit both.
Besides having excellent beer and very reasonable prices, Poland has a lot of charm. It wasn't on my bucket list but should have been.

Shopping - Amber is very big in the Baltics. In Poland they have green amber as well. Typically amber is set in silver. Amber is said to bring good luck and protection, and to be really active should be charged by the sun. It is not a crystal it is fossilized tree sap from ancient pine trees. So there you go, wear amber for luck and love and rejuvination if you are into metaphysical, which really, I am not but I love amber.

Krakow has a population of about 800,000.
We fly tonight with Ryanair to Budapest - nineteen dollars Canadian each for the flight.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 15:22 Archived in Poland Tagged history budget backpacking Comments (1)

Tallinn Estonia, Riga Latvia, Vilnius Lithuania -The Baltics


From Helsinki, Finland we are travelling over the Baltic Sea to Estonia. This will be our introduction to Eastern Europe. From there we will go to the two other "Baltic states" Latvia and Lithuania. Grouped geographically on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, the three Baltic countries have their individual charms.

Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia is located eighty-three km south of Helsinki. We took the Tallink Line Ferry for thirty nine euros each on Sept 26.
There are over 1500 islands on the sea off the Estonian coast.
Tallinn has an intimate old town with the tallest church in Medieval Europe.
Our hostel, with the catchy name of Fat Margaret's, is walking distance from the harbour, and only a block from the old town. Our room is large, sparsely furnished, private bathroom and two window seats. One of the windows has a great view of the Old Town. It costs thirty two Euros per night, split between two people so sixteen euros each.
We had supper the first night at a pub called Hell Hunt, just a short walk into the old town. We both had fish and chips and I had a bottle of Stella Artois, a Belgian beer. Our bill came to sixteen Euros so things are definitely cheaper here than in Finland or Sweden!
The waitress was very pretty and super nice. Maybe it was just sticker shock, but Jeff, the last of the big time spenders, insisted he was paying and gave her twenty euros, keep the change, eye-tah. That is how you say thank you in Estonian but we keep forgetting. There is another word for thank you also, it might be dolmus. Anyway we have learned three other words in our travels, tak (thank you in Swedish), Keetos (thank you in Finnish) and Hej, hey, which is hello in Swedish. We use that all the time, posing as Swedes.
We like it so much here we decide to stay for three nights. English is widely spoken, the service is excellent, the people seem nice and friendly and there is a fairy tale old town.
Fairytale Old Town, Tallinn Estonia

Fairytale Old Town, Tallinn Estonia

We enjoyed our delicious morning coffee in a pretty cafe in the old town, tablecloths, fresh flowers, nice ambiance, all this for three euros twenty - it would have been double in Finland in a Tim Horton's like atmosphere (nicer places would charge more!!)
We had lunch at a restaurant with candles on the table, the waiter poured out our tonic water like he was pouring wine, we had seafood pasta, the restaurant had wifi, and the total bill was sixteen euros.
Estonia is on the Euro, but the other two Baltic countries, Latvia and Lithuania, also part of the EU, still use their own currencies.
Estonia is really connected, they invented Skype. Even city parks have wifi, it is everywhere, apparently, except for our room at Fat Margaret's where the service is sketchy.
While walking around the Old Town Jeff spots a Depeche Mode tribute bar. In we go and have a coffee and Jeff is stoked by all the DM music and the pictures, the constantly running DM music videos, the whole thing is strange. There are numerous pictures of Depeche Mode's visit, they played a concert in Tallinn and then spent the whole night at the bar partying with the locals.
It turns out this bar is ranked number five in Lonely Planet's top ten strangest bars in the world, but we came upon it by accident. It was a highlight for Jeff and even for me, as I would never have gone in there without him. I suggested we go back after supper to see who frequents the place in the evening. Turns out, not too many, pretty empty, it is a rainy night in late September. Maybe they do better in the summer.

Although Estonia considers itself a Nordic country and their language shares similarities with Finnish, twenty five percent of the population is Russian. Total population of the entire country is about 1.3 million. I am impressed with their history which includes the human chain from Vilnius Lithuania, through Latvia to Tallinn and the Singing Revolution. I must read up on the history of the Baltic countries.
Estonia is celebrating its twenty-first year of freedom from the USSR. It is the longest period in history when they haven't been under someone else's rule. Estonia has been occupied by Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the USSR.
They were a country of peasants, earlier than that they were slaves. Throughout Estonia's history various countries/empires invaded and took over, building fancy homes for themselves and impressive buildings. They created a beautiful medieval old town and I hope Estonia exploits it to beat the band as it really is pretty awesome.
Tallinn Estonia

Tallinn Estonia

In addition to the Baltic Sea coastline Estonia has numerous lakes and forests, a very picturesque country.
They are a loveable bunch, they call their history when Sweden was in power, "the good old Swedish days" and they use the word "normal" for awesome or incredible luck, only they say it in Estonian.
28 September - we went on a free (tip requested) walking tour of the old town and the guide spoke excellent and expressive English. The secret seems to be showing American cartoons on TV with Estonian subtitles. There were a lot of Germans on the tour and the guide exclaimed, "Are you invading us again?" They seem to have a pretty good sense of humour.
I definitely think Tallinn is a fairy tale city with one of the best preserved medieval old towns in Europe. The streets are quite wide as Tallinn was a merchant town and the merchants needed wide streets to bring in their goods. Salt, my favourite spice, was one of the major products brought through Estonia in Medieval times.
They have a great tourism program - really good brochures on the sights of Estonia. Tallinn's old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.
Estonions call Indian Summer "old lady's summer." They have one tower called Fat Margaret and another called Tall Herman. Their flag is white for purity, black for earth and blue for sky. They were the first country to use their ability to vote online. Their food and architecture is a mishmash of all the countries that invaded them but basically they love potatoes, pancakes and black bread. Beer is cheap and good, bars are abundant and kids can go in with their parents, just like in Germany. They have beautiful desserts and pastries, lots of custard and whipped cream.

Estonia came late to Christianity and is one of the most atheistic countries in the world our guide advises. However, they have some pretty fancy churches and one of them is Russian Orthodox, really ornate on the inside but we were not allowed to take pictures. I helped myself to some Holy water to bring me luck and cure what ails me.
The Danes invaded them in the thirteenth century to bring them Christianity. Denmark was losing the war until, by divine intervention, a flag with a red cross on a white background floated down and changed their fortune. Denmark won the war and they embraced the flag that appeared to them in Estonia on this fateful day.

Buy Scandinavian wooden knives here, cheaper than Finland or Sweden!!
It is warmer and cheaper here than Finland or Sweden and it looks like moving south will be even more economical I am sorry to leave this captivating city. Our hostel, Fat Margaret's, had kitchen facilities but breakfast was not included.

I am contemplating the fleeting and the lasting, moving from city to city, country to country, shopping for memories and leaving footprints and bits of DNA behind. I am closer now, than I have ever been, to my carefree life in 1969 when I moved apartments on the city bus, carrying a shopping bag.

Riga Latvia

We. are on the LuxBus from Tallinn to Riga. It is Saturday Sept 29 2012.
18 euros each, a four and a half hour journey.
We are leaving the "Nordic" countries.
This is our first venture into travelling by bus which is comfortable and has free coffee and wifi in Estonia. The wifi cuts out when we get into Latvia.
Riga is about an hour from the Estonian border. The tourist shop is closed so we wander around with some sketchy directions and basically stumble across our hostel, Fun, Friendly Frank's.

We were greeted with our choice of a free bottle of beer or a free bottle of water. Then we went on a free (tip only) walking tour of Riga with a nice girl named Sophia. The old town is near the hostel.
We saw the Freedom Monument and the changing of the guards. Latvia invented the Christmas tree. News to me. We toured the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, head covering required, no pictures allowed. All of the Baltic countries are into amber, huge displays in shop windows.

At the end of the tour we were taken to a bar where we were served a shot of the local balsam liqueur, "Black Balzam" quite powerful stuff, 45 proof. I could have had two but I wanted to be able to enjoy the rest of the evening.
Since all we had eaten all day was a piece of cake at the bus station (it was good) we proceeded to a place the guide recommended, LIDL, and had pork and potatoes and a nice salad for 14 lats total for both. That is just under ten dollars each. Then we came back to the hostel and were shown our room - it is big with two bedrooms and a private bath. However, the windows are miniscule, it is up a steep flight of stairs and I can hear the guys next door laughing and horsing around so of course I preferred Fat Margarets where our room had a great view and was super quiet except for the traffic noise.
Riga is known for the large number of Art Nouveau buildings, more than 750. We saw a few but must go to the part of the city where the bulk of these buildings are located - within walking distance of our hostel. We are booked in here for one night - I find it quite noisy. We do get a free breakfast but I'm thinking tomorrow we should move so must research that now.

30 Sept - well we spent the night at Fun Frank's, had a breakfast of coffee and toast, packed ourselves up - Jeff had found another hostel so we walked over there and they didn't have a twin room left. So now we decided to find a cafe with wifi and I was a bit grumpy and lo and behold we are just nearby a nice little cafe with ambiance and we share a good piece of cake and have a cappuccino. The owner speaks limited English, but tries, there is one other person in there who seems to be his friend and whose name turns out to be George.
It seems they don't get many Canadian tourists in Riga but they tell us quite a few Latvians live in Toronto. The owner right away says Calgary Flames when Jeff says he is from Calgary. Then he shows us a little kind of key chain that has a hockey player and Canada on it and says, "my talisman"
Regarding hockey - the men know Canada for hockey and are ticked off about the lock out. They say NHL as clear as a bell and really even Hagar from Stockholm was a passionate hockey fan and also said "Calgary Flames" when Jeff said he was from Calgary. Nobody bats an eye when I say Victoria so now I'm considering saying Calgary as a conversation starter.
George informs us we are the first Canadians he has ever met. The weight of it all, being representative of the entire country, trying our best to make a positive impression pretty much made us tongue tied after that.
So as you read this, imagine: We have no cell phone. Nobody really knows where we are. We are in a city I had never heard of before planning this trip. George, the friend of the owner chats us up, seems nice and offers to drive us to the section on Albert Street to show us the Art Nouveau buildings. And although both of us felt a little twinge that this might not be such a hot idea, we finished up our coffee and hopped into his volkswagon van. And George did take us to see the Art Nouveau buildings.
Riga Latvia

Riga Latvia

Every once in awhile he stops and we all get out and admire the impressive architecture. What do you know on the street we run into some universtiy students from Turkey that we had met the day before. We said hi and carried on with George. He took us into an art nouveau cafe, (just for a look) very well preserved and I took some nice pictures. It started to pour rain and George drove us to the Old Town and dropped us off at MacDonalds. Jeff says: ‘Let's never do that again. WHAT WERE WE THINKiN?’.
Well for one thing I was really counting on there being nice people once I got into the back seat of the van. I tried to remember what I had read one time about getting out of a moving vehicle, but then what about my kid in the front seat. Was it open the door and roll out - do this when the car is moving slowly, what was it. Oh well, I couldn't remember, so I would not have to face the dilemma of saving my own skin or sticking it out for the sake of my child.
After we dried off we walked around and having made a booking at another hostel took our packs over there and went back to the old town. This hostel, Funky Hostel, was a bit of a hike again and was located up a long stairway. I was practically having heart failure when we got to the top and was definitely overheated with a long sleeve sweater, fleece and my jacket, the sweat was running down my back and no wonder as when we came back the second time I counted the stairs, one hundred and nine.
Every time Jeff went for a smoke he had to take those stairs. Our room was just for us two but did have two bunkbeds and a small couch.
hostel room in Riga

hostel room in Riga

We had lunch at a pancake house - really good - they do pancakes with meat, savoury types and also sweet types. We tried a few different kinds including the potato pancakes which I really enjoyed. Then we went through the Museum of Occupation which there had also been in Tallinn and we didn't go - anyway I originally was thinking, how boring, a museum about occupations. (as in jobs, not countries). But it was very touching and I had a little tear as we walked through and learned how Latvia and also Estonia and Lithuania had been screwed over by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin in their agreement and how over the years Latvia lost one third of its population. They were part of the Singing Revolution in the late eighties and part of the human chain of people holding hands from Vilnius to Tallin, two million people who didn't want to be part of the Soviet Union.
We had a nice coffee at a rock coffee house and I took Jeff's picture playing a fake guitar statue.
They have lovely parks here.

Anyway Funky Hostel is nicer, quieter and cheaper and we have a window that looks right at an art nouveau building so I like the view, breakfast is included, we do not have a private bath here but oh well it is only one night. Tomorrow morning we catch the eight thirty bus to Vilnius where we have been invited to couch surf for two nights. Ciao. They say that for good bye here as well as in Italy. Now they say something for thank you that I have asked several people and tried out, it just won't stick, something like pauldeeass. They aren't as fluent in English here as the people were in Tallinn and nobody is as fluent as the Swedes.
Riga, we are told, is also called "Little Paris" perhaps due to the number of Art Nouveau buildings.
Riga is a city of about 600,000 people and their currency is the lat.
One lat is 1.91 Canadian so I just double the amount to make the conversion.

Vilnius Lithuania

We caught the 830 am bus from Riga to Vilnius. Our couch surfing hostess and husband met us at the bus and took us back to their Soviet era apartment. We are set up on two mattresses in the living room, there is a big bookshelf full of books, a comfy couch and a computer set up for us to use. They also have pamphlets and maps of Vilnius and surrounding area. Off the living room is a balcony, and there were several boxes full of apples. they have an apple orchard somewhere in the country. We were served flavourful home made apple juice and apple pancakes with clotted cream and syrup.
The Ultra Modern side of Vilnius

The Ultra Modern side of Vilnius

Then our hostess took us on the bus to a viewpoint of Vilnius and we took pictures of the modern skyscrapers. There we met her 27 year old daughter who was exceptionally fluent in English and would take us on a tour.
Our hostess lent us a cell phone so that we could keep in touch.
Vilnius is called "the Athens of the North". The old town is known for its Baroque architecture although Saint Anne's Church is a picture of Gothic. Verkiai Palace is an example of neo-classical architecture.
We were only going to stay one night in Vilnius but our hostess insisted we stay two, we would not see enough in one day. Her daughter took us all around the extensive old town where they also have had a university for something like five hundred years and even the University book store has paintings all over the walls and ceiling. She also took us to the area where the bohemian artists have declared a republic, tongue in cheek, they have their own constitution and statue, Uzopia Republic. We would likely never have found these places on our own.

Old Town, Vilnius, Lithuania

Old Town, Vilnius, Lithuania

Lithuanians are the potato kings, they even have potato sausages. Our kind of place, good, cheap and filling food. The national dish seems to be a potato dumpling called zeppelin, due to its shape.
Lithuanians, surprisingly, are into basketball, not too interested in football, soccer or hockey.
The second day Jeff and I went on a day trip from Vilnius to Trakai where the castle is built on an island.
Traiku Island Castle

Traiku Island Castle

Trakai was the capital of Lithuania prior to it being moved to Vilnius. Again this was an excellent recommendation of our hostess who made sure to lend us umbrellas before we embarked on the bus.

We ate a special dish introduced by the Crimean Karaites - kind of like a baked dough around minced meat. We love the coffee, they heat the milk up too and give you a little pitcher of it to go with you coffee.

We got so turned around and lost in Vilnius that evening when we were trying to meet our hosts for a beer in the old town. Lucky for the borrowed cell phone, finally their daughter had to come and find us. We joined our hosts, a friend, another couch surfer and for 8 beer and two plates of food, 2 soft drinks the tab was about twenty dollars. In addition we were served the local beer eating food, fried rye bread with cheese. It was good, I am enjoying the food, the different cheeses, the sour milk served at restaurants. We all took the bus back to the apartment and enjoyed a satisfying snack of rye bread, cheese and sliced meat.
The next morning we were served fried cheese for breakfast, maybe it was baked. I liked it. They eat a lot of dairy and black bread and pork apparently.
This family participated in the singing revolution and the human chain, 'the Baltic Way" - the chain of two million people holding hands stretched 600 kilometres from Vilnius and Riga to Tallinn, Estonia in 1989. In Lithuania large groups would gather in public places and sing Catholic hymns and Lithuanian folk songs, "the singing revolution".
Lithuania was the first of the three Baltic countries to declare independence from the Soviet Union, March 1990. Most international countries failed to recognize Lithuania as a country until August 1991. In January 1991 the Soviet army killed fourteen people and wounded hundreds who were involved in a peaceful protest in Vilnius.
Over the course of the next few days up to 50,000 Lithuanians gathered at the Parliament Buildings singing, praying and chanting. Live coverage was broadcast to the world so that they would take notice. I didn't know anything about this, so obviously my own lack of knowledge is appalling. It is poignant for me now to hear of their struggles, tucked away unnoticed in the northeastern part of Europe. I had never even heard of Vilnius til we planned our travel itinerary.

Until 1991, our hosts' entire lives had been under Soviet rule which restricted travel, religion, public gatherings, and squelched complaining about the five decades of Soviet occupation. Today they relish the freedom to travel to places like Paris and Rome. The budget airlines like Ryanair have helped with their travel as many flights are less than twenty dollars. Add in couch surfing and a trip can be very achievable.

We were so impressed by their hospitality and obvious pride in their city and country. These are strong, determined, cultured people who live in a twenty five year old Soviet apartment building that seems to be so poorly built, falling apart, slapped together in a hurry, with no pride of workmanship but was sold cheaply to the occupants at the end of their rule. A middle aged professional couple, with interests in literature, travel, arts and architecture welcomed us into the warmth and comfort of their home. Once inside their apartment we forgot about the crumbling cement and the graffiti scrawled on the hallway and elevator walls. It is true that their kitchen was small and they did not have a dishwasher, that the clothes washer takes two hours and there is no dryer, but their lives and minds are rich. In a kitchen with maybe three running feet of total counter space our hostess cooked, baked and made preserves. They had raised five children here. We in North America have high expectations for our living conditions, how new and trendy everything must look, but in this home I was humbled by the warmth, the welcome and the intelligent conversation.
If there is an art show, a play or an interesting lecture, they go. They meet for wine or beer at quaint cafes, their yard is a park either near the apartment or downtown, they walk extensively and quickly, take transit, change their outfit by changing a scarf. Same black sweater, different scarf. They don't need big closets. Still, they look smart, European.
We are going tonight, 3 Oct, on the all night bus to Warsaw, get in there at 540 am and we are surfing with Anna.
Our bus fare is 55 Lithuanian, under 20 C each.

Posted by CherylGypsyRose 14:27 Archived in Estonia Tagged history budget backpacking medieval_old_town Comments (1)

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)

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