Monday, 21 April 2014

Day 394: The Temple of Artemis

There were seven original World Wonders, and only one remains: the Great Pyramid. The rest are lost to antiquity. Or almost.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

44. Wonder: The Hagia Sophia

(For the Hagia Sophia preview, please click here.)

43. Wonder: The Blue Mosque

(For the Blue Mosque preview, please click here.)

Days 387 to 393: Istanbul

In 2001, during travels, I visited Istanbul. I liked it, but with reservations. I wrote: Other countries I just about fitted in, but not here, with the consequences that I'm accosted by numerous Turkish salesmen desperate to invite their new "friend" to their carpet salesroom, silver shop, kebab shop or anywhere that might involve a sale. I have become very very familiar with the phrases "Hello my friend!" and "Where are you from?" Years on, it's this, the hassle, that I primarily remembered; girls we met ensured us the hassle they encountered was a hundred times worse. It definitely wasn't Europe, and I'd never experienced anything quite like it. The city itself seemed interesting, but didn't stamp any strong impressions on me: some big mosques, a street with bars and hostels, a tower somewhere, lots of people, feeling like a package-tourist traveller. I got very drunk after winning a bet about whether Kylie Minogue was older or younger than 35 years old (she was younger). Not very modern, not somewhere with much charm.

Well, what a difference 13 years can make. Because Istanbul today is wonderful. Truly a joy, and probably the favourite city Danielle and I have yet visited on these travels.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 388: Eating Out In Istanbul For 11 Lira

It's common while travelling to encounter scams, and it's something I'm always tuned into. Travelling around Asia with Burness, we ran into a few fairly minor ones. So far, with Danielle, we've not really encountered any. Upon Burness's arrival into Istanbul, we thought we encountered one straight away.

Staying by the ferry ports in Kadikoy on the Asian side, very near our hostel was a large mostly-pedestrianised area of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. It was packed every evening, with locals and a fair smattering of tourists, and so it was to one of these restaurants that the three of us went on the evening of Burness's arrival into the city. He was keen on kebabs, I was happy to comply, so we found a pleasant-seeming restaurant sprawling round a corner of a block, sitting outside.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 388: Burness In Istanbul

And so, for eight days, the duo of Danielle and I become a trio: Burness has arrived. My old travel
buddy for eight months around Asia is joining us for a jaunt in Turkey.

Just like the old days.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Days 384 to 387: Thessaloniki

It's strange. Some places just have it. Sometimes it's obvious why - Rio's beauty is sheer unsubtle splendour; New York has the immensity of buzz and buildings - but sometimes it's far less so. Arriving in Thessaloniki, it's fair to say that we were expecting little. Greece's second biggest city, it was merely a convenient break in the journey from Meteora to Istanbul. If anything like the capital, it would be a dump, just on a quarter of the scale. Worse, it didn't even have any world famous landmarks by means of compensation. Two nights in the city and we'd be happy to leave.

So why, upon arriving at our hostel, were we already thinking "This seems alright." There was nothing particularly auspicious about the exhausting walk from the train station. Overcast in an uncanny impersonation of the classic gloom of midwinter Scotland, the grey air was in harmony with the grey train station, the grey surrounding buildings, and the rubble within the fenced-off building site that forced us along a narrow pavement next to a very busy main road. Thessaloniki is in the process of building a metro, but I can't say I could see any work going on, not on any of the days we were there.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Day 382: Falling Rocks in Meteora

I had a bit of a strange, mildly spooky, experience in Meteora.

Meteora, in northern Greece, is an area of freakish rock formations onto which a series of late-medieval monasteries were built. It's a spectacular vision of sheer rock, plunging ravines, and improbable buildings. There's a lot of history, much of it lost. Six monasteries exist today out of a one-time total of twenty-four. Eighteen, therefore, lie in ruins. Spotting these eighteen are difficult; reaching them even moreso - they are built upon such teetering peaks that defy logic as to how they got there. There are also strange wooden constructions built within the pockmarks of the cliff faces.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Days 376 to 381: Battered Athens

Athens is a little like the hotel we stayed in while there. Not without faded charm, a ton of potential, and very friendly; but run-down, frequently broken, grim, looking better on paper than in reality, and with people hanging around listlessly. And there was nowhere to fix the shower head, but I'm not sure where that fits in with this analogy.

Of course, Athens is ancient: just hang about by the Acropolis for this to be very apparent. Even aside from the Parthenon and its fellow 2500-year-old temples, there are loads of other truly ancient, mostly ruined, structures scattered about the centre. Delightfully cute Orthodox churches, themselves over a thousand years old but seeming young in comparison, punctuate city streets, a flower among weeds. There's tons of ancient history, but that's not what makes Athens old and battered. Modern life has battered Athens.