Posted in English, Europe, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul – Days 4&5

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

07 February 2019

Today is the penultimate day of our short stay in Istanbul. Of course, there is a lot that we didn’t get to see – mainly because of the weather, rather than lack of time. For example, had the weather been good we could have headed to the Prince’s Islands or the Rumeli Fortress. Instead, we had to dedicate the day to shopping, which is actually also interesting and also a source of impressions. Besides, it turned out to be a great bargain: first, the lira is rather cheap at the moment and second, we were lucky to be here during big winter sales.

A drive to the Istinye Park shopping mall, located quite far north, near the Technical University, is also an introduction to previously unexplored parts of Istanbul. I guess, this is the perfect time to share my general impressions of the city, taking, of course, into account the fact that the trees are all bare now and will certainly add a lot more colour to the landscapes in the spring. So, the city is not homogeneous, some parts of it look a bit shabby, although I would say that overall, buildings in one area tend to follow the same style – it is unlikely to see a tall new building among old five-storey houses, like it is often the case back home.

The shopping centre is a huge building, topped with a dome, which, of course, gives it a distinct Middle-Eastern look.

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Shopping-wise, we were interested specifically in Turkish brands. Generally, shopping in Istanbul is very pleasant, primarily because of the high quality of service. The shop assistant immediately greets you but does not pounce on you or tread on your heels, as, again, they annoyingly like to do back home. And when you address them, they show a maximum of friendliness, patience and willingness to help you make a purchase that you are really going to like.

The same, by the way, applies to waiters in restaurant: the service is very quick and they are really friendly (which doesn’t look fake and forced).

Funnily, the only time when we saw neither of these qualities was the day before yesterday, when we had lunch at our hotel’s bistro. We waited for our most basic sandwiches for so long that we could vividly imagine the waiter running into the kitchen in a panic and shouting: “They ordered sandwiches! Be quick, run to buy chicken and meat!”

But overall, we really liked the local people. Not once did we even observe any quarrel, rudeness or swearing. People are polite and friendly to each other. The degree of friendliness towards us increased even more when they learned that we were from Azerbaijan. And their attitude towards animals, which I have already mentioned, simply wins one’s heart and mind!

On this day, dedicated to shopping, we got a chance to visit not only a large modern mall, but also the little shops of the Old City. The impressions are completely different, of course. Shops are strictly specialized – bags only or hats only – but on the whole, there is some feeling of chaos. Yet, this chaos has a certain charm to it.

We finished the day with dinner at the same restaurant near our hotel, which we liked so much yesterday.

08 February 2019

Today, on the day of our departure, we enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the rainy Istiklal Caddesi after breakfast.

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We decided to have lunch at the airport, and we headed there rather early – as it turned out, it was a good idea. The queues at the Istanbul airport begin not at the check-in counter, but from the entrance, where a full security check is taking place. Actually, the measure is quite understandable, remembering the terrorist attack at this airport three years ago.

Interestingly, everywhere around the airport we could spot bald men, with bruises on their seemingly burned heads. We’d come across such men previously as well, in the city. We wondered what that could be – some kind of sect? Later it turned out that everything was much more trivial and that Istanbul is a Mecca of hair transplantation, with lots of clinics and prices more affordable than in other countries.

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Posted in English, Europe, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul – Day 3

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

06 February 2019

Today has been a particularly busy day, and the weather played up very well: the forecast that promised non-stop rain turned out wrong, and it actually only rained in the morning while we were still on the bus on our way to the tour around the main sights of Istanbul’s Old City.

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Surprisingly, although we had reserved yesterday’s and today’s tours on different websites, we were greeted by the same guide as yesterday, Muzaffer, in our English-speaking group. Apart from us there was also the same Indian couple as yesterday and an Irish family. Looking ahead, I will say that after lunch we were joined by another couple from Hong Kong and some British Indians.

The day started getting a spiritual direction right from the start – from the Hacı Beşir Ağa Mosque. It is small, not particularly remarkable, but it is where we were explained how to behave in a mosque (believe it or not, I hadn’t been to one before!): there is an obligatory requirement to take shoes off and, for women, to cover their head with a scarf. The mosque itself was closed, and we could only look at its interior from the upper floor for women. What was interesting to see was a special chamber, where a believer would spend the night before having to make an important decision, praying for Allah to send them a clue in a dream.

Next followed one of Istanbul’s main features – which became especially famous after the Magnificent Century TV series – the Topkapi Palace. It is constructed on the first of the seven hills of Istanbul and dominates the surrounding area. As we entered the very first room – if I remember correctly, it was the Imperial Council, or Dîvân-ı Hümâyûn – we immediately understood why the Dolmabahce Palace, despite all its pomp and splendour, didn’t cause a storm of delight. The domes, the paintings and the décor of Topkapi are much stricter, more harmonious and, one might say, more majestic. What I see here is spirituality vs. Dolmabahce’s depersonalised grandeur. And all this despite the fact that this palace’s harem was not included in our tour.

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There are four gardens in the palace complex – the first two are external, while the third and fourth are internal, and the latter was only reserved for the closest members of the sultan’s household. Photography is allowed in many parts of the palace, but not in rooms with expositions – which is a shame, given that they contain the most interesting things!

First of all, there is a magnificent collection of clocks and watches – both from Turkey and Western Europe, from small pocket watches to tall grandfather clocks. Next, there is an extensive collection of weapons – mostly local Ottoman ones (such as firearms, bows, swords, yatagans, chain armours, shields, helmets, including those for horses), but also trophy and gifted weapons. For us it was particularly interesting to see Safavid weapons among the last (or maybe the penultimate!): who knows, it may have been my ancestors who used it! At the same time, we couldn’t help having a strange feeling, that today we are walking around this exposition and looking with great interest at something that once presented a mortal danger and was created to kill people.

The next exposition consists of huge kitchen premises, which were used for preparing food for six thousand people. And nowadays they contain a collection of ceremonial tableware and kitchen utensils. We found the latter more interesting, since they are functional, as for tableware — well, it’s just tableware!

We were really impressed with the collection of religious relics – at one point the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire extended over Mecca and Medina, making it inherit the status of the caliphate, as well as Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, it was in its capital that a collection of items belonging to the prophet Muhammad (weapons, personal belongings, even beard hair and teeth) and his closest entourage, as well as other prophets — for example, the staff of Moses and the sword of David — was collected.

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We also really liked the library of Sultan Ahmed III, in the midst of which there is the sultan himself (well, obviously a figure!)

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The last exposition we got to see contained the portraits of all the sultans, but this one was probably the least interesting. From the palace, where we spent about two hours, we went straight to lunch, which was very well organized. In general, the impression is that restaurants in Istanbul are often placed on the top floor of a hotel to provide a beautiful view. So there we sat, eating delicious mezes and kofte, drinking tea and admiring the views of Istanbul and the seagulls proudly sitting on the roofs.

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After lunch, now in a bigger group, we headed to Hagia Sophia. This place is truly unique, bringing together values that are almost incompatible by modern standards. Outside, it is very clearly visible that the minarets are attached to a Christian church. However, the building itself does not look particularly outstanding. Looking ahead, I will say that the Blue Mosque, located directly opposite, is much more beautiful on the outside.

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However, the interior of Hagia Sophia is stunning. Despite crowds of tourists – as always, mostly Chinese – you get a feeling of extraordinary holiness and admiration for the fact that the images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the first Roman emperors and the symbols of Islam peacefully coexist in this place.

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In fact, this has not always been the case. At first, Sultan Mehmed II, who conquered Constantinople, simply ordered the main Christian cathedral to be turned into a mosque, covering the Christian images with plaster. They weren’t cleared until 1935, when by a decree signed by Ataturk, Hagia Sophia became a museum.

The happy free cats of Istanbul feel great here as well, causing a smile, which somewhat dilutes the sublime feelings evoked by the place.

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The Blue Mosque, aka the Sultanahmet Mosque, as already mentioned, is very beautiful outside. It has as many as six minarets (usually, there are one, two or four). But unfortunately, there was almost nothing to look at inside – there is renovation going on, so, for instance, the dome is completely covered. Since, unlike Hagia Sophia, this is a functioning mosque, there are a separate entrance and exit for tourists, who therefore have to carry their shoes with them in specially provided plastic bags.

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To finish with the mosque topic, I will say that there are more than two thousand of them in Istanbul. This seems like a huge number, but is actually normal for 20 million people.

We had thought that the Hippodrome – our next destination – was a visit to some ancient sports facilities or its remnants. It turned out to be even more than just remnants, located right here, at the Sultanahmet Square: there is only one Egyptian obelisk and two Greek columns, one of which is made of weapons and armour of the defeated Persians.

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And finally, the last destination of our tour is the Grand Bazaar, or Kapalı Çarşı. The visit was preceded by a meeting with experts of Turkish carpet weaving, which we had in the Istanbul Handicraft Centre not far from the Bazaar. They treated us to apple tea, piled up a bunch of carpets in front of us and explained the difference between the local and, say, Persian technique(double knots instead of single ones). Of course, this was done with an eye to enticing us to purchase carpets, but no one in our group was willing to. At least us, the Azerbaijanis, could hardly be tempted by carpets.

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We had 40 minutes to explore the Bazaar itself, but in fact that was more than enough. Frankly speaking, yesterday’s Spice Bazaar impressed us a lot more, because Kapalı Çarşı, although of course much bigger, seemed less beautiful and more chaotic. We walked through one of the galleries back and forth and found that this “drop” was enough to appreciate the entire “sea” of the Grand Bazaar.

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Moreover, even though the day had been very interesting, it had also been exhausting, so our bus, which accurately dropped us off at our hotel, seemed to be the most tempting place.

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We were so tired that for dinner we found a restaurant literally around the corner from our hotel, and made a right choice: it was very nice and cozy with delicious food and great service.

Posted in English, Europe, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul – Day 2

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

04 February 2019

Today’s weather clearly demonstrated that February is February, and yesterday was just a gift to mark our arrival. Today was pretty windy, with almost no sun, and, according to the forecast, this is not going to be the worst day of our stay.

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We had a Bosphorus cruise planned for today, and at 8am we were picked up by a minibus. Apparently in order to prepare us for a boat ride, the minibus hurled us from side to side, rushing down narrow streets, past countless (for some reason!) shops selling lighting fixtures.

There were six of us in the group – a couple from Southeast Asia, two Indians, and us – the Azerbaijanis. The first item on our agenda was Misir Carsisi – or Spice Bazaar, aka Egyptian Bazaar, with beautiful gilded passages, tons and tons of spices, nuts, Turkish delights, gold and silver! We entered this kingdom of Middle-Eastern goods with a firm intention to just look around. But resourceful sellers immediately involved us in a “round dance” of offers, treats, promises of discounts, and we changed our determination to not but anything – anyway, we didn’t end up making any completely impulsive purchases: we bought sweets, spices, a cezve and silver jewelry. What contributed most to our purchases was, first of all, our understanding of Turkish (which allowed the sellers to elaborate extensively on the quality of their goods) and secondly, the fact that we accidentally came across our fellow countrywoman at one of the shops – she seemed to be either the administrator or the owner.

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Having left all our purchases in the minibus, with the kind consent of our guide, we transferred to the cruise boat, where there were a couple of other tourist groups apart from ours, but overall the boat was far from being full – apparently, it’s a low season now.

Yesterday the concierge at our hotel was trying to convince us to sign up for another cruise in the afternoon, scaring us with the usual morning fog, which would prevent us from seeing much. Fortunately, that turned out not to be the case. I mean, some fog was present indeed, but firstly, it didn’t really bother us, and besides, it didn’t dissipate in the afternoon either.

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The cruise starts at the Kabatas ferry port, and first goes along the European part of the city, past such attractions as the Dolmabahce Palace, the Rumeli Fortress and the Ciragan Palace, converted into a Kempinski hotel – the most expensive one in Istanbul. We made nice photos, but cannot really say that our delight went through the roof. By the way, we were accompanied by seagulls during the whole of our journey, however, compared to those at Galata Tower yesterday, these ones seemed smaller.

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What looked more interesting was the Asian part, which we sailed along when the ship turned around from the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge. And here, even more than the actual sights of interest, including the Anadolu fortress, the Beylerbeyi Palace, the Kucuksu pavilion, we enjoyed the coastline, strewn with variegated mansions. Their unique location with direct Bosphorus views makes them the most expensive real estate in Turkey, with prices reaching up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

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This morning we still had no exact plans for the afternoon: we had a thought to dedicate the day entirely to water travel and visit the Princes’ Islands. It was the weather that finally discouraged us. The Princes’ Islands are mostly good for walking around – there isn’t even any transport there, besides horse carts. Therefore, we changed our minds in favour of the Dolmabahce Palace, and we took an Uber there, which didn’t go perfectly well. He dropped us off near some beautiful (but locked!) palace gates and rushed off into the sunset. The street looked deserted, in particular, we didn’t see any crowds of tourists storming the palace.

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To our luck, literally the only passer-by, whom we naturally addressed, knew exactly where the palace entrance was (it turned out that we had just been dropped off in the wrong place) and kindly showed us the way. By the way, she herself turned out not to be local, but an Afghan living in the USA and working here just temporarily.

The location of the palace is simply amazing – the sultans did know a thing or two about choosing the perfect place. The carved fences and the garden gates overlook the Bosphorus. One can imagine the pleasure of walking in this garden!

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Dolmabahce is not the old residence of the sultans (which we aren’t going to see till tomorrow), but a 19th-century building, reflecting all of the contemporary European trends, which is especially noticeable in the furniture. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the palace, and although not all visitors were quite law-abiding, we decided to comply.

There are two types of tickets: including and excluding a visit to the harem. Of course, the first type is preferable: in fact, the harem is much more interesting and luxurious than the rest of the palace, and better reflects the actual life of the sultan’s family. Along standard apartments of sultan’s wives, consisting of a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom (with a squat toilet, as everywhere in the palace!), there are also the luxurious and extensive apartments of Valide Sultan, the reigning sultan’s mother. The latter include a prayer room, a large reception room, a private room, and a spacious bedroom. Even the sultan’s own apartments in the harem are superior in luxury and decoration to his apartments in the official part of the palace.

The latter, of course, has beautifully furnished rooms, but the one that can be considered truly exclusive is the main hall with an incredibly painted domed ceiling. There are also two display rooms: the first one contains tableware and kitchenware, and the second one has medals, weapons, household and leisure items.

It’s interesting to note that after the fall of the monarchy, Atatürk chose Dolmabahce as his residence, and this is where he died – in one of the rooms (a very simple and modest one) of the former harem. This room is also open to visitors, and the bed in it is covered with a blanket representing the Turkish flag.

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We stayed in Dolmabahce almost until its closing time. From here we were supposed to go for dinner, to a fish restaurant, booked in advance, in the Cihangir area. And this suddenly turned into a whole adventure. We hadn’t ordered a taxi in advance, and tried to hail one in the street, but the cars were going in the opposite direction and the taxi driver refused to pick us. Google showed that the restaurant was relatively close, literally a 22-minute walk.

What Google didn’t show, however, is that we would have to climb countless stairs a good deal of the way. Possibly, I would even say most certainly, there should exist a longer way without stairs – I mean, cars do get there somehow! – but we, naively and recklessly, not realising how much we would have to climb, went up the stairs. It was a breathtaking experiment! The stairs were quite steep and chipped, some parts of the way had no handrails, occasionally a stair was interrupted by a sewer manhole. Afraid to look back and feel dizzy, we climbed up and up, like cats, who can climb only up trees, out of fear. Speaking of cats, their appearance was the pinnacle of the whole climb. Five of them simultaneously ditched their food bowls (apparently, kindly provided by residents of the houses located along the stairs) and rushed at our feet. They were meowing loudly and rubbing against us, a couple of cats even smacked each other, fighting for the right to get in our way, and then followed us for a long time. I struggle to imagine what that was. In that situation, they totally seemed like messengers from hell, but perhaps the poor animals were just trying to welcome us and cheer us up. They only left us at the very last part of the staircase. Alas, there are no photos of the cats – it was not the right moment to take pictures, you know.

After we successfully overcame this “hurdle”, we still had to meander a bit more more around the streets going up and down, but this felt more tolerable. We entered the restaurant totally exhausted. But then we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the city from the 8th floor, delicious fish, and excellent service.

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Posted in English, Europe, Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul – Day 1

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

03 February 2019

Surprising, but fact – I am a person who has seen quite a few countries, including far ones, but has never been to the neighbouring Turkey. Yet, every self-respecting Azerbaijani, who has the opportunity to travel abroad, has definitely been there. So I finally decided to fill this unforgivable gap, and here we are, flying to Istanbul!

The flight begins with mixed feelings: there is no online check-in, which is bad, but we end up without a seat neighbour, which is good; our seats are at the very rear of the aircraft, which is bad, but breakfast starts being served from the tail of the cabin, which is good. First we are flying over mountains – underneath us there is the majestic Caucasus, with its dazzling snowy peaks! – and then mostly over the Black Sea.

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The Istanbul Ataturk Airport is definitely worth a mention – the speed and the quality, which we observed while going through all the necessary stages of arrival, really impressed us. Such a contrast with, say, Heathrow, where you hang around for a good hour in an extremely slow queue at the passport control. The queue here isn’t any shorter, if not longer, but it’s moving speedily and cheerfully all the time.

At first glance, Istanbul didn’t strike us with anything extraordinary. We are going in a taxi, on our right side we see the Marmara Sea, and on our left side there are some buildings, not very expressive ones.

Our hotel is located in the Pera district in the European part of the city, and is literally a stone’s throw away from the central pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi. In general, we were advised – and we also advise this in our turn – to choose a hotel in this particular part of the city, and definitely not in the Old Town, where most of the tourist attractions are. In fact the Old Town area is only lively during the daytime, while Istiklal Avenue and its surroundings provide the tourist with everything they need – food, drink, shopping, entertainment – at all times of the day and night. View from our hotel window:

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So Istiklal Avenue is where we start exploring Istanbul today. Our hotel’s location is such that if you walk a kilometre to the left, you will get to Taksim, and if you walk one (plus a bit more) to the right, you will reach the Galata Tower.

We first turned left. A historic tram line passes through Istiklal Caddesi, and this is the street’s only transport, apart from cleaning vehicles and police cars, which, by the way, also try to drive along the tramway track so as not to disturb pedestrians very much. For people from Baku, the best description of Istiklal Avenue is that it’s Istanbul’s “Torgovaya”, only a very long one.

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We are surprisingly lucky with the weather today: despite it being February, it is so warm during the daytime that we have to take off our outerwear every now and then. When we sit down on a bench on Taksim Square, the sun is literally scorching. The square itself does not seem very cozy. We sat there for a bit and looked at a mosque under construction, at the “Republic” monument with sculptures of Ataturk and other marshals, including the Soviet marshal Voroshilov, and then turned back to Istiklal Caddesi, more interested in the tram, with roller skater boys clinging to it, than in the square itself.

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Walking Istiklal Street is very pleasant. We are eating wonderful roasted chestnuts, which are sold at every corner, and dondurma – the special stretchy Turkish ice cream, which the seller scoops onto cones, using a long-handled paddle, and turning the whole thing into a real show.

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A separate paragraph should be devoted to the cats of Istanbul. There are lots of them, and this is the only place I have seen where cats are as beautiful as in Baku, but here they are loved and cherished much more. Almost every store or restaurant has food and drink bowls for cats, and often even a special little cat house. However, the most audacious cats prefer to settle in a chair right inside. There are quite ordinary-looking cats, and there are also simply outstanding examples of fluffiness and fatness. Dogs can also be found, though less often; all of them are microchipped and seemingly contented.

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What’s also interesting on Istiklal Caddesi is that there are quite a few Christian churches. We walked into one – the Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua, and, as it seemed to me, there were quite a few Turks praying in it, although I could be wrong.

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We reached the Galata Tower quite unexpectedly – for some reason I had the impression that it was in the opposite direction, and then suddenly we saw a signpost. It was about 5pm, and at first we decided to wait for the evening to take pictures of the tower in the evening light, and then thought that instead of idly waiting around we might as well go up to the observation deck (previously we were planning to do it tomorrow). The queue (maybe it’s a property of all the queues in Istanbul!), despite its impressive length, was moving rather quickly. We wondered if there was a lift inside the tower, or if we would have to climb a spiral staircase. There was a lift, yet we still had to climb the last two floors.

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I must say that a moderate wait in the queue and a dizzy climb up the eerie stairs were totally worth it. The view of Istanbul from all sides is magnificent! A special feature are the large seagulls, which land on stone balls from time to time, right at arm’s length, and observe the city, looking very smart and important. Obviously, just like the tourists here, they are admiring the Bosphorus, the Golden Horn Bay, the famous mosques in the Old City. The only slightly annoying bit is that there are too many people on such a narrow rim of the tower, especially when not everyone is following the instructions to move only clockwise, which leads to chaotic cramming.

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The tower also offers another entertainment – a simulation of a helicopter flight, which we didn’t find tempting though. However, we were taken a ton of pictures of, wearing historical costumes of harem dwellers. The poster advertising this attraction beckons you with a price of 30 liras (about 6 USD) per photo, but the ingenious photographer takes so many beautiful photos, with a variety of props, that you almost unwittingly end up forking out a lot more. But we still liked it!

To make sure we do get to see the Galata Tower in the evening light, we decided to have dinner in a restaurant directly opposite it. The weather and the heaters allowed us to sit comfortably outside (in February!) As for the restaurant, what can I say? Delicious kebabs, excellent service.

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Posted in Asia, English, Phi Phi, Phuket, Thailand

Thailand – Day 9

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

26 March 2018

Since we are now all on our own and we need to entertain ourselves somehow, we decided to go on a day tour of the nearby islands. The are two famous directions here: the Phi Phi islands and the islands of Phang Nga Bay (which include the famous James Bond Island).

We took a while to pick one – both seemed to be very good, but the first route included snorkeling and the second one included kayaking. As we had already tried kayaking in Vietnam, we decided to try snorkeling this time and finally chose Phi Phi.

So, at about 6.15am (!) we were picked up from our hotel by a minibus and taken to the pier with seven other passengers. The painfully early hour is a special feature of this company, intended to arrive to places before crowds of other tourists.

At the pier, we got a light breakfast (special kudos for the hot sandwiches!) and then headed to our boat with the guide – a very friendly guy called Wai. The speedboat was equipped with safety vests, which we were told to wear, as well as with snorkeling masks.

It took us about an hour to get to our first stop – the Phi Phi Lei island. We arrived around 9am, and there were already a lot of tourists, mostly Russians. On the Maya beach, known for The Beach movie with DiCaprio, no one was swimming, everyone was just taking photos.

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We took a few as well and then took a stroll among a crowd of Russian tourists to look at the picturesque Loh Samah Bay.

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Once back on the boat, we rounded the island and anchored in the Pi Leh bay, where we could swim, jumping (or descending the stairs) into the sea directly from the boat. Right next to us was a boat carrying lots and lots of Chinese tourists, who were swimming around us, wearing bright orange lifejackets.

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Our next stop was for snorkeling, again straight from the boat. Wai handed us the snorkeling masks, we pulled on our fins and got out into the water. It felt bizzarre at first, so I had to get my head above water every few seconds. But then I got used to it. The sensations are very interesting, as if you are right inside the Singapore aquarium – there are lots of colourful tropical fish swarming around and it seems like you can reach out and catch one. Except that when you do try to reach out, they dodge and very easily avoid being caught.

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Another attraction of the island is the so-called Viking Cave, containing some rock paintings. Previously, the cave used to be open to visitors, but now swallow nests are being harvested here (for food purposes), so tourists cannot get inside. So we just floated by. Quite a pity, as on the outside it didn’t look like anything special.

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We didn’y stop at the Monkey Island either, just came very close to it. Not that anyone minded though – the prospect of being attacked and robbed by long-tailed macaques was hardly tempting! It was much better to observe our distant relatives from the boat. And then, when one monkey, apparently a male, separated from the group, jumped on a rock closer to us and stared at us, it even started feeling a bit uncomfortable, so I preferred to go inside the boat.

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We stopped on the second major island, Phi Phi Don, for lunch at a local restaurant, with a big table already waiting for us with various dishes: curries, coconut soup, french fries, and some spicy vegetables.

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It already got very hot to the extent that walking on the sand became painful. We didn’t get to swim here, but our last stop on the Bamboo Island turned out very pleasant. We stopped at the back of the island, and Wai said that there were much fewer people here than at the front. Indeed, there was only one other boat anchored at beach, and then it left too.

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The sea bottom here was more suitable for snorkeling than for normal swimming, as there were lost of coral reefs. And again it was very interesting – there were colourful fish all around you in the crystal-clear water, there were sea sponges, contracting their bodies, there were some ugly creatures looking like sea cucumbers at the bottom.

Overall, we had a very good trip, with the cherry on the top being such an interesting activity as snorkeling.

We still have two and a half days to spend in Phuket, but I am not going to write any more posts, since all we are planning to do is lie on the beach.

Posted in Asia, English, Phuket, Thailand

Thailand – Day 8

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

25 March 2018

Despite yesterday’s worries, we made it to our last cooking class very smoothly. As it was indicated, we were picked up at 8am by a minibus and taken to the opposide coast of the peninsula, right through the town of Phuket. First we stopped at a market, where, just as during our previous classes, the instructor showed us variuos products, specific for Thai cuisine. But while neither in Bangkok nor in Chiangmai did we get to see a full-scale market, here we found ourselves right in one, with all its peculiar smells.

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The instructor explained that all the products that we were going to use today had been purchased here, except for meat and fish. The meat and fish here stay outside without a refrigerator all day, and, she said, while it is not a problem for a Thai stomach, ours would not necessarily appreciate it, that is why these products had been bought at a supermarket.

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From the market we headed to the cooking school, located right on the beach.

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To start with, we were treated to local desserts and exotic fruits, mostly familiar to us, except for the rose apple or chompoo, looking like a pear, very juicy, and not tasting anything like a proper apple. As for desserts, they all seemed to taste the same – just like the sticky rice that usually goes with mango.

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Our half-day course included cooking everything we were already familiar with: spring rolls, tom yum soup and sticky rice with mango. The difference between this course and the previous ones was that firstly, there were different instructors for different dishes and secondly, the process itself went like this: we sat in a room looking like a mini-lecture theatre, and the instructor demonstrated the whole cooking process from beginning to end, and then we had to repeat it on our own.

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Once again, we didn’t get to cook the sticky rice with mango, but were only shown how to do it. The reason is that this dessert is made in bulk rather than in individual portions: first you have to steam the glutinous rice and then top it with a sweet coconut sauce. But this time, the process of cooking the rice was explained very well and thoroughly.

We watched the instructor prepare the tom yum soup just like a theatre performance. He was totally killing it, supplying every action with jokes and funny faces.

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So now we can quite consider ourselves specialists in Thai cuisine!

After the class we were brought back to the hotel, and our tour programme was over. Now the travel agency would only need to safely take us to the airport in 4 days’ time, and for now we are completely left to ourselves. So I personally spent my afternoon by the infinity pool in our hotel, overlooking the sea. I got to see a gorgeous sunset – we are lucky to be staying in the west of the peninsula.

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Looking for a place to have seafood dinner, we wandered into a restaurant. First we were a bit confused about what to choose, and then the waiter told us that just for 2200 baht (about $70) we could get a crab, a lobster, a fish, mussels, shrimp and squid, and choose how to cook each of the beasts, which would be more than enough for two people. And we got a whole feast!

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Posted in Asia, Chiang Mai, English, Phuket, Thailand

Thailand – Day 7

РУССКОЯЗЫЧНАЯ ВЕРСИЯ ПО ЭТОЙ ССЫЛКЕ. CLICK HERE FOR RUSSIAN VERSION.

24 March 2018

This post is also supposed to turn out short, as well as devoid of any particular enthusiasm. But anyway, the morning started pretty well. We got up, had a slow breakfast at the poolside (by the way, the breakfast in Chiang Mai is leading so far, compared to breakfasts in other cities: there’s more variety, the food is tastier and the place looks more pleasant overall), and went for a walk to the Old Town on our own.

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Basically, just as during our evening walk with the guide, we didn’t discover anything particularly remarkable in the Old Town. Well, there is a medieval city wall, but I’ve seen better walls. Otherwise, there are lots and lots of temples at literally every step – I think, Chiang Mai has around 300 of them, in fact, that is what it’s famous for.

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On the way we noticed an interesting procession. First we saw school-aged boys in identical white clothes. They were followed by girls, in the same type of clothes, only with skirts. Then we saw young monks of the same age in monastic robes of the same white colour. There were also occasional adults, dressed normally, but all carrying beautifully folded orange cloth in their hands – it looked as if they were carrying robes for monks as a gift. Some schoolchildren were carrying some flags or portraits of the king and members of the royal family. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to figure out what kind of event that was and where they were all heading.

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We didn’t get to do a long walk, as it became very hot, so we returned to the hotel, packed and came downstairs to the lobby to wait for our driver for our airport transfer. Kudos to the driver, he arrived exactly on time – it’s not for nothing that we liked him (moreover, in the driver-guide tandem, he was definitely our favourite).

The flight to Phuket itself was on time and went fine. But at the airport there was a surprise waiting for us – or rather, there wasn’t anyone waiting for us at all. Based on our experience working with this travel agency, this came completely unexpected, as neither in Vietnam, nor in Thailand so far had we faced such issues. We tried calling the agency, but no one responded – it was Saturday, after all. To our great luck, though, we had a business card from Vanna, our Bangkok guide. We called her, she followed up, and it turned out that there was someone waiting for us after all, but he didn’t have our names written on the paper, or maybe forgot about us completely. By the way, he wasn’t a personal guide, but merely a representative of the transfer company, and, having made us wait for some more time, finally organised a car with a driver for us. In total, we had to wait for at least 45 minutes. Honestly, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience, because while our Vietnam trip had left us with the impression that we were much better off taking a tour than if we’d organised the trip ourselves, in a situation like this we definitely felt that it would have been way easier for us to just get a taxi and not spend ages waiting.

As for tomorrow’s cooking class, no one left us any instructions either. Once again, many thanks to Vanna, who came to our rescue and found out everything: who would pick us up and when.

As a result, we arrived at the hotel already in the dark, and didn’t get to see much. The beach is right across our hotel, and there seem to be many different restaurants around. We wend to one of them straight away to have seafood and really enjoyed sitting on the terrace overlooking the sea (in the dark). The prices in Phuket are significantly higher than elsewhere and apparently, the restaurant itself wasn’t cheap as well. By the way, alcohol is relatively expensive throughout Thailand. A glass of wine or a cocktail here will cost the same as a main dish, if not more.