Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mike Wazowski, Mike Wazowski

We're a strange couple in Istanbul. Okay, anyone who knows us knows we're odd, but not in the sense that we were there. Being a mixed couple, we had alot of people stare at us. But it also meant that people would talk to us alot more too; a lot of them sales people because we were obviously tourist.

When we were at Topkapki Palace, there was a field trip of school children there as well. Seeing us with cameras in hand, there was a lot of waving and "Mehraba". DH took some pictures of the kids and we walked on.

Somewhere down the road though, we met up with the kids again, and this time we were swarmed. Turkish children have an hour's worth of English lessons a day and they were very eager to try it out. They asked us how we were, what's our name, and how old we were. Very old, DH replied. He and I got separated by the group of kids, but then he called over to me to say that one of the little girls wanted to have her picture taken. I heard my name being called by all the kids, and it felt like that scene from Monsters Inc., where Boo calls out to Mike Wazowski and all the other little monsters start saying "Mike Wazowski, Mike Wazowski!"

The Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market

Of course, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar. You really have to steel yourself before heading anywhere near there, against the barrage of people trying to sell you anything and everything. Okay, I had to, shopping isn't my favourite pastime at the best of times. It's quite an experience, and if you can get past the main street and go to the back streets, there are actually some very interesting things to see.

We ended up buying some belly dancing costumes (I'll spare the gory details) and DH was very tempted to buy the Sultan's hat and robe, but didn't know how he'd bring them back. I told him to just wear the hat on the plane, that way people would give him a wide berth at least.

We heard some very creative phrases from some sales people; "Your money is my money", "No money, no honey."were a few of the more interesting things we heard. Quite a few of them yelled out "Japon" to me, and I was ready to smack the next person who said it to me, but unfortunately the opportunity never presented itself when I was good and ready.

Carpets of course, were the big thing in the Grand Bazaar, although there were a myriad of other things to purchase (what the heck was I supposed to do with a Turkish drum set?). We managed to get out of there fairly unscathed, until the second to last day when we went back to buy me a Chanel purse and an Hermes purse.

The spice market was equally crazy, but they were selling the other "c" stuff: caviar. I was more interested in spices and ended up buying saffron, sumac, paprika and some apple tea. It was captivating being there, the brilliant colours of the spices was a stark contrast to the grey exterior of the building. I could've spent a lot more money in this place, but I felt it was more prudent to just not make eye contact with anyone whenever I could help it. Posted by Picasa

Introduction to the people

We went for a walk along the boardwalk, and of course, no matter where you go in Istanbul, there's someone wanting you to buy something. We had been walking for a while, so when the gentleman in tie invited us to come and have some coffee, we figured why not. Turkish coffee is lovely, thick and rich and definitely caffeinated. Because it is strong, DH asked if they served dessert at this establishment. Of course, the man responded, and asked us to give him a moment. We saw him scurry back inside, and then a server went to another store, a few doors down. A few moments later, the young man pictured here came over with a tray of delectable looking desserts. Naturally, we both had to try one, and while Turks aren't exactly known for chocolate desserts, these were delicious. Posted by Picasa

Onto Istanbul

After Rome, we went back to our usual hotel in Paris. This time, I managed to see Trastevere on the train ride back to the airport. We kicked around Paris for a few days before catching a flight out to Istanbul. We almost didn't make it because our wake up call never came. Fortunately, while a little later than we wanted to be, we managed to catch the RER back out to CDG.

Never again, will we take Swiss Air. Zurich's airport is supposed to be the best in Europe; if that's the case, I hate to see the worst. It's small and cramped and our flight was delayed, so it was with great relief when we finally hit Istanbul.

I had no idea what to expect when we landed, I was expecting a third world type airport for a third world country, but was pleasantly surprised to see a very modern civilized airport. Fortunately, DH had made arrangements with our hotel to have someone there to pick us up, and so an hour after we were supposed to arrive, we come out to see a placard with our name on it.

The driver didn't speak English, but at least he could drive. For those who're used to very populated cities, the traffic won't be much surprise to you, but for me, I was amazed at how everyone just drove like there were no lines on the road. Cars just made lanes where they saw fit, but everyone was fairly courteous, and knew when to back off, and when to press forward.

Our hotel was situated in the Russian district, a ways away from Taxim, the tourist area. The streets are even more convoluted than they were in Rome, and even after 9 days of being there, I never did figure out which way to turn once I came out of the hotel. I did manage to memorize enough landmarks to find my way back, which is probably the better thing to do.

The hotel was a four star hotel, and the staff were excellent, very highly recommended hotel. On arrival, we were given complimentary drinks, a fruit basket and a small bottle of wine. We vowed after that, that we're not going back to any 2 star hotels anymore.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

An Italian meal

I won't say anything about the Colosseum and the Forum since everything is on my picture site. What I will say is that after visiting those places, we went to eat at a restaurant recommended by the hotel we were staying at.

We tried out one of the house dishes, which was, you had a choice of one to ten pastas and they would bring out however many you requested. We stuck with five pastas and a carafe of red wine. The pastas ranged from lasagne to gnocchi (no spaghetti in the five, much to DH's dismay) but they were all fantastic. Very fresh tasting and each one different from the last. By the time we finished the last dish, we were quite ready to roll out of the restaurant comfortably. The walk back took us once again past the Colosseum which we took in, from the outside, with awe.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

St. Peter's Basilica

After the Vatican, we headed over to St. Peter's. What an enormous building; the foyer alone can fit most of the world's churches in it. A grand building, like all other Catholic buildings in Rome, and huge! Everything in it was huge, the statues, the confessional, everything. Plus, it's been a long time since I've seen so many Catholics congregated in one place at any given time. Everywhere, people were in prayer, especially by St. Peter's tomb. The pictures we took do not do the place justice.

After we finished ooh and ahhing, we decided to join the queue to head up the cupola. You have the option of taking the stairs the entire way up, or the elevator to the first part and then take stairs the rest of the way. Seeing how the mandatory steps were over 300 as it was, we decided to take the elevator first.

Once you get off the elevator, you 're actually on the outside of the church, and have to walk back in. It's a wild sight to be inside, but hundreds of feet above where you just were. DH got vertigo at that point and had to go back outside. I , on the other hand, was disappointed that they didn't allow you to walk right around and that the netting was so high, thus obstructing any good pictures I wanted to take off the going ons below us.

We had both heard stories about going up the cupola and were a little scared to go up. DH had understood that there was just a railing between you and certain death below while going up. I had thought it would be scary, but thrilling because you'd be at the very top of the cupola, looking down at the people praying below. As it turns out, we were both wrong. The stairs were in a tight spiral up and like the stairs in the Notre Dame in Paris, they were flanked on both sides by walls that went straight up and didn't give much room for movement. In fact, alot of North Americans probably couldn't even fit. Lots of people had to stop along the way, and thankfully it was built so there were areas to pull over so others could pass. I managed to get up without having to stop. Once I got there, it was a short few steps to the final destination: an amazing view of the entire Vatican and Rome laid out beyond that. Truly breathtaking. I did my round and went back down to where DH was waiting for me. I kept pushing him until he agreed to go up and see it for himself, and once he realized that there was nowhere to go, I think he loosened up and loved the view from the top. All in all, I did the 330 stairs four times, which, in my mind meant I deserved my gelato that day.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Vatican Museum

If I really wanted to annoy my mother (not that she'd be reading this anyway) I could go on and on about what a pompous bunch that created the Vatican and how the riches in there could feed all the world's poor and they'd still have millions in the bank. But I won't.

Instead, I will talk about how beautiful the statues are and how again, awe inspiring the building is. What you could see of it of course. We got up early to head out to the Vatican, and thankfully we did. There was a fair lineup already and 7:45am and the Vatican museum didn't open until 8:00am. There were also tours that were allowed ahead of us, most frustrating, especially since most tours just run their groups through like a bunch of gazelles being chased by a cheetah. I mean what's the point. But I digress (again). DH, having done his homework, took us straight past everything in the museum and up to the Sistine Chapel.

There is a story that when Michaelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel there was a member of the Vatican who annoyed him, and so Michaelangelo painted this man's face on the ass of a donkey. We looked in vain for the donkey, but were unable to find it. Still, the paintings were breath taking, despite all the people in there gawking and talking loudly (guards kept shushing them) and some people taking pictures (a big no no!).

We took our time to go back through the museum and admire all the artwork and statues and gold pieces that the Vatican stole, I mean, are housing for safekeeping. As we walked by a globe with the astrological figures painted on it (see below), I heard a woman who was part of a tour group ask the guide "Is that what they used to believe in?" And that's why we don't join tours.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Palazzo di Giustizia and Castel Sant Angelo

Palazzo di Giustizia, or the Hall of Justice is enormous. A foreboding looking building, it has some of the most beautiful statues around. It was impossible to take a picture of the entire building and do it justice, so just take my word for it that it's grand, and then go see it for yourself.

This picture shows just a part of the front of this building, it actually stretches out way past what can be shown in the picture.

Castel Sant Angelo began as a mausoleum built by Emperor Hadrian. It was later converted into a fortress to keep Romans safe and invaders out.

In the 14th century, it was converted once again this time into a church and was connected to St. Peter's Basilica  Posted by Picasa

Via Veneto and Via Condotti

No trip to Rome would be complete without checking out the haute coutoure and seeing how the other half lives. So after our morning cappucino, we decided to head first to the Borghese. Along the way, we saw nice architecture (afterall, Rome is one largeworking museum) and some open markets full of fruits and vegetables. We decided not to go into the museum that day, not with the Louvre and the British museum still fairly fresh in our minds. So instead, we walked down to Via Veneto to check out the Lambourghini.

From there, we walked to Via Condotti, the fashion district of Rome. This is the equivalent of Robson Street, very few locals would actually shop there, but tourists eat it up like there's no tomorrow. A very nice walk if nothing else and we got to see what the latest spring fashions are. Somehow it still hasn't helped my wardrobe improve.

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The Pantheon

As I told some of you in my email, we now had two addictions in Rome; cappucinos and gelato. It was hard to go a day without having both.

The Pantheon in Rome is undescribably beautiful. It is as wide as it is tall, thus making it a perfect sphere, proof of how intelligent the ancient Romans were. The source of light into the building from the cupola. It was later taken over and made into a church. Raphael is buried there, and Michaelangelo had a part in some of the works of art in that building.

DH said it was a surreal feeling for him to be in there. I didn't feel that, but maybe I'm just less religiously inclined than he is. I did feel a sense of awe however, to see such beauty, and all for free!

For more pictures of the Pantheon, go to our picture site.
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The Tiber, Basilica and Old Rome

I'm not going to say too much about it, because a picture is worth a thousand words, so the old saying goes. So I would say just go to our picture blog of our trip instead, to see what we found intriguing about the place. It's not everyone's idea of trip pictures granted, in fact, there's going to be very few pictures of the two of us in there, but as DH put it to someone who wanted to know if they could help us take a picture of the two of us, "We know what we look like already."

Friday, April 14, 2006

The initial plan

DH had found a sale put on by Air France, NY to Paris for really cheap. This had nicely coincided with the fact that this was the year we are celebrating our 10 year anniversary, so we decided to make it a trip to remember. The nice thing about the Air France sale was once you were in Paris, you could go to select other cities for an extra $50 only. Imagine that! So we decided that Rome would be one of the cities we would try out as well.

We thought about where else we wanted to go, DH thought I had always said I wanted to go to Prague (I only mentioned it once in passing) but the idea of Turkey was appealing as Cappidocia was supposed to have lots of ruins to see. That was the easy part, the hard part was finding a cheap flight to New York from Vancouver. We sweated that one waiting for a seat sale, and it wasn't until close to the date of the trip that we booked our New York leg of the flight.

We left Friday,March 17 right after work, and caught our flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. LAX, for anyone who's unfamiliar with it, is very confusing. There were no signs posted to say where our connecting gate was. As it turned out, we had to exit where we were and go to another building by catching a shuttle, thus having to go through security checks all over again. We were worried about missing our flight to New York. Fortunately, we made it, and that was our first red eye flight.

When we arrived in New York, we stored our bags for the day at the airport and caught the metro into town. We got off at Penn station and DH figures it's a gorgeous day, we have time to kill, let's walk down to Century 21 store, which is down by the WTC site. Now Penn Station is on 34th street and Century 21 is way the hell down. Getting down there, while a little tiring, did afford us a good way of viewing the different parts of New York, like SoHo and Greenwich.
Here's some pictures of things we saw along the way

We stopped off first at the WTC site, a very sobering site. DH stopped to take some pictures of the cemetery nearby

We bought me a pair of sunglasses, as I had broken my last pair, and DH was fitted with a suit jacket and a full suit. The salesperson also managed to find him a matching tie and we picked up socks to go with it. It was a good deal all in all, about $500 USD for all of that.

After the shopping spree, we walked back to Penn Station to go back to the airport. At least it helped us to sleep on the second red eye flight we were taking in 2 days.