Saturday, June 11, 2016


This city is amazing! We have been here several days and have seen all of the main sights, with the exception of the Grand Bazaar. Tomorrow we plan to take a cruise on the Bosphorous. We spent several enjoyable hours today sitting on the Big Bus, which is hop on hop off, but we just stayed on and saw the whole route. It gave us a great perspective as to the size of Istanbul. We can now say that we've been to Asia on this trip too!

Security is pretty obvious everywhere, and all of the mosques, temples etc have scanners and xray machines. The number of tourists is down, and we are constantly approached by carpet vendors and restaurant people. The neighbourhood we are staying in (between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia) is extremely quiet - restaurants and streets are nearly empty. We discovered quickly that food is very expensive here, so we now walk to an area where the locals eat, and prices are more reasonable.

Since we are surrounded by mosques, we have no problem hearing the calls to worship that are sung by the muezzins (men chosen for the task based on recitation skills and good character). We love it though - there are two that take turns, so it seems like a bit of a competition! It has also been interesting to see what goes on during Ramadan, and we've been able to chat with a few people about it. They fast from sunrise to sunset, and there are large communal areas set up throughout the city where they congregate to have their evening meal and break their fast. Some restaurants also have special menus for Ramadan, and the other night we watched them preparing for it. They were busy bringing in extra bread and getting it cut up. People fill the parks and squares, sitting on the grass with their families, or visiting with friends - it's a really festive atmosphere. The down side is that they have to get up early to be able to eat again before sunrise....

Tomorrow is our last day here, and on Monday morning we fly home. Much as we've enjoyed experiencing this place, there has been a bit of anxiety about something happening while we're here, so it will be a relief to leave. And we miss our family and friends, so we're looking forward to the summer at home.

Here are some photos of Istanbul....

Blue Mosque & lots of people in park
Hagia Sophia
Breakfast in our hotel in Istanbul - never varies!!
Our favourite place for dinner- just point to what you want.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Goodbye Greece, Hello Turkey

For anyone wondering, we survived the Samaria Gorge and were so glad that we were able to experience it! You certainly need good footwear, as it is downhill and rocky all the way, with the first several kms being quite steep. Once you're at the bottom it is spectacular, with the rock walls towering above you. Signs warn you to walk quickly and not stop due to the danger of falling rocks! The trail crosses the river several times, so you have to hop across on rocks or stepping stones. At the end of the trail, near the 13 km mark, there is a nice rest stop where a fellow was selling freshly squeezed orange juice - that really hit the spot!! From there it's an easy 3km walk to the village of Agia Roumeli on the south coast of Crete where we caught a ferry to Sougia and met our bus. Needless to say, nearly everyone on the ferry was sound asleep for the one hour trip!

While in Crete we also did a day trip to the southwest part of the island, to a beach called Elafonisi. It is a gorgeous spot, with light turquoise shallow water and lovely sand. There is a small island that used to be accessible only by wading through knee deep water, but now there is a sandbar leading out to it. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate the day we were there, and there was a very strong northerly wind blowing - while it wasn't cold, it made it impossible to sit and enjoy the few hours we had. We DID get in for a quick swim, but it wasn't the beach experience I had envisioned! The bus trips on these tours were exciting, as Crete is very mountainous, so our driver (same guy for both trips) had to do some tight manouevers to get the bus around the switchbacks and through some narrow tunnels. It was a good decision not to rent a car!!

I am happy to report that I did get my perfect beach experience though, and it was on our last day in Crete. We took a local bus to Stavros, a beach famous for the dancing scene at the end of the movie Zorba the Greek. The local tavernas (one named Zorba's of course) proudly display photos from the movie, so we will be watching it once we get home! The beach is small but protected, and very calm clear turquoise blue water. I was very reluctant to leave, that's for sure.

Sunday was a travel day, with two flights and about six hours in between where we sat in the Athens airport. We had booked a hotel here in Selchuk, Turkey and also arranged transport from the airport in Izmir. There was a moment of worry when we arrived and saw no one holding a sign with our name on it, but then an announcement came over the PA for Linda Haas to report to the Information desk. There we were met by Nedim, the manager of our small hotel, and he had made the hour long journey by hitchhiking to meet us when the prearranged taxi driver phoned in sick. We liked him immediately, and he insisted on paying for the transportation, as it was his obligation to look after us. We have a room with a view of an ancient temple that has only one remaining column, and that column has a stork nest on top. This town is full of storks - we love it, as we remember walking in Spain and seeing all of the empty nests in September and October.

The Turkish breakfasts provided by Nedim have been interesting, consisting of fried eggs, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, green and black olives, a variety of breads, four types of cheese, blackberry jam, fig jam, halvah, and Turkish coffee to top it off. Not bad! We needed that fuel for our visit to Ephesus yesterday - it took us three hours to cover it, and we were amazed at the size of it. Nothing we have seen up to this point comes close, and it is even more mind boggling to see the area that hasn't been excavated yet. Today we took in the Ephesus Museum as well as the Basilica of St. John (built over his tomb) and the Castle, which is located high on a hill near the Basilica, and is apparently where St. John went to write his gospel.

We woke up this morning to news of another bombing in Istanbul, this time targeting police. Since we are flying there tomorrow morning, we will be very careful about where we go, and avoid crowds.

On a positive note, Russ has found a new hobby - there are many cats hanging around the outdoor tables here, as there were in Greece. Last night the owner of the restaurant provided Russ with a small bottle of water with holes punched in the lid, to use as a deterrent. These cats don't seem to have a good memory, so Russ was getting a huge kick out of squirting them whenever they came near....poor kitties!

Will post a few photos - bye for now.

Samaria Gorge
Canyon we drove through to get to The start of Samaria Gorge
Elefonisi Island
Wind surfers at Elefonisi
Happy Linda!
No comment needed!
Young storks
Adult stork
Ancient aquaduct in Selcuk, taken over by storks
Tomb of St. John
Castle in Selcuk, olive tree and oleander in foreground (Maureen oleanders are everywhere in Greece and Turkey!)
View of countryside from castle