In all of my trusty travel guides, mostly Lonely Planet books, there is a handy section about how to get around the town, city or country of your choice. Handy information about the bus service, metro system and rail network. Where they go, how often and what it costs. Handy info that has proven to be invaluable to me time and again, around the world. Handy info that, thanks to technology, is becoming increasingly redundant. Guides of the future will just need to let the traveller know which app based taxi service operates in that part of the world. And the link to the right place in the applicable App Store. Continue reading
It was hard to put my finger on it. Initially, it was just a sense of absence. But I couldn’t quite work out what it was. As our holiday drew on, the sensation became more profound. I started looking around me to see if I couldn’t spot the problem. But how to see something that isn’t there? That’s a tough one. But it gnawed on me. An itch that wouldn’t go away. I kept pondering this mysterious shortcoming. Of course, I eventually, I found the answer to my question. There was something missing in Istanbul. And I wanted to know what it was. But first, let’s look at what wasn’t missing….
How can the meeting point between east and west be anything other than a blend of intoxicating culture, music, art, noise and food? Nothing is at it seems, and new tastes and experiences are around every corner. But most of all, nothing beats waking up to the call of prayer in Asia, and an hour later you are washed, dressed and a 20 minute boat ride from Europe. At no stage are you ever under the illusion that you are close to home.
The ferries are fantastic, with regular services whisking you to a selection of well placed ports for just a few pence. There’s also a decent bus services, again at just a few pence a trip. There’s a pretty expansive metro system too. How much? You guessed it. Just a few pence. Taxis are just for emergencies. They are not just a couple of pence. The unwary may find a short trip takes longer than expected and costs not just a couple of pounds. Get a plastic travel card which can be topped up. It makes life easy. And it’s safe to say Istanbul is not missing a good transport network.
Shop Till You Drop
You can’t have a big city without a big selection of shops to go spend your hard earned money. Istanbul doesn’t disappoint. There are plenty of bazaars, markets and corner shops aimed at the tourists. And there’s an even healthier selection of everyday shops to get essentials. I like walking around the everyday shops, wherever I am. Just to see what Jaffa Cakes are called in foreign lands. I didn’t buy any Jaffa Cakes though. Mrs P and I did come home with 1/2 a kilo of freshly groun Turkish coffee, a box of mixed Turkish Delight, a steel pepper grinder, assorted bags of pepper and spices and a bag full of fridge magnets.
The streets of Istanbul bustle with life. What sort of life and what sort of activities depend on where you might be. In Taksim, the people are young and hip. On the European side, they are a bit wealthier. In our part of town, on the Asian side, they were friendly, down to earth people, working hard to make a living. By the river we found them playing dominos in street cafes. On every side they were friendly. Istanbul is, by any definition, a pretty safe city with a dozen vibes to choose from depending on your mood.
The Easy Life
Every big city needs it’s nearby happy place to escape to. Istanbul has a series of pleasant, green and hilly little islands, all within an hour by ferry of the city centre. The water is clear and refreshingly cool. Too refreshingly cool for my taste. I’m a Pacific Ocean kind of guy. I need warm water with waves to jump around in. But I liked our trip to the islands nonetheless. The bike ride to the church at the top of the mountain was nice. Coasting back to the town was nicer. The delicious ice cream was the nicest. But if the ferry ride isn’t for you, you can always jump on a bus to the Black Sea. We did that too. The water was still too refreshingly cool for me. But I dipped my toes, just to check another body of water off of my To Do list.
Istanbul is an Islamic city. It’s not, however, the sort of city that throws gay people from towers, stones adulterous women for their indiscretions or decapitates infidels. If that has cleared anything up for you, you’ve been watching too much of the wrong sort of TV. Islam is not a religion of peace. No religion is. It does have a problem with extremists, as do all other religions. But in Istanbul, you’ll just get to enjoy the fruits of President Ataturk’s secularist policy that saw the country look forward toward the west, not backward to the south east of Arabia. The Blue Mosque is a sight to behold, as is the Hagia Sofia. I also really enjoyed the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which boasted a treasure trove of literature, pots and pans, fabrics, and paintings from down the centuries.
The Hagia Sofia is the epitome of the blend of east and west. Once a church, then a mosque and now a museum. But there are better places to learn Turkish history and their place in the world over the years. We went to both the Dolmabahce and the Topkapi palaces, which were as magnificent in their splendour as many a western European palace. They both told the story of Turkey. From their role in the Roman Empire, which culminated in the Byzantine Empire. The Ottoman Empire through to the Republic. With plenty more told about the before and afters of all those eras. I enjoyed seeing the 4.5 ton chandelier gifted to the Turks by Queen Victoria, hanging in pride of place in the grand hall at the Topkapi. And pleased by this too. Normally, you read about absent artefacts with a note that they can currently be seen in the British Museum in London. Needless to say though, I didn’t have to wait too long to find a sign saying just those words. We Brits are such a crafty bunch of collectors of world history. Or thieves. Depending upon your point of view. But anyway. Suffice it to say. Istanbul does not lack for a sense of history.
The Missing Piece Of The Jigsaw
So what was it that was gnawing at me? I’ll tell you. It’s the architecture. The palaces are grand. There are interesting buildings here and there. One of two areas have some nice stone structures and cobbled streets. There are the many mosques. There are also smatterings of wooden buildings with windows shutters that wouldn’t look out of place in the deep south or eastern parts of the United States. But truth be told, there was an awful lot of brutalist concrete and glass blocks and buildings that remind you of London in the 1950s and 1960s, as the country rebuilt in the bomb craters of World War 2. These were, for the large part , the dominant architectural style of the city. What was missing was a sense of grand, identifiably Turkish architecture with long avenues and boulevards of stylish mansions.
Rat Free Zone
Wherever you are, you are never more than a few metres from a rat. So the saying goes. It is not true in Istanbul. There are no rats. Probably. However, in Istanbul, you are never more than a couple of metres from a cat. In all likelihood, you are never more than a few metres from a dozen cats. With intact testicles. Egypt has locusts. Europe has immigrants. Turkey has cats. Everywhere has to have a plague of something.
Stick it to ’em
I expected to be hustled and bustled by shopkeepers and market stall holders selling their wares. It goes with the tourist territory. Spices, cheese, trinkets, rugs, prints and other assorted pieces of tat, thrust in your face, shoved under your nose or tucked under your arm. The vendors of Istanbul are not, as it turned out, so terribly pushy. Except for the selfie stick sellers. They are everywhere. If it isn’t a Japanese tourist blocking your view of a fine looking palace with his or her latest cell phone, extended four feet in the air on a stick, then it’s a selfie stick seller thrusting his wares in your face. There are more selfie stick sellers in Istanbul than there are cats.
The City That Never Sleeps
The call to prayer is an exotic, entrancing sound. It’s a constant reminder that you are far from home, in foreign lands. Except at 5am, when it’s blared through your window from a mosque across the street. At that time in the morning, the call to prayer can f**k right off. But this is assuming you’ve actually gotten back to sleep from the last disturbance. It was Ramadan, so a kindly local strolls the streets at 2 to 3am, banging a drum loudly. Non stop. To remind you to have something to eat before sunrise.
At the end of the month, he’ll go door to door collecting a fee for his services from grateful Muslim neighbours. And a punch on the nose from anyone of any other religious persuasion. Boy, he must get an adrenaline rush every time he knocks on a door. Still, if the call to prayer and drummer boy haven’t done your sleep in for the night, there’s always the incessant sound of cats mating and fighting. Sometimes doing both at the same time, I’m guessing. Then there’s the seagulls, squawking non stop. I did not know seagulls were at least partly nocturnal. There are more seagulls in Istanbul than selfie stick sellers. Three plagues? This is one unlucky city.
That Dizzy Feeling
Perhaps it’s the ferries that carry you across the river. Perhaps it the outward sloping balconies around tall towers that seem to want to send you slipping to your doom. Perhaps it’s staring upwards at the interiors of the enormous domes of mosques you’re visiting. Perhaps it is the strong Turkish coffee. Perhaps it is the climbing of a thousand steep hills that the city is built on. Perhaps it is a combination of all of them. But if you ever, even just for a moment, stand still in Istanbul, you’re never quite sure which way is up.
Don’t Lose Your Head
Turkey is an Islamic country. Which means, of course, that it contains a population made up entirely of terrorists. I have to say, having now been there, I can’t help but feel that terrorists have been given a bad name somewhat unfairly. They were ever so friendly, and much to my surprise not once did any one try to behead me with a rusty spoon. However, I was the victim of constant biological weapons attack, chiefly on the metro. Deodorant is clearly optional for men in Istanbul. An option which most seem to decline.
I’m still processing a humungus multitude of raw photos from my Fuji. My iPhone photography processing is much quicker. They auto upload to Flickr, and then I just select which ones to publish. My Istanbul by iPhone album was uploaded ages ago – click here to see it. Or have a look over a small selection of them that I have embedded below. And NO I did NOT buy a selfie stick. I already had one with me, bought in the UK.
Business trips are not something that many people look forward to. The thought of organising transport, taking at least a day out of your normal working schedule, and often staying away from home can be quite stressful. If you have to fly for business often you are probably sick of the inside of the airport and flying has long since lost it’s exciting connection to holiday travel. You are unlikely to ever find travelling for business fun, but there are certain tips you can follow to make it all slightly more bearable.
Heading to the airport with the absolute minimum time to spare is likely to make your flight, and in turn your whole trip, a much more stressful experience. You are unlikely to be travelling at very short notice so you have plenty of time to plan things to beat the rush. An overnight stay in Gatwick the night before your flight can make the next morning much smoother and more enjoyable, with no service station breakfast or mad dash to check in. Equally if you return late at night, for safety reasons you shouldn’t drive straight home from the airport. Check in to a hotel nearby and sleep off your journey.
If you are going on a short trip then you will likely only have your carry on luggage to last the whole trip. Instead of taking one bag at the maximum size allowed in the cabin, try taking two smaller bags on with you. This falls within most airlines terms and allows you to split your luggage into things you need on the plane like a laptop bag, and another bag for clothes and other bits you need for your trip. This also helps with the kerfuffle of trying to cram a bag into an already over filled overhead storage compartment. There is never enough space for everyone’s bags, but there is never an issue with storing your bag beneath your seat as you can do with smaller baggage.
Be tech smart
Make sure you find out about the Wi-Fi situation where you will be visiting and staying in advance of leaving. There is little more stressful than having to run around a strange town in search of Internet in order to send an email after a flight. Check your phone company’s data plan too, you don’t want to come back to a huge bill on either your personal, or business, phone. If the tariffs are too high, consider adding an international data plan to your current package. This can also be used as your own personal Wi-Fi hotspot if you really can’t find somewhere to connect. Make sure to pack the chargers for all your devices, as well as a plug adapter for your destination. Phones and tablets can be charged via USB on your laptop so you don’t need to pack loads of extra adapters.
When you first started your career business trips were probably all part of the dream. Now having stood in a security queue one too many times the dream might be a little jaded. Whilst you can’t make business travel quite as exciting as travelling for a holiday, you can make it a lot less of a nightmare by planning carefully.
The summer is in full swing, and that means it’s about time to head out of town for a nice warm vacation! Hitting the nearest beach is always an easy option, but if you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous this year, here’s a quick look at 10 trendy 2013 vacation destinations all over the world.
For those who like a more active summer vacation, Montenegro is a flawless option. This European treasure of a destination features both natural and architectural beauty that makes it postcard-worthy, but is also known for cycling and hiking trails that can keep you active.
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Notoriously a city for vice, Amsterdam has “cleaned up” in recent years, and the result is actually a more well-rounded vacation. Nightlife is still a blast, and in addition this city is clean, beautiful, and full of enjoyable food and sites.
3. Dominican Republic
An emerging “gem” of the Caribbean, Dominican Republic remains a bit less touristy than some of its neighbouring islands, making it perfect for fans of natural islands. Enjoy the relaxing and affordable beaches free from massive crowds.
4. Las Vegas, Nevada
Gambling is becoming more popular every year, as casino enthusiasts constantly try their luck on Internet platforms like Betfair Casino, etc. So if you’re such an enthusiast, why not try a real casino in Vegas this summer? World-class resorts and decadent pool venues only enhance the trip.
If you like adventurous destinations, you’ll be pleased to know Nepal is back on the map! A recent civil war had tourists hesitant to visit in years past, but now the stunning mountainous landscapes are open for activity.
6. Montreal, Canada
Often noted as North America’s most European city, Montreal in the summer is a treat. Often praised as one of the world’s happiest, cleanest and most culturally interesting cities, it’s amazing for fans of city tourism.
7. Solomon Islands
This is another great island destination for people who like things the natural way. Compared to the rest of the South Pacific, these islands remain natural and gorgeous. Enjoy a tranquil holiday at a beautiful eco-resort.
8. Christchurch, New Zealand
If you’d like to visit a unique city, Christchurch is a great option. Largely rebuilt following recent earthquakes, Christchurch has shown impressive innovation, and is now thriving in a somewhat unorthodox way.
Unfortunately, African destinations tend to change year in and year out based on various conflicts, but in 2013 Zambia is a safe, gorgeous and entertaining option. Particularly if you’re looking for a safari vacation, take a look at this beautiful country.
Iceland has been trendy for years now, but has also been tough to afford. However, recent economic struggles, though unfortunate, have made things a bit easier on tourists, which means this might be a good time to check Iceland off your list.
It’s been a couple of weeks since my long weekend in Paris, and I still haven’t gotten around to recording my thoughts. I went there with high expectations, given the city’s reputation and hype. How to describe my feeling on this famous old metropolis? I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so disappointed with a city. I guess that is one of the consequences of going with such high expectations. But where to start…?
Let’s go with the architecture to kick us off. It’s all quite grand. The fact that the French surrender whenever an enemy gets with gunshot of Paris has ensured the city has survived remarkably intact. The trouble is, as grand as the buildings are, they are all a bit too similar. Which means the streets start becoming bland and uniform. It lacks the architectural diversity of other cities I’ve been to. I blame the Germans. A few bombs in the 1940’s might have mixed the city up a bit. Also, the oldest buildings, such as Notre Dame, seem over-preserved. Almost like new. It reminded me of the restored paw on the Sphinx in Cairo.
Let’s move on to food. Again, I had high expectations. I knew it’d be pricey, but I hoped to have at least a couple of good French meals. The UK has a terrible reputation for food, so surely Paris could impress my quality starved palate there. I ordered a Boeuf Bourginon. Played it safe. One quality meal would do me. And at least it wouldn’t come served with chips, like it might in London. It was served by a delightful waiter. With chips. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Art and monuments? Paris has the best in the world, as far as art galleries go. I visited just one of them though. I only had four days in the city, and that seemed to be the length of the queue to go to the Louvre. We did go to the Pompidou Centre, and that was a fine, if quirky, building. With a fine collection. The building was designed by a Brit, by the by. They actually had to amend a Parisian planning law to allow a non Frenchman to design a building there. The Eiffel Tower? Didn’t bother going up there either. They only had a single elevator working. Can you picture the queues? Paris is broke in more ways than one.
There also seemed to be no buzz to the city. No background hum. No energy. I didn’t see a single Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini. It all has a strange blandness. Even the metro lacked any real charm – it was functional but terribly bland. Which is a shame. I normally love metro systems. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my trip. But it really wasn’t the city I expected it to be. Everything is grossly overpriced. Grossly. Which may explain why the vast majority of cafes, brasseries and restaurants were empty.
Are you tossing up between a trip to Paris or London? I may be accused of bias, but I promise I’m being objective. I’ve been thinking about this for a good couple of weeks. London has energy, diversity and surprises galore. You can eat well, affordably. In fact you can eat at a Michelin star restaurant for less than some fairly run of the mill Parisian restaurants. The Tube is an adventure. The best London museums are just as good, more diverse and -get this – free to enter. Different neighbourhoods in London can appear to be from different worlds.
It’s not just London I’d recommend over Paris though. New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Budapest, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpar are all cities that I’d prefer to visit a second time rather than the French capital. Sorry Paris, but out of ten, I award you four stars. Not that Paris will care. My stars count for little. Still. At least I can say I’ve been. But I wouldn’t recommend anyone else to bother. If you do, I suggest going out of season in January or February. Did I take any photos? Sure. But I have to say my camera stayed in my bag most of the time. I was just that apathetic. I reckon I took fewer snaps in four days than I have sometimes done in a single day in Mexico City or London. But anyway, there’s all here on Flickr.
Doesn’t time fly when you’re having so much fun? Exactly five years ago today I got on a plane at Heathrow and departed England. I suppose my fifth year Mexican anniversary is tomorrow though, when I landed. Long flight, so it was. Five whole years. How to celebrate? I guess a plate of tacos will go down well.
I managed to make a small photo collage which I’ve put below. Just in case anyone forgets how long as they’re reading this post. The photos are from my 365 set – it took a year to put together, so I might as well make the most of them! So the theme for today’s post is five. My blog is rapidly going to turn into a Mexican Sesame Street….
Top Five Referrers
Top Five Posts
My Five Favourite Places
I’ve been across Mexico from top to bottom, east to west. I can now reveal my mostest favouritest places of them all…Guanajuato, Oaxaca, the Copper Canyon, Iztaccihuatl and of course, it goes without saying, Mexico City.
Five Reasons I Love Mexico City
There are lots of reasons. But the weather and food and numbers one and two. The friendliness of the people too. The museums. And last, but not least, the whole concept of mañana. That’s just so very me.
Five Things I Won’t Miss
The CD vendors on the metro. The way people jump queues. The ridiculous prices of anything electronic. The water turning off and not coming on again for hours or days. And my crooked neck….everything is made in Mexico based on the assumption a 6’3″ guerro won’t pass by, get on or otherwise make use of it.