A new car…

I’ve never owned a car outright, as long time readers might recall from this post. That’s all about to change!

I have decided at the ripe old age of 31, that it’s time to buy my very own car.  It due to some frustrations by the limitations of work’s car – I can only drive it to and from work, and for work.  So it limited the flexibility to do things ‘on the way home’.  And playing and training for water polo is a little tricky! I used to have a team mate live locally, but no longer.  So car pooling is out.

I started with a budget, of course.  Then I knew I wanted some convenient features – being reversing sensors and steerin gcontrols for the radio, and hopefully Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phone calls.  OH, and I realised I forgot to say – I was only going to buy a used car.

Initially I thought about a hatchback.  They are very adaptable to large bootloads of Ikea furniture – I know from all my years sharing a Hyundai Accent.  Dad and I went to, coincidently a home I’d inspected when it was for sale, to inspect a BMW 118i.  It was priced high for what it offered in terms of kms and age.  I offered a fair price, but the sellers were successful in getting their asking price.  I can’t fault them on that!

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However, after looking at the profile of many of the possible hatchback options, I didn’t like the profile.  I didn’t love the car I inspected.  I just felt… ho hum.  It’s pathetic, but then, there’s so much choice in the car market, I figured I would be better to buy something I loved!  I’d always liked the rear profile of an Audi A4.

So this past weekend, I planned to inspect a few A4s, and encouraged by my parents, I put in an offer.  There was some back and forth, but I’ve now put down a holding deposit on a silvery blue 2009 Audi A4, which is coincidentally diesel.  The car I drive currently, the Hyundai i30, is a diesel, and I have no issues or concerns with it.  I have paid a holding deposit, and the coming weekend will be an independent inspection.  Part of me is steeling myself for ‘bad’ news, given the car is 110,000km under it’s belt.  But better to know what I’m putting my money into, now and into the future.

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I’ll be the first to admit – I’m mildly terrified.  It’s a HUGE lump sum payment.  It’s like buying property.  It’s ultimately easier to damage badly, at least I think so! Although, I keep recalling, it’s JUST a car – I can just as easily sell it if it doesn’t work how I’d hoped.  And if I realise I went too big, or it’s too hard to park, or uses too much petrol, I’ll at least have tried and failed at the car I’ve long admired.  You can only learn through failure.  I much prefer that idea to the idea of always wishing I’d got what I ‘really wanted’

It’s hard to imagine the flexibility and freedom a car will provide me.  At any time, I can go anywhere.  In any weather.  I look forward to having the open road, and suburbs, and choices open in front of me!

Sarajevo – the place that impacted me the most

Of the four countries, and five cities we visited on our European tour, I will empathically say, Bosnia was the ‘best’.  Best is a tough thing to say when I explain why I found it the most impactful.  This is a city that, IN MY CHILDHOOD, suffered a civil war for 44 months.  People starved, for 44 months.  I was in primary school.  The world knew, but didn’t do anything.  I chose to read about Sarajevo/Bosnia prior to coming, and also read two books whilst in Sarajevo (yes, I even bought new books, which is something I NEVER do, but am so glad I did do!).  These books really helped me to understand how it was to be in Sarajevo during this time.  I also dated a Bosnian whilst at university, and that is a large reason I ever learnt about Bosnia.

Cevappi (Skinless sausage) in pita
Cevappi (Skinless sausage) in pita
The buildings on either side of this line are noticably different - from Turkish to European
The buildings on either side of this line are noticably different – from Turkish to European

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My brother, Rory, returned back to the UK two days before my departure.  Once he was on his way to the airport, I joined a hostel tour of the tunnel under the aiport (and got to see my little bro’s plane take off), and then onto the Toboggan course.

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Noticable shrapnel damage to the ‘house’ that was the start of the tunnel under the airport runway
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As the airport was UN held, the tunnel was required to get items from teh two dark blue segments of Sarajevo
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A small segment of tunnel that still exists
Toboggan course
Toboggan course – graffiti was a common element along the length of it
Swwon worthy forest around the toboggan course.
Swwon worthy forest around the toboggan course.
The hotel during the war
The hotel during the war
Famous hotel of the siege, where journalists stayed. I did debate whether we should stay there, but it had a strip club in there :s
Famous hotel of the siege, where journalists stayed. I did debate whether we should stay there, but it had a strip club in there :s
The memorial to the children lost during the seige
The memorial to the children lost during the seige
There was a sad plaque to this statue
There was a sad plaque to this statue. The other white marble – those are grave markers.  They were somewhat common in public parks, as well as dedicated cemetries.

Doing these posts two months after my trip help me realise how much I enjoyed my time.  Sure – there were struggles like the steep hills in Sarajevo, the cash card not working in Romania, and mould in bathrooms in Turkey.  However, on the balance, I saw so much.  I learnt so much about four other cultures, four other countries, and their capital cities.  My brother was an awesome travel buddy – we were lazy for a good half of the day, really taking the rest and recover part of the holiday seriously.  I often felt ‘guilt’ about this – not making the most of where we were.  For Rory, he was homeless by work and home circumstances, so didn’t have the same hang up.  And I shouldn’t either!  Concurrently to this trip were some things happening in Australia that were challenging.  For that reason, I travelled for three weeks, rather than four weeks.  It got shocked responses from people I told in Bosnia that I was going home early.  But I was ‘done’.  I was rested.  I no longe rhad the drive and momentum to go to another new place.  I didn’t want to search for a good deal for a place to stay, or a flight.  Actually, I think I realised – I don’t actually like to PLAN holidays.  I might consider outsouring that next time – I didn’t hate my two weeks in Japan when I was largely ‘scheduled’; that trip, I did seek a little more idle time, but as that two week trip developed, I ekked out that time.  And having a tour or a guide can really help you understand a culture, and answer your questions as they come into your mind (rather than relying on google when you get back to wifi).

Sarajevo, Bosnia – Day 1

We flew from Istanbul to Sarajevo
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Arrived in the fourth (and last) new country on our tour. And rain 🙁

Our flights was “interesting”.  There were a lot of children, and they weren’t particularly well disciplined.  I think we heard ‘Please sit down’ close to 100 times on the PA by the flight attendant.  I gather the children were not English speakers, and the flight attendants were not Turkish or Arabic speakers.

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Sarajevo’s airport is tiny. Our flight was very heavy populated with very devout, large Muslim families

The husband of the couple that owned and ran the hostel collected us from the airport – this is not a city of Uber.  There are taxis, but you can’t be sure they will be at the airport for the few flights that arrive.  There are concerns about taxi rorts, but we took a few (and I took a few alone) and found them incredibly well priced!

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Sarajevo is HILLY! This was the view form the street where our hostel was. You can really see how this was a sniper paradise in the siege
The Cathedral at the base of the hill we walked down daily
The Cathedral at the base of the hill we walked down daily
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These are known as ‘Sarajevo Roses’ and were a simple memorial of shrapnel damage to pavements This was alongside the catheral above

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The Winter Olympics were once in Sarajevo, and it’s clear it still holds much pride for the city. It’s SHOCKING to think it had OLYMPICS, and a few years later, a four year siege!
So, we’ve had our first time zone snaffu. There’s a free daily walking tour at 10:30 and we made it to the location but there was no one. Somehow I considered that my phones time might have been wrong, which Rory confirmed. It was really 9:30, so we went in search of breakfast and found a swanky place with a buffet. All manner of egg based yummy – vanilla slice (uniced), some filo parcel containing chicken and capsicum, other egg thing. Then Rory got a cheesy potato fritter which was deceptively tastier than any version I’d ever attempt!!
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It’s still lovely and fresh here this morning but the rain has cleared. It’s probably about 20C, so a bit cool in shorts but it’s due to warm up. Last night I was pleased to have jeans and a cotton jumper, it was certainly cold enough.
For dinner last night we wandered into the old town. Our hostel has given us a map they’ve designed and their favourite places, however I would suspect it’s angled at the budget conscious backpackers in our hostel. We met some girls when we cooked packet soup for lunch after getting sodden on our walk to the local shops. The two Brits were nice enough. Rory also has a nap later and when I was awake I went back to the kitchen and met more Brits, an Aussie, two québécois. Everyone seems to love and Rave about our hostel. It’s relatively small, perhaps 8 rooms and so I think it means it’s friendly. Sadly we failed to get the TV to work to watch the olympics.
The tastiest risotto from a small resturant - which I subsequently read a book and a journalist during the war ate there!
The tastiest risotto from a small resturant – which I subsequently read a book and a journalist during the war ate there!
Back to dinner. We picked a place called To Be, and it was also relatively small. We sat at the second table upstairs and there was four people at the other tables, clearly tourists/backpackers. Anyhow, we couldn’t really avoid their conversations and so ended up befriending them. There was an Israeli woman coupled with a Scot, and then the scots friend who works in UAE currently. Those three all seem to know each other, and then they had a Brazilian girl. The poor Brazilian girl stuffed up her hostel booking for the next night in Belgrade whilst at dinner, but as suspected, it all turned out fine. Very laid back culture with bookings etc. tho many report things are “filling up”. The majority of ways out of here is on buses of durations that extend to the whims of the drivers restaurant meals! Only one train per day supposedly. So it means people get all sorts of caught up, having only one proper day here or having to back track. Or spend 8+ hours on a bus! The couple at dinner had been south, and raves about Albania (pretty, friendly, not touristy). They were avoiding Croatia and all reports from hostellers is its full of Aussies! There was also nice things said about the nature of Montegnegro, or was it Macedonia? Seriously. So many little countries!! Anyhow, we ended up continuing on for a drink with the trio. Rory and I had shared a bottle of local red at dinner so after I tried their rakir, which is a coverall term for homemade liquor. Went for pear. Was so so. The other three smoked hooka which is a Israeli teenage pastime. We veered into Arab politics and hijab  wearing rules, and the Israeli had strong opinions!!
Romania is relatively cheap and probably partly popular due to this. The Bosnian marks is equal to half a euro, it’s pegged. It’s a quick conversion but we’ve not yet been in euro countries so for me, it’s a misnomer!! 12BAM = $9au.
We’re about set for our walking tour, Mach 2! There’s probably 15 peoples, with some older than me! Woot!! Strike that estimation – the numbers grew to at least 40! And one guide. Rory and I already knew some of the info from talking to the Brit Holly in the hostel. Nonetheless, it was 2.5hours of seeing and walking around.
The vast majority of Bosnia identify as Bosniaks or Muslim; then orthodox or Catholic and then others (Jews, Jedis etc). To keep the peace there’s three presidents, for a country of four million people. Seems… Interesting. There’s 200 mosques; about 140 prior to Tito and communism. Whilst he didn’t destroy these cultural buildings, none were built in his time. The Ottoman Empire ensured their town planning included three things: a bakery, a well/fountain and a mosque. There’s a number of synagogues but only 600 Jews in Sarajevo now, a number that’s been stable for decades. The Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews after the Spanish Inquisition, as they were highly educated.
The only synagogue
The only synagogue
A mosque
A mosque
There’s a resurgence of religion and largely from the youth, those in their 30s who spent 44months living in basements and suffering the minimal food and education. Education is free here – a 50euro contribution per annum for university. But there’s 60% youth unemployment. You see a lot of informal stalls – selling forages flowers or fruit. Or clothing items. Those who are unemployed get free healthcare.
Like Turkey, Bosnians have a strong coffee, that must sit to let it settle. There’s clear Turkish influences in the old town and the mosques; but then the austo-Hungarian rule shows in the more ornate buildings and pedestrian malls and the like. And of course there is the purely functional and unadorned buildings of the Yugoslavian years. There’s certain fondness for Tito that he held Yugoslavia together. He thought he would never die. Which is perplexingly naive.
The fmaous bridge near which prompted a World War
The fmaous bridge near which prompted a World War
The assassination of Franz Ferdinand is seen by many as a cause for celebration as (following the first world war) it achieved its outcomes – to remove the foreign rulers from Bosnia and Yugoslavia. Supposedly their were six assassins on the day, and the two 19 year olds who actually “acted” on the day, due to their age, only got 20 year sentences unlike the other four who got the death penalty. Not to worry as both died after three years in prison. But there’s a certain pride in what the assassination achieved.

Hammam (Turkish Spa) Day

Knowing we had an early departure the following morning for our flights, I  let Rory make the most of our dark curtains to sleep in. Til about noon! The pesky air con seeks on a timer so it required putting on again if you wake hot. Anyhow, Bucharest had decidedly non black out curtains and were bright yellow.
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I loved the embroidery, and the text was pretty nice too

Once we were both awake, Rory found the channel for the Olympic Games opening ceremony where we observed the strange order of the Portuguese alphabet and the names of countries. For the second time in our holiday (if I recall correctly as it could easily be more!) housekeeping called to ask if our slack arses we’re going out and wanted our room cleaned? Actually in both issuance cities the rooms didn’t get cleaned on a day each whilst we were out so we retreated to their lobbies. Points to the boutique hotel in St P who called down to reception when they were done, Mercure missed this!

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Quirky graffiti, which I feel I also saw in the ABC Foriegn Correspondent program just recently
We set out for brunch, deciding initially on pancakes but then realising that we’d more often see waffles. We found a first floor cafe and settled in. We both got iced coffees but it wasn’t clear is any coffee had been harmed in their making! So we chased our waffles with Turkish coffee. Interestingly our bill annotated my sweetened and Rory’s unsweetened coffees differently. And you always get a glass of water with your Turkish coffee (sometimes just a shot glass).
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NOw that’s my sorta B’fast – there’s fruit, but there’s SWEET!
From the cafe I used their wifi and the Turkish Airways app to book the Sarajevo to Istanbul leg to then try and change my Emirates flight to depart Istanbul. It’s pretty hard to get out of Sarajevo – at least to somewhere I want to go and/or Emirates flys from! Emirates, for those who care, doesn’t fly to Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia or anywhere in that Balkans block! The options are Budapest or Istanbul. Given Budapest is a six hour bus ride, I picked turkey as a transit location – it is also cheaper as a fare adjustment than Budapest.
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A beautiful church with connections to refugees
So, the why of the booking at the cafe? Well Rory and I, on our phones, my iPad and his laptop, found last night doing some malicious forwarding of websites to adware sites. Same sites that worked fine that same morning. So I’m rather dubious about entering credit card details into these sites now when I’m on hotel wifi. Maybe it’s reds under the bed but whatever. However, Emirates app nor it’s mobile website seems to allow for departure city changes. This I was exploring on the iPad yesterday. So I think we’ll need to take the iPad on an excursion or wait til Sarajevo to sort that change out. I wonder if the apps are more secure though…
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Rory decided we should see ‘that tower over there’ – so we found our way there (via a pedestrian outdoor mall, Sephora visit for his GF, a movie (Jason Bourne))!
After our waffles and coffee, we wet for our Turkish bath or hamam. Genders are segregated. We were both given a mitt of sorts and I was also given some one size fits most black knickers… Which I wore over my bikini bottoms and not really sure why? Look like the others? I coulda saved wet bottoms to carry home tho!! Anyhow, you strip down and take your red and white checked towel to keep your modesty moving from the mezzanine balcony with change rooms back to the central area and then are guided to the spa room, via the anteroom.
Entry to the spa fro the dressing area
Entry to the spa fro the dressing area
When you enter the spa room, there’s an elevated marble platform and the guide unravels my towel and lays it on the platform for 15mins of sweating. After your sweat time, your guide returns and gets your mit and rubs you down, front and back with warm water. Following this you rotisserie again and from a copper basin that was resting on the platform she takes a white pillow case, inflating it with air and then squeezing out all the bubbles. After all this, I noted largish soap flakes on my towel, so I figure those were inside the pillow case. She suds you up everywhere before taking you to the periphery where there’s taps and a marble basin with flowing warm water. Here, she rinses you off and does her darnedest to make your hair a knotty mess. Or it was a head massage – not entirely clear!
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The ante chamber to the true spa – the change rooms were up here.
 The bath has a domed ceiling, with holes out to the sky, glassed in. The room is otherwise not artificially lit (though there are a few hanging bulbs for night time as its open til midnight).
The complimentary postcard showing the ceiling
The complimentary postcard showing the ceiling
My scrubber lady, come in in the same one size fits most knickers and she’s at the upper end of “most”. She then goes and dunks her matching black bra into the flowing warm water and put her bra on. Each scrubber has a disc with a number on their bra. I suspect this is for tipping. We are Aussies and we weren’t accosted to tip, so we didn’t!
Zen spa lady (she looks better than I think I did!)
Zen spa lady (she looks better than I think I did!)

Five star LivetoList in Turkey

Heads up – this is a long post, and doesn’t even begin to capture half the photos I want to share!
Let’s say five star LivetoList reared her head. The bathroom in our original Istanbul hotel was tiny, which was fine. However, the toliet didn’t flush strongly. There was black mouldy from a shower or toilet leak in the crevice between them which was visible from the door. Their was gold looking toliet roll holder and shower caddy and it was flaking. The electrics of above the vanity were visible. The towels were aged, but then mine had holes in it.
The guilty bathroom. I should note, new bathroom ended up also havin gblack mould. sigh
The guilty bathroom. I should note, new bathroom ended up also havin gblack mould. sigh
So onto the Internet I went to, looking up hotels we’d passed that seemed OK at least from the outside. In the end, I decided I would visit the nearest good looking one and inspect and confirm prices. Photos seemed good! So I set an alarm for 8am and went out alone to suss it out.
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The new room – the computer… well Rory was rebuilding his computer. This hotel would prove to add additional issues for our computers 🙁
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I actually loved this desk, and used it heaps!
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The bed of Sarah
The foyer listed the room rates, puzzling in euro given he then quoted me in euro. Anyhow, I’d made sure to have noted down what their direct website had quoted and he had come in just under.
So I returned to rouse Rory and have breakfast. I certainly didn’t find breakfast a strong reason to say where we were. We packed and departed.
I was nervous about “checking out” as we were meant to have four nights. The manager on was thankfully someone we’d not spoken to or met previously. He asked if anything was wrong, and as hard as it was, I thought it best to explain. It wasn’t right for us (OK, so I’m sure ror would have been just fine! There wasn’t anything to fault the bedroom – well air conned, TV, wifi, beds ok, pillows lumpy). Anyhow I outlined my discomforts. Then, surprisingly to me, he said, no charge. I suppose it’s just not something I’d considered. I figured we’d pay for our transfer and our one night. Their cancellation policy only outlined days prior etc, so I didn’t know what their policy might be. I did attempt more than one to settle things, but he wasn’t having it. Interestingly, id booked this hotel via email (rather than one of the aggregator sites), and they’d asked via email for all my credit card details. I didn’t feel ok about that, so have them some details but had arranged to pay in euros, cash, for a reduced rate. So this hopefully won’t mean any retrospective surprises on the credit card, though it would be fair.
Our new hotel is a number of stories higher. All breakfast places seem to be (from two hotels!) to be on the top floor. This one has spectacular views of the blue mosque, Hagia Sophia and the water. It’ll undoubtedly look awesome in the evening light too.
Hotel 2's breakfast rooftop view! Wow right?
Hotel 2’s breakfast rooftop view! Wow right?
After settling in (brother: use all the bathroom facilities), and dropping off some laundry at reception, which quoted twice the price for the service as our other hotel, we returned to the blue mosque. I was pointedly told I was a rude Brit for ignoring a friendly guy who “don’t worry I’m not a guide, I sell carpet”. He was telling us we couldn’t enter where we were approaching, which was nice, but similarly, if we don’t turn our heel immediately that’s ok too! I had drain pipes to photograph! After a few more false entries we worked out the gringo entry. It had a stall of borrow able robes and scarves for ladies and pull on modest skirts for the men. Hawt! Then, at entry, you remove your shoes and take a plastic bag. Not this green warrior – fold out bag was used. It had the benefit of fitting two pairs of shoes, hats and sunnies. We sat on the plush carpet and j half hoped we’d be allowed to stay to watch prayers. We waited and waited and as we decided to leave, they were deciding to evict the looky loos. Strangely, we didn’t hear the call to prayer for ages after that?!?
Inside the Blue MOsque, complete with Gringo modesty covers
Inside the Blue Mosque, complete with Gringo modesty covers. Oh, and that lovely carpet, kept lovely with a quick hoover.  Shoes weren’t permitted, so this shows some serious commitment!
Just wow right?
Just wow right?
Next we walked along the tram line to the grand bazaar. On our way, we saw a comedic charade of a small child getting Turkish icecream. Enticed by the show, Rory couldn’t find a reason for us to reject trying some. Further theatre for serving ours. They have a long metal stick and a tiny paddle on the end. Turkish icecream is more chewy than normal. So I feel like the banging is partly to get the darn stuff from stick to cup or cone. There was also lots of fake giving you your cup and pretending to drop it. Or, given its stickiness, they reclaim it with their long sticks. It’s seemed like a good deal for a show and an ice cream!
THis ice cream guy worked long hours, which was just fine, cause he was attractive enough to see a few times a day.
This ice cream guy worked long hours, which was just fine, cause he was attractive enough to see a few times a day.
The grad bazaar is not unlike other markets around the world. It’s undoubtedly older. And it has incredible cupolas everywhere. It has many gold/jewellers inside air conditioner stores. What else was there? Leather goods, though a lot less fake handbags than other places. We ended up outside the solid structure of the market and into the street where stalls continued. There were huge flags and similar strung up to add shade. Here, there was children’s clothing sets, many many blinged up gown stores, and sexy lady underwear stores. The underwear stores had what looked like plush cats beds but undoubtedly serve another purpose! There’s kebab stores on junctions of streets and they also always sell freshly squeezed juice. We just meandered, preferring to continue “down” rather than up the hill.
Grand bazaar
Grand bazaar
Thankfully we found ourselves not lost! We arrived at a corner where Rory had looked at flags (it otherwise was a makeshift stall for belts). We decided to pause and sit on some steps outside the post office museum. In a spurt of energy ?!? We then went to catch a boat to cruise around.
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Not the flag stall – these were in the Grand Bazaar
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Close up of an ornate ‘European’ style buuding right on the Bospherous shore
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HA! So I definitely feel asleep sitting upright whilst we were still sitting outside. This guy had a better idea!
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Only in days gone by, did I realise that THIS bridge was a HUGE scene of the coup that occured two weeks or so before we went to Turkey, The Bospherous bridge – between the two continent land masses

 

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So, one constant on our cheap ‘cruise’ was a vendor of food and drinks. Many passes with fresh OJ. The first time he came past with the pictured, we said no, but they we got curious! It was a wafer with a marshmellow filling. They were super light, and not sickly sweet. We went for one each!
Whilst tickets were about $6 each, the motion of the ocean (Bosphorus, etc) resulted in us both having seated naps! Of course we had no actual idea where we might go! First stop, the map confirmed, was the Asian land mass.

Turkey photo and day 1

Thanks to Rory’s astute research we needed an electronic visa to enter turkey for about AUD50. I did this prior to leaving Australia and printed it at work before leaving. Sadly I didn’t add it into the ordered sheaf of print outs I had and so didn’t have it at the immigration counter. And English wasn’t strong. They didn’t care for my hotel reservation or flight details. Rory smartly had his on hand. It also appears you can sort it on arrival.
I’d organised a transfer seeing the hotel offered and we were flying into the “cheap” airport further away. So name was on display and the arrival hall was pretty light on people generally speaking. We had a chaperone who seemed to know half the people at the airport, take us to our mini van which was suitable for our full family tour group (ie my family of five). Air con optional. We asserted our preference.
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So they use the script/ alphabet we do, not Arabic. There are accents, the  ö for example. (The Romanians had t with a cydilla as well as a smiley up thing above some letters, which my phone seems unable to offer). In the small sampling so far, English seems less prevalent or strong here.
The Turkish number plates are distinctively European and seem to miss having the flag but have the letters to the left in the blue stripe.
Turkish version of the French Bank BNP Paribas
Turkish version of the French Bank BNP Paribas
BNP rejected my card from anz likely due to the lack of chip. Another bank we’d seen advertised in the in flight mag offered withdrawals in local currency and euro. Our hotel had quoted a cheaper cash price, in euro, so I got some. We’d seen RON/euro ATMs around town in Bucharest but the airport ATMs didn’t offer this.
There are Turkish flags everywhere. More often than not hung from their shorter side. They are strung between two apartment windows or two light poles, or the apartment banister. Even corporate buildings have them hanging out widows which makes me feel like it’s a more recent show that a conscious or long term habit.
Also, flags, everywhere
Also, flags, everywhere
EVERY - WHERE!
EVERY – WHERE!
Turkey seems to have very developed highways, and in sections, has a dedicated bus corridor. Big trucks are common too. In parts it gets down to a crawl and there are water vendors between lanes. Other sections are at too fast for that.  The on and off ramps are built into the land and so there are ornate gardens on the inclined earth, in varieties of patterns and decorations
Everywhere there’s banners with “Hakimiyet milletindir” with the flag. This appears to be the govts attempt to unite the people against the coup. We happened to see a similar ad on tv too. Overall though, it seems busy, people everywhere so…?!
These billboards and banners were everywhere
These billboards and banners were everywhere

Our first afternoon, we just wandered, as we were oh so close to the Hagia Sophia and the blue mosque.  On a whim, we went and saw the Cistern – I was quietly amazed!

Hard to photograph this cavernous undergound space with a few inches of water
Hard to photograph this cavernous undergound space with a few inches of water
That is HEATHEN dress (for a man!) and so no Blue Mosque on day 1
That is HEATHEN dress (for a man!) and so no Blue Mosque on day 1
Mosques - everywhere!
Hagia Sophia.  We chose not to pay to enter.
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The ‘exit’ for the Blue Mosque

The less fun parts of travel

Sorry to more regular readers – I did travel for three weeks, to four countries (Russia, Romania, Turkey and Bosnia), but I seem to blog in fits and spurts, and the part three weeks took my attention away from the blog.  I have spent time drafting posts for the remaining two countries, and all my thoughts, photos and experiences.  The retrospective review of my photos has been wonderful, and I would happily have bombarded you with more!

There’s a lot to be said of travelling one English speaking nations. But perhaps with that there’s less independent discovery moments of “aha”. But without the language barriers means everything is understood.

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In English – with tongue
The difficulties of language barriers – getting lost. Not understanding the systems of buses or trains. Not being able to negotiate for a taxi fare. And being a tourist comes with a lot of time on your feet and the exhaustion that comes from the physicality of that as well as the mental hurdles and challenges.
Not having wifi or internet access can really leave you clueless – on where that bus might run. On how to get between two point as maps sometimes seem to omit naming streets (or alternatively, the street has no signage!)
Weather is a huge consideration. I feel like convention is to take a holiday to the warm, but I’m coming to find that I like cooler temps have spent two trips in the US between Jan and March. I’ve “last minuted” to snowy Germany for Christmas and a side trip to Amsterdam. It was cold, but not unbearable. Though I didn’t line up for Anne Frank’s house due to the cold so there’s some downsides.
Alternatively, some parts of the world in July are extreme in their heat: Japan, Moscow (more so than northern St Petersburg), Romania. And then some places are possibly sweat boxes year round: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam.

Are we out of the forest yet?

The below is one of the days we had in Moscow:
Today I’d decided we’d head north east to a market where souvenirs were plentiful but cheaper. I’d prepped myself on the first few letters of our metro stop (backwards N, backwards 3/e etc) and figured it’d simply be the dark blue metro a number of stops. Conveniently on a Pokemon mission Rory had found an entry to an identically named station to the one we knew, but also completely different line and coincidently, the dark blue line we needed.
A sample of the cryllic and our challenges
A sample of the cryllic and our challenges
When we arrived on the platform we took the awaiting train. 50:50 odds and they’d paid off well coming from the airport. 3 stops later we realised, nope, wrong direction! We initially went to exit the station but seeing the ticket is for any distance, we cautiously looked around and found another overpass. We scoffed it was clear. I’m sure it is in Russian!
Once on a train headed the right way, we noted that there was certainly more passenger heading on this “inbound” train. Somehow I snagged a seat and perhaps countless Russian matryoshka now curse my name. My black ballet flats do nothing to support and soothe my feet. Sigh.
We trundled along, past rather ornate stations at times. Rory proclaimed we were approaching “backwards n, backwards e” which is an ‘il’ sound (go figure) and we got off. But then on the one wall plaque I realised that in fact, no this was not it. This was N A something. So we boarded to following train to go one more stop.
A shaded road to...
A shaded road to…
We arrived at the planned stop, alongside a forest. It was actually quite pretty and shady. To one side of the train tracks was a market of sorts.  We entered to find meat vendors, cheese vendors, batteries, light globes – everything domestic and nothing touristic! And naturally not a Roman alphabet or English word in site. Recalling the sage advice of the guidebook, I suggested to circle back to that station and seek the prevailing direction of masses. But there was really no masses; no prevailing trend. So we took this path and that in a very scenic forest, not really sure if or when said market may appear. It had mentioned being a 10-15 min walk from the metro. Alas, whilst very scenic, no market was found. Having circled back to the station, we say two police on smoke/phone breaks and decided to ask them. We asked where the souvenir market was, mimeing the luscious curses of babushka. His Russian seemed to indicate: ask my colleague on the phone, he’s much better at English. We stated dumbly at a park map and waited. Eventually Mr minimal English came over and indicated we were t the wrong stop of the metro, we needed to be one stop inbound. Yep, that stop I’d rejected earlier.
A beautiful wooded area... though this road did not lead to where we'd hoped
A beautiful wooded area… though this road did not lead to where we’d hoped
Ever frugal, Rory suggested we walk along the track alongside the train line and the forest. ‘Twas a good plan until we happened upon a car path which started to curve away from the train line. Alas we continued. Somewhere along this diet driveway, five people were walking in the same direction as us. Rory eagle eyed their guidebook; then established they were speaking Spanish. After some prodding, I suggested he ask them where the heck our planned destination may be. Pft! They were looking for some ornate fort pictured in their guidebook. Alas, as clueless as each other we continued towards the paved road and traffic ahead.
The main road had a t intersection and bus stops so we reviewed the map and after initial conflict (right at the t or left at the t), I conceded to Rory’s left and he was just more confused. Then we played cross with six lanes of traffic which included an always green light for a right turn and trams! We crossed and reunited with the Spanish in a non verbal way. I noticed ornate roof and spire – perhaps the Spanish destination? We trekked on, somewhat pleased by the road being paved and others walking on the path. We passed a go kart track – empty of any customer. Eventually we arrived at another t intersection, which had a pedestrian underpass, the much sought “other metro”, and a formal entrance to a park that seemed more geared to kids fun (over the natural aspects we’d already enjoyed). There were some babushka symbols on the maps but they seemed little kiosks not a mass market. We decided the other side of the underpass held more promise. If nothing else there was a beat western tower which we could ask for help or a map or a clue! There was also decidedly more people around and more shops and puzzlingly large buildings, which couldn’t all be hotels surely?
The sign of possible success?
The sign of possible success?
As we walked that direction we saw a somewhat aged decorative arch. We decided to follow that path, noting people walking toward us with the typical souvenir bags or stereotypical Russian hats. We started to see decorative roofs, and continued on.
A puzzling 'disneyland' of replica ornate Russian buildings
A puzzling ‘disneyland’ of replica ornate Russian buildings
We had found the market, in some sort of decaying fun fair. A Disneyland of replica ornate buildings. Inside, the open air market had wooden hut style stores. Only every second were occupied. The vendors were largely apathetic to any attention paid to their stalls save for some notable exceptions. We meandered through the stalls, aiming to turn left at the “end” into the area marked for the market. Ha! When we got there, all the infrastructure for market hits were there but not a person or a stall with contents. Deflated we meandered back through the offerings. Given the effort and missteps to get here, I couldn’t continue as I had, indecisive about the best babushka to purchase. I found a stall with a whole section of unlaquered dolls, quite different to the usual. The price wasn’t a steal, but after a walk away I returned. The endless browsing of babushka had to end and I fronted up, and paid the asked for price. Most “in town” stores marked prices but pretty quickly were open to negotiate. This woman showed no inclination and I had no energy!
Just a little patriotic statue in your metro
Just a little patriotic statue in your metro
The return journey was not surprisingly expedient! That happens when you travel directly and to the rights stops. To reassure my designated spirits (I mean it really wouldn’t have been too much to TAKE the guide book I’d picked up in our St Petersburg hotel with us for the day), we returned to our “home base” areas for a 4:30pm lunch. Rory, always a willing ‘go with the flow’ guy took my decision to go to Paul. A French boulangerie which is worldwide (well, Washington DC, Dubai airport and Russia are all confirmed locations by this author!) oh to read French! To see familiarly ornate food. Sturdy breads! Yes please!
Yep, mine is mini. Rory is on Pokemon Go.
Yep, mine is mini. Rory is on Pokemon Go.