Tulip gardens – bucket list achieved

I can almost recall the conversation I had in the car with a boyfriend in 2005, about how I didn’t just want to ‘see’ places, but that I wanted to make sure I did that ‘thing’ that the place was known for.  Many would say The Netherlands is known for legalisation of marijuana.  Or prostitution.  Neither are of any interest to me!  What does spring to mind for me, with respects to Holland, is tulips.

Tulips – photo 1 of 200!

Tulip’s didn’t originate in Netherlands, but they have a long and strong history since the first bulb was gifted from a Turkish man to a traveller who gave it to a famous Dutch man.  I’m aware that they had a stock market event named ‘Tulip Mania’ which google informs me was 1636 – 1637.

The origins of the tulip’s name

Today, visiting Keukenhof, I learnt why the Dutch have become so famed for tulips.  The sandy soil mixed with clay, combined with the mild winters are ideal.  And it’s not just tulips – any bulbs really.  The tulip gardens were filled with many daffodils and jonquils, and the pavilions also features lilies heavily too.  I’m ashamed to say, I’d not ever realised lilies were also bulbous. It’s interesting what my years learning and working in floristry have taught me, but also what I’ve totally missed!

Flower factoid

Based on advice I’d read, I aimed to get to the tulip gardens at opening, 8am.  Given my AirBnB is only a 5 minutes walk, it seemed ideal.  Though, eight am did come around rather quickly, and I was still on the internet and updating life – having fallen asleep at my usual 9.30pm Europe Time, which was 4am Sydney time, so I was certainly due for a good lay down!  In the end, I arrived closer to 8.30am and I wondered why all the fuss about buying tickets online (which frustratingly wouldn’t work for me without my phone on roaming to get the confirmation code for using a credit card online). I left the park around noon, and took some photos to demonstrate why the advice is applicable!

12pm: People EVERYWHERE
8:30am: My arrival – not another person in site

My first hour, the place was largely devoid of people.  There was still a cool crisp air, and dew on the grass and birdsong the most overwhelming sound.  The light made it challenging to take photos as much was still in shade, or overexposed with sunlight.  By the time I came to leave, the sounds were various languages and accents!

Early sunshine

The gardens are beautifully laid out, and despite Holland being a flat country, significant work has likely been done to have hills and knolls and variety in the landscape.  There are many little canals as well as bubbling little water falls and mini lakes.  For children, there’s a play park, a hedge maze and a permanent petting zoo with RABBITS! (I’m not sure if my blog has ever expressed how much I like bunny rabbits and flirted with having one as a pet!).

Rabbits and tulips

There are a collection of pavilions at different extremities of the park, which include a museum with some background on tulips and their history in The Netherlands.  There is also a pavilion with avant garde arrangements, and from time to time, floristry presentations.  When I wandered by, she was making a simple arrangement, decorated with small potatoes threaded on wire! Funnily, potatoes are something I associate with the Dutch after a friend I studied with in 206 said her Dutch parents ate potatoes every night with dinner.  This pavilion seemed to focus strongly on chrysanthemums, which were otherwise not in the gardens or anywhere else.  Another pavilion was far larger and rather than being as focused on arrangements and artistry, was more coloured islands interspersed with home wares, or baskets or similar.  It was quite interesting.

Potatoes with celosia

I took a novel with me, and from time to time, sat amongst the beauty and read a few chapters. I had no where to be in any hurry, and figured a short rest wouldn’t hurt.

Travelling makes me relise how inherently lucky I am – by where I was born, to the parents that could afford the education they had as much as mine. Sure, there are countless nations where their population is growing in wealth, and you’re seeing more diverse ranges of ethnicities travelling – it’s no longer a handful of wealthy nations, but people from all over the sub-continent (old fashioned way of trying to capture India and it’s neighbours); Asia; Europe…

I love the ruffles

Of course, it’s luck as much as the career I studied for and work in. I realise I earn a significant sum of money, enough to manage a family on. I am one person, with this salary. And until I am supporting a family, I am saving some, paying off a mortgage, and doing the things on my bucket list whilst I have the time, money and mobility to allow me to.

Blue and white

It’s an absolute pleasure to return to cities and places I’ve been to once before – to recognise Amsterdam Schiponl airport! To arrive at Den Hague (The Hague)’s Central station and think… I know where I am. The familiarity, it’s reassuring and head spinning too! And with that comfort has me going to a Starbucks, where I know what to expect! I expect an overpriced coffee, comfy chairs, the ability to linger and hopefully some wifi. Add the Dutch spin of some Stroopwafels and I’m doing it with a cultural tilt 😉

Water in the tulip forest

The tulip gardens were just amazing – beautiful. So well maintained. A pleasure to visit and walk amongst God’s creations, so expertly arranged and planted. To realise this hope, this long ago item jotted onto a list, to see the ‘tulip farms’. I did! Meanwhile, the gardens are more than than a farm, but my short 5 minute walk to the ‘entrance’ there is quite literally a farm of tulips, still in bloom. They have largely passed the seasonal ‘heights’, so it’s not verdant colour everywhere, but enough to realise what was. The gardens are manipulated so that there are late blooming varieties, so whilst some gardens lay green, having been deadheaded, largely, it felt full and colourful.

The view from the windmill to the tulip field
Dutch flag and windmill – 1892 Windmill brought to Keukenhof in 1957

I have almost 200 photos, and they are stunning (in my humble opinion!).

First day jitters – Amsterdam arrival

How’d they know?

The first hours in a new country can be pretty anxiety inducing and stressful for me. I distinctly recall the stress of finding a hotel in Dubai and a German man telling me it was a bad neighbourhood. I was a little calmer arriving in St Petersburg, but I think this was because I just gave myself a free pass – ie I caught a cab to a hotel. Simple. For Amsterdam, on my last working day (yesterday feels like forever ago, but that’s when it was), I at least had the foresight to print the GoogleMaps directions for a bus and walking to my AirBnB.

Entertainment system for my second leg

So I seemed semi planned. My Australian phone carrier doesn’t do global roaming, and mostly I don’t mind this. However, staying at AirBnBs and coordinating with European friends, when I saw it was under 30 Euro to buy a dutch SIM, i bought one. The cost – not a problem – I just transferred my worries onto ‘how long will that much data last’ and ‘should I use the data for checking an email when I might *really need* it for a map later?’. Because even with my google maps written directions (I opted out of maps), I got off the bus and headed the wrong direction. Once I hit the next bus stop, I found a man who was… hooking up a trailer which I noticed is for recycling of batteries and light globes, and he advised me to head the direction I’d came in. When I found the final street, Google assured me the destination was on the left. It was on the right. One thing Europeans maintain is odd and even sides of the road! Also, quaintly, they are still far more inclined to put their name to their door bell or property. So when I found a home with the right number and “Merel and Mike” it seemed a good enough match to my AirBnB paperwork which said Maria and Mike. I was so concerned that the roofer would be puzzled or annoyed by my rolling suitcase, I carried in the last 50m. Yep – next level considerate (or next level “trying to fit in”).

My sunshine reading perch

So… I’ve knocked on the door. There’s been no answer. It’s about 4pm in the afternoon, and quite unlike my last visit to The Netherlands, it’s sunny and warm and mild! I was last here between Christmas and New Year and it was snowy! So I’ve bunkered down behind a short hedge for the shade, and set my new SIM up in my phone. That’s when I checked the email account I use for AirBnB (which, stupidly isn’t linked to my ‘normal’ accounts I check v regularly) I see my hosts had politely asked what time I was due to arrive. To be honest, I cleared customs far faster than I anticipated.

It seems I’ve landed where I expected

My anxiety is from all the ‘what ifs’. What if I’m sitting here til it’s dark and cold? What if they don’t come. I mean… I’m in a country of very well educated English speakers – there’s not been a person yet whose thrown their hands up and had no idea what I’m saying. Yep – that includes two bus drivers, the man with the trailer – even a dog walker apologised when her dog sniffed me as I was sitting here! I can’t imagine I’m going to end up frozen, starving and camping out for the night in this quiet street, not far from THE famed tulip farm (and therefore, there’s likely hotels). I just seem to be able to do ‘next level worry’ when things aren’t seamless. Like… what’s the bother I walked a kilometer the wrong direction on a sunny day in comfy shoes with a small wheelie suitcase and a backpack? Anyone who noticed my mistake… I’ll NEVER meet. And even if I did, it’s a laughable mistake right? It feels like in the age of smart phones, not knowing things is even more distressing for me. And I have no shame in Australia asking where things are (ie somewhere to donate foreign change in Sydney Airport – there is no exaggeration 15 places you can exchange money, but the two I asked didn’t know where I could ‘donate’ coins. In the end, I was heading to the Qantas Business Class lounge as I know they run a program on board, when I noticed on the general concourse there was a Rotary bin for coins).

The tulips I came here for

I think my discomfort goes to something deeper though. I like to appear, to others, including strangers, as capable and confident. I don’t like feeling out of my depth, and I seldom do feel that way. Connected to that, I don’t like to inconvenience people – by asking for help. Yet I’m someone who is acutely aware of someone reading a map in Sydney streets and OFFER to help (supposing they may have the same ‘which stranger do I ask’ anxiety). I also feel very aware that as an English speaker, we come to assume every speaks English, and how gosh darn lucky I am, by nature of my birth, that it’s my native language. Everywhere I travel, I wish I spoke the language. And in some countries, it’s much much harder to travel there due to language and the penetration of English (I’m looking at you Russia!) I can only imagine my stress levels if english was my second language, and I was travelling communicating with others whom it’s their second language, and then second guessing if my English was right.. or theirs, or we’d ended up speaking nonsense and making things worse… It’s times like these, mime seems a viable alternative!! And iconography!

I love Europe – wind turbines are a common thing to come across

In the end, i think I sat in the sunshine reading for about 3 hours.  The neighbours across the street had been in and out, walking their dog, and their kitchen faced the AirBnB.  Their 22 year old son came out and asked if I’d like to come inside and join them for dinner.  I politely agreed!  What a wonderful offer (cause I had been thinking that once my hosts arrived, and I’d showered, then I’d need to work out where and what to have for dinner in my state of tiredness).  I sat at their dinner table in their light and airy home, ad of course, being Dutch, Mum, Dad and both sons spoke English!  Once I’d eaten, and they’d poured me a cup of tea, the hosts arrived.  They have an eight week old baby, and today the mother had gone to her mother’s house to get some help caring for the baby whilst she did some work tasks.  Combine that with a traffic jam and the father not having keys and I think that explains the ‘we could be there in 15 mins’ turning into a very pleasant three hour wait.

8pm – still so light, I read on the balcony as I let my freshly washed hair dry and read a book

Everything turned out better than fine – and it usually does.  I can logically think that in those moments, and I tend to reach out to others to talk to and distract me, and remind me, things are FINE.  A wonderful friend from church was on line to talk, as was my little brother in England. By the time I’d checked into my AirBnB, Australia was almost waking up…

Flying Qatar Airways for the first time

My flight to Europe was on Qatar Airways. I recall watching a documentary on a hotel TV a few years ago, about how Qatar Airways is one of the newest fleet of planes and is angling to compete with Ethiad and Emirates. Thankfully, they match them in style and service, without the popularity out of Australia that results in full planes.  Google tells me it’s 23 years old, where as Emirates is 32… just like me

Cheeky shot of staff in Doha airport

Firstly, I really like their colours – the predominant colour of check in staff uniforms is a deep burgundy. Once on board, there’s a little more variety – there’s a neutral light toned blouse with a motif of a horned dessert animal. I notice most, if not all, female flight attendants wear pants, which seems very forward thinking for a airline based in a more traditional society. The trousers are either navy or burgundy. Then, almost all of their staff work a navy jacket for the meal services, with a deep pleat in the back, making it quite stylish but also more movable. Overall, I feel like their uniforms run rings around Emirates, which I see as quite daggy in their odd tone of beige pin strip and a red that’s a little too gaudy. I saw one set of uniforms in Sydney airport that I’ve never seen – which appeared to be a dark brown with purple details – I’m not sure the airline, but wow – not a colour range I’d want to have to pitch.
There were Qatar branded check in staff – this seems to be less common lately, there seems to be contracting companies. I know Qatar used one or two contractors but they were outnumbered by Qatar staff. The gate check was therefore quick and smooth with minimal lines as it was well serviced for the A380.

There’s a lady curling her eye lashes… in the quiet lounge. Where I thought I’d do it too – I mean, only 7 more hours of flying to look my best for :p

Once on board and the door closed, there’s a steady stream of ‘freebies’ – a synthetic fabric pouch handed out to Economy passengers with socks (which always seems like a weird inclusion to me), an eye mask, a small toothbrush and toothpaste. I feel like there was one more item – I repackaged it and handed it back to the staff – there’s NO way I need any further freebies of this nature! I had bought my own items – and my Emirate eye mask (which may be 4 years old and from Business Class as it’s super soft). Then there’s single serve sachet’s of moist towelette – I feel weird about this being packaged, but then I’m probably deluded in thinking that a fabric hand towel or face washer being reused!! There’s also a menu handed out – as there’s two meals on such a long service.

A new drama I found thanks to in flight entertainment system

I pre-selected my seat, an aisle seat in the centre set of 4 – and the result was that I was the second person in the row – the other person at the other aisle. He was an older gentleman, whose first language wasn’t easy. So after the evening meal, I used mime to suggest my feet might creep into a third seat (near his seat) but no need for him to move his overflow of gear. Interestly, many hours later, he tried to lay down in two seats (neigh on impossible!) so I mimed he could extend to three seats as I sat upright and started watching a new TV drama (and by accident watched the episodes out of order). The TV show is called Queen Sugar – it’s produced by Oprah, so it speaks strongly to racial disadvantage, as well as some gendered barbs. As you can imagine, there’s a collection of STRONG female leads and there are male characters, but it really does feel like they play support. So I’m high fiving to that! Overall, there were more than a handful of recent films I was keen to see, in addition to TV shows I’d not heard of but interested in. With respects to music, I didn’t find anything I wanted to listen to. I suppose liking ‘Triple J’ is hard to articulate and translate elsewhere… I often struggle to find artists I like in the common categories or genres of music!

That’s a 3.30am sunrise as we land in Doha in the distance

The in flight entertainment systems appear to be the most modern I’ve seen. It’s a large flat screen with all these backlit icons which aren’t full buttons. Under the screen there’s the earphone port – tricky when eating and watching something. There’s also a USB, so I got a phone charged. There’s also another input, I’m not nerdy enough to know what it is! In addition to the main screen, there’s a smaller smart phone sized screen – which pops out, which may help with gaming.
My seat was row 54, which is still relatively close to the front of the plane as the rows ‘start’ on the top floor. I was one row away from where BOTH food services started! Some airlines are good at reversing the service the second time, so you aren’t ‘last’ both times. And I’d almost forgotten I’d requested Gluten Free meals. I’ll admit some of it was hoping to get an early service of a special meal. Nope, still lucky last! To be honest, I know it’s better for me (not eating gluten), but I’m also a little envious having seen the menu and the choices, they sounds delicious and not that gluten ridden. OK maybe the breakfast pancakes may be! In my breakfast meal, I got cling wrapped rice crackers?! I skipped them!
I’ve already learnt things, 15 hours into my trip. The inflight magazine mentioned that flights to the US it provides laptops to it’s business class travellers. Reading between the lines, it appears that flights originating from Doha/Qatar must have a US immigrations restriction, requiring all electronics to be checked. Surely a terrorism measure? Anyhow, you can ‘pick up’ a laptop and use a USB to transfer your work. I can imagine as a business person that’d be little compensation – you want certain programs potentially. And you get used to the layout of your icons and keyboard etc etc. Still – interesting and innovative response to something outside their control! The airline is also offering double sized ‘beds’ in business class, and also a configuration for up to 4 people to be able to ‘face’ on another. What a punish to travel with 3 colleagues AND need to work on the flight, in my opinion!

The statement and much photographed art piece in Doha airport

Overall, I’m pleased to try a new airline, and see what features it offers. I’m incredibly pleased that the flight is probably half full as this really helps me sleep! The plane and facilities are modern. The meals seem great, so I might adjust my order preferences and be ‘normal’ once again!! And… I also chose Qatar Airways on price. It was $1300 for a Europe return trip – into one port out of another. It is the shoulder season, being May, but it’s possibly the cheapest Europe fare I’ve ever paid (and I’ve… been to Europe a little too often for a 32 year old who doesn’t travel for work!)

Oh, and yes, I packed the laptop, and less than 24hrs in, I’m thankful I did.  It’s not been too heavy.  Still has battery life after drafting this post on the plane, and posting in airport wifi.

Planning Euro tour 2017

In less than a month, I take off for another (just short of) three week trip to Europe.  And yes, I was in July/August in 2016 (going to Russia, Turkey, Bosnia and Romania).  The reason for my trip is the wedding of a VERY dear friend, whom I’ve known since 1999 or 2000?  The lovely Julia was a supervisor in the boarding house whilst I was at school – she was studying at university.  Even in my school years, she spent time in Germany (Cologne I think), and since then, has lived in Heidelberg, off and on.  She’s also spent time living in Brisbane and Melbourne, and so we’ve seen each other in different places as the years have passed.  I visited her in the European summer of 2008, before continuing on to Berlin.  Then I ‘last minute’ went to Heidelberg from Christmas 2010.

Snowy Christmas

The invitation was enough to jump start me to add side trips I’ve long wished to do, and re-blog about earlier this year.  The key things being

  • visiting Oradour-sur-Glane in France
  • seeing the tulip fields in the Netherlands
  • see Iceland

Seeing Tulip fields is seasonal, and so it’s a lucky coincidence for a spring wedding to almost coincide.  I did go to Amsterdam and The Hague in 2010, between Christmas and New Year, but it will be quite nice to see it in another season.  I will visit a friend I studied in France with in 2006 in The Hague, who will be expecting her first child!

Talk about futuristic! A Hostel in Iceland

Going to Iceland is a more recent passion.  I continued to see other bloggers visit, namely 71 Toes with their brood of children, and the (not by choice) childless Blog About Love couple. Seeing as the latter was published in 2014, it’s been a slow simmer to get me to visit.  I did look at flights last year when I was in Turkey, but it was logistically challenging and accommodation both pricey and hard to secure.  Earlier this year, I caught up with a dear school friend who’d recently been to Iceland, so I took that as a final ‘push’!  She’s recommended a great tour company, so I’ve booked a WEEK worth of day trips! As I’m travelling alone, I’m not keen to hire a car.  I did hope I could twist my brother’s arm to come travelling with me again, but he has work commitments (and… coincidently, can now go to Iceland to accompany a school trip.  Beats me bank rolling his travel ;))

Pretty tulip fields

So I plan to fly to Amsterdam and spend two nights in The Netherlands, before about a week in Iceland.  From Iceland I will fly to Frankfurt and catch a train to Heidelberg (which I now feel like is almost normal to me, after a few times!) for a long weekend – arriving before the wedding and staying until the Monday.  I’ve lucked out with finding a friend of the bride who wants to share accomodation with me in an AirBnB – actually aside from Iceland, I’m staying in AirBnBs.  In Iceland, I went for quirky hostels.  And the book end to the trip will be France  – a few days to head to Oradour and then fly out of Paris back to Sydney.  It’s only these last few days in France I’ve not booked, but basically, I plan to train or fly in from Germany, hire a car, and head south.  It’ll be my first foray hiring and driving a car on that side of the road – eek!

Of course, this will take me to the wire of annual leave days I have.  But beats a week or a day on the couch in Sydney, so it’s worth it!

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


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.

Noticable shrapnel damage to the ‘house’ that was the start of the tunnel under the airport runway
As the airport was UN held, the tunnel was required to get items from teh two dark blue segments of Sarajevo
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
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.

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!

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
These are known as ‘Sarajevo Roses’ and were a simple memorial of shrapnel damage to pavements This was alongside the catheral above


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!!
img_7382 img_7383
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.
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!

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).
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.
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…
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!
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.
The new room – the computer… well Rory was rebuilding his computer. This hotel would prove to add additional issues for our computers 🙁
I actually loved this desk, and used it heaps!
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.
Not the flag stall – these were in the Grand Bazaar
Close up of an ornate ‘European’ style buuding right on the Bospherous shore
HA! So I definitely feel asleep sitting upright whilst we were still sitting outside. This guy had a better idea!
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


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.
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
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.
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.

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.