Posts Tagged ‘Flying’

12 Days in Istanbul

Sorry I haven’t written in a while — the keyboards in Istanbul are a bit hard to type on because some of the letters and punctuation marks are in different places, and I just haven’t spent too much time in front of the computer lately. Good thing I’ve been writing about my days in a journal. Here are some of the highlights…

blue sultanahmet mosque istanbul
The Blue Mosque

July 13, 2008

After our adventures in Jordan, we headed over to Istanbul on a very annoyingly timed 3:30 a.m. flight, which left us with no sleep for the night and brought us into Istanbul so early in the morning, we had to wait about 5 hours for our hotel room to be ready. In our waiting time, we had breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Tashkonak, on the rooftop patio, and took a short walk through Sultanahmet, the old part of the city where the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and plenty of the other tourist sites are. Then once our room was ready, we slept the rest of the day.

July 14, 2008

Once we were well rested, we started exploring Istanbul in earnest. We started out with the Little Aya Sofiya, which is a pretty church-turned mosque with a graveyard surrounding it and a pretty domed roof. Then we visited the tomb of a bunch of sultans, which we happened to come across. All their individual grave markers/sarcophagi were standing like little houses under a domed roof.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque, or  Sultanahmet  Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful sights in the area. It has soaring minarets, domes everywhere you look and a lovely courtyard and garden. Inside it looks like a pretty standard mosque, though it does have some nice tile work, with mostly blue floral designs on the tiles. I’m glad I bought a head scarf when I was in Egypt so I didn’t have to use a loaner.

We couldn’t go in the Aya Sofiya, which is right across from the Blue Mosque, because it’s closed on Mondays — we explored it a few days later — so we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern, an ancient roman cistern with a hodgepodge of columns taken from across the city and a vaulted roof. There were some carp swimming around in the water, and in the far corner, there were two columns whose bases were upturned Medusa heads. The theory as to why one is on its side and the other is upside down is that the Romans, being Christians, meant to show that they were just using the blocks as building materials, not worshiping false idols.

Continuing our super-tourist day, we went to Topkapi Palace, a huge complex for the sultans and their families. The treasury had an interesting collection, with lots of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and there were some very elaborately tiled walls in the harem. It was also neat to learn about the palace’s history, complete with scheming concubines, murdered princes and the sultan’s mother ruling the roost while the sultan walked around in silver-soled shoes.

We also walked around the hippodrome, which isn’t much to see, except for two obelisks, a column and a fountain. It functions more as a pedestrian thoroughfare and makes a pleasant place to stroll.

basilica cistern istanbul
The Basilica Cistern

July 15, 2008

We decided to head out of the city for a day to explore the Princes’ Islands, a set of 9 Islands in the Sea of Marmara where people from Istanbul keep summer villas. The only transport allowed on the small, hilly islands are bicycles and horse cards, though there are some motorized vehicles allowed for the police, garbage men, etc.

We went to the biggest of the Islands, which we got to by ferry, and got some ice cream straight away, since it was a hot day. Then we started our walk to the monastery up in the mountains, which ended up being more of a church than a monastery, but maybe we missed something. The walk was really lovely — the big houses had huge gardens, and because of all the trees, we had lots of shade. There were also great views of the sea, the other islands and Istanbul.

When we finally got up to the monastery area, we had a nice lunch, explored the small Greek Orthodox church where people had left little trinkets, like watches and jewelry, in hopes that their prayers would be answered. There were also lots of white bags, papers and cloths tied to the trees and bushes on the path leading up the hill, which apparently also symbolize prayers.

July 16, 2008

We woke up to rain for the first time on our trip, but by the time we had breakfast and set up a lunch date with a friend who lives in Istanbul, it had stopped. Before lunch, we decided to tour Aya Sofiya, which is much more impressive from the inside than the outside. Outside, it looks old and staid compared to the blue mosque, but inside, it’s all gold and there are some incredibly detailed mosaics in its gallery. It would have been amazing to see it in its original glory, with its large open spaces and soaring dome, which were unfortunately obstructed for us by scaffolding put up for reconstruction work.

By the time we were ready to leave, there was a thunder-and-lighting storm raging outside, so we ran to the nearby tram stop, getting soaked in the process, and trammed and funiculared to Taksim to meet our friend who took us out to a lunch of traditional Turkish food. We had dishes like “The Imam Fainted,” a tasty cold eggplant dish, dolmas, stuffed peppers and pureed eggplant. I also had Turkish coffee with dessert — strong and bitter as expected.

July 17, 2008

It was time to see something of contemporary Istanbul, so we went to the Istanbul Modern, a great museum that showcases Turkish modern art. We were introduced to plenty of talented artists we’d never heard of, and toured the temporary “Design Cities” show, which showcased important works from cities that influenced popular design over the years. The museum also has a fantastic cafe overlooking the Bosphorus, though it seems like just about every restaurant in Istanbul has some sort of water view, which is always a nice touch. The rest of the day’s tour included a trip up Galata Tower and down the Kamodo Steps.

July 18, 2008

We thought we might avoid it because of our crazy experience at the bazaar in Egypt, but we ended up going to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market anyway, and boy were we surprised. It wasn’t crowded, the shopkeepers didn’t hassle us too much, and the shops had some really interesting and colorful items. We also went in to a bunch of mosques, though at this point they all started looking a bit the same.

July 19, 2008

We had a nice relaxing day of sleeping in, then sat at a tea garden eating ice cream and baklava and playing checkers for most of the afternoon. Evan beat me every time.

July 20, 2008

We went to tour Dolmabahce palace — another home for the sultan’s, though newer than Topkapi and in a European style. The grounds were beautiful, with manicured gardens, fountains and little ponds with lily pads and an expansive view of the Bosphorus. Touring the interiors of the buildings, though, we needed to go as a group with a guide. The groups were pretty big, and the palace’s big rooms echoed and made it hard to hear our guide. We also kept running into the group ahead of us. Still, the building was impressive, with huge chandeliers, carved ceilings and a lot of trompe l’oeil painting. Touring the harem, our guide did a better job, though we had some rogue tourists who kept arguing with her and trying to strike out on their own.

After getting lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near Taksim, we took the metro to Levent to go to the mall. The Kanyon mall was huge, modern and gorgeous. It’s an indoor-outdoor multi-level space with posh shops, curving walkways and a spherical movie theater. We shopped a bit and saw Hancock — with an intermission that included commercials (not cool to interrupt a movie so abruptly like that and then make us watch even more ads!).

July 21, 2008

Lazy day lounging at the hotel, researching Thailand and reading. We ordered in food with the help of the super-nice staff at the hotel and spent a lot of time using their free lobby computer.

bosphorus
View of the Bosphorus

July 22, 2008

It was time to get out of the city again and go on a Bosphorus tour. We caught the ferry at Eminonu and took it up to Anadolou Kavagi, where we climbed up a hill to a ruined castle, where we had great views of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, which were both a  tranquil turquoise blue.

When we got down from the mountain, we caught a bus down to Kanlica where we had a strait-side lunch featuring the town’s delicious yogurt, which really was better than any of the yogurt we had elsewhere in Turkey. We watched plenty of ships passing by and even saw a dolphin. By the time we were done with lunch, it was too late to visit any of the other sites we’d hoped to get to — just about everything around Istanbul closes at 4 or 4:30 — so we hopped on another bus to Uskudar, then took the ferry back to Eminonu.

We walked along the coast back to our hotel, passing swimmers and sunbathers on the rocks (there’s no beach there).

July 23, 2008

One of Evan’s brother’s friends who we’d met for drinks earlier in the week played tour guide for us all day. She brought us to a Greek Orthodox neighborhood where we visited a church and an impressive large high school on top of a steep hill. We also toured Bosphorus University, which as its name suggests has some beautiful views, then had a long and relaxing lunch at a waterfront cafe in Ortakoy.

We spent the rest of our day in Istiklal, hanging out in a cafe reading while avoiding some rain, then going out for a makeup birthday dinner, since in Jordan we never had one, at a rooftop restaurant.

July 24, 2008

With our flight to Thailand in the evening, we had one last day to spend in Istanbul and I knew what I wanted to do — go to a hammam/Turkish bath. Evan didn’t want to come, so he went on his own errands while I headed to the Cemberlitas Hammam, right near the Grand Bazaar. The Hammam dates back to the 1500s, and the men’s side is supposed to be grander than the women’s, though it was still a neat experience.

The main bathing room has a warm raised central platform, where most of the activity takes place. I started out relaxing there in my bath sheet while others were getting bathed around me, staring up at the small circular skylights in the pink domed ceiling, and soon an attendant came in to give me my bath. There was lots of water, soap and scrubbing with a loofah mitten. There was also a bit of a massage and I also had my hair washed in an adjacent alcove. The most surprising part of the experience, though, was that the attendants don’t really wear much clothing. Like only bikini bottoms. The guide book did not prepare me for that — I thought I was the only one who was going to be exposed.

Well, I chalked this one up to being an interesting cultural experience, and I despite some initial anxiety, ended up enjoying myself and feeling squeaky clean and relaxed by the time I was done.

Evan and I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Dervish Tea Garden, drinking tea and playing backgammon. I won every time.

When it was time to finally leave, we had a nice time at the airport, hanging out in the Turkish Airways lounge, which was really nice (we somehow managed to fly business class to Thailand — our longest flight!). There was a business centers with computers to use, a big dining/drinking area, a separate kids’ room, a TV lounge and a sleeping lounge. The flight itself was fine — we both slept most of the way — though Turkish Airways has the worst business class food I’ve ever had, worse than most economy meals I’ve had. There were at least huge TVs, and on their flight monitor, we could check out the front and rear views from the airplane — it was quite cool to see it approach the airport and land!

Check out our Istanbul photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

The Egyptian Museum and the Crazy Bazaar

Well, we’re just finishing up day 2 in Egypt, and it’s already been a bit of a wild ride. We haven’t been able to upload any photos just yet, but I have written down what we’ve done over the past two days, and we’ve included this lovely webcam photo from the hotel’s lobby computer.

June 28:

Early this morning we arrived in Cairo, about an hour or so later than planned. We got our visas from one of the banks by Immigration, and then joined the Passport Control queue. We also made the (sort of) mistake of asking one of the policeman patrolling the line about our visas, since the man at the bank said to have a policeman put them in our passports. Well, after looking a bit confused, and searching through our passports, the policeman stuck mine on one of the blank Special Modifications pages, and stuck Evan’s diagonally spanning two pages. Thankfully, it turned out not to be a problem, and we were stamped on through to the baggage claim quickly enough.

Once we grabbed our bags, we found the driver for Havana Hotel and went with him to his car. The parking lot was packed, and we were parked in. There were words, lots of honking, and we eventually got out to the craziness that is Cairo’s streets.

Two-lane roads are treated as three lanes, everyone passes from every direction, motorcyclists don’t wear helmets, and horse-and-donkey-drawn carts use the same roads as everyone else. We even saw a bicycle in the left lane of the freeway. We did manage to make it safely to the hotel, and tipped our driver what we later learned would’ve been the full fare from the airport.

Egyptian Museum
In front of the Egyptian Museum

This morning, we headed out to the Egyptian Museum. The place is massive and filled to the brim with Egyptian antiquities, statues, carvings, sarcophagi, jewelry, mummies… The King Tut section was amazing, especially the gold mask, jewelry, and nested sarcophagi. Plus some of the side rooms with extra-special pieces, like Tut’s gold mask, were air-conditioned — very nice in the midday heat.

We stopped for lunch, and when we felt rested we set out for Khan El-Khalili bazaar. We spent quite a bit of time, sort of accidentally, in the non-touristy, calm southern side of the market and its surrounding neighborhood, which we liked very much. The narrow streets were full of stalls and locals doing their shopping. I bought a scarf, we didn’t get hassled, we had children say hello to us, sing, and then ask for money, but we just smiled and laughed them off.

buying a scarf
Buying a scarf at Khan El-Khalili bazaar

Then we got a little bit lost. We started wandering further down the alley-like streets, and we got to an area full of construction shops. We decided to head back to where we came from — of course not on the same path — and wound up down an incredibly busy street, which had a traffic jam of cars, trucks, mopeds, rickshaws, donkey carts, and pedestrians. We had to walk in the road amidst all this because there were no sidewalks, and we almost got squished by a truck making a very close turn to a car. A young man made the truck stop and pulled me to safety, but it was a pretty scary moment. We ended up having to walk back the way we came, and finally found our way back to our starting point.

When we crossed over to the touristy side of the market, we were hassled and chatted up at every turn. We left the market shortly after we arrived there, feeling rather spent.

Fantastic Londonist April Fool

Just had to give a quick link to the Londonist April Fool’s joke yesterday: “Piggy-Back Plan To Beat Heathrow Congestion.” A little excerpt:

 With the situation showing little sign of improvement at the brand new T5, London’s aviation bosses are keen to turn the public’s attention to plans for dealing with the real elephant in the Heathrow departure lounge – the traffic congestion caused by still only having two runways. Yesterday saw the first test of a solution that could be in commercial use as early as next year. The bold plan seeks to double potential runway capacity by using long-haul aircraft to carry smaller planes “piggy-back” style out of West London.

Also, seeing the image of an Air France flight strapped atop an Air India jet like a space shuttle was fantastic. It couldn’t have been a better prank on such a timely subject since Heathrow is just a mess right now.

Barcelona Es Bonita (No Hablo Espanol)

Barcelona Placa RealWe’re back from Barcelona and yet another whirlwind weekend. The quick rundown (um, it didn’t end up being that quick… we did a lot!):

We left Friday night and our otherwise on-time plane was delayed about two hours by a passenger who apparently was too scared to fly. The pilot said he has been flying since 1981 and has never had to let someone off a plane because he was afraid to fly — and that he was scared of what the passenger might do if forced to fly. Apparently he had some sort of “crazy look in his eyes.” We didn’t really notice any commotion, though. It just felt like a lot of waiting.

The delay, subsequent search of the plane and refueling, put us into Barcelona late. We had a light dinner at Bernat and Miriam’s apartment, where we stayed, and rested up for the next day’s activities.

Evan and I started the day by checking out the main cathedral, walking down the the sea, strolling up La Rambla and some other big streets, and checking out some of the many back alleys. We met up with Bernat and Miriam at the Santa Caterina Market, where we saw all sorts of meats and fishes (we got some good photos, coming soon) and Spanish foods. After buying plenty of food, it was time to head out of the city and towards the mountains.

Our first stop was Montserrat, the monastery and church high up in craggy mountains. We walked around a bit, had lunch and checked out the sanctuary. The views were great, though we didn’t stick around too long — we were heading further into the mountains to visit Miriam’s brother.

By the time we got to his house, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it was dark and rainy. We made a big dinner over an indoor fire pit, drank wine, played games and watched movies. I also got to practice my fake — or more like paltry, though never actually learned — Spanish. Evan said was better than his fake French, though, and gave me plenty of help putting together phrases. We forgot how quiet it could be away from the city, and we woke up the next morning to birds chirping outside.

In the morning, we walked around outside and enjoyed stunning views of snow-capped mountains, then took a short walk to a small church. On the way back, we ran into Miriam’s brother, who let us take turns riding one of his horses. I don’t even remember the last time I was on a horse, so it was quite a treat. Late in the afternoon, we had lunch, relaxed, and finally said our goodbyes, smelling of wood smoke.

That night we had dinner, and the next day, Easter, Evan and I headed to Parc Guell, a huge modernist park on a hill with views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean, and plenty of bizarre buildings, sculptures, structures and mosaics to check out. We continued our Barcelona tour with a trip to Casa Batllo, the Gaudi apartments, which looked like a house for a family of mermaids. The tiles, ocean theme and undulating spaces were fun to walk through, and from the roof, we saw plenty more buildings we wanted to check out.

We ended up at the Parc de Ciutadella at sunset, where the sky glowed peach, pink and blue behind the Arc de Triomf, and we took a stroll around the lake and headed back to the apartment to relax before dinner. We went out for drinks, dinner, and drinks again, and left the next morning, flying out over the blue sea and snow-capped mountains, to come back to London.

What an amazing weekend. We couldn’t have asked for better hosts for our trip — we felt like part of the family and saw a side of Barcelona and the Spanish countryside neither of us had ever seen. I can’t wait to go visit again, and I can’t wait to look through all the photos Evan took on his new camera.

Update: Photos are up on Evan’s site.

The Pitney Bowes Ad That Caught My Eye

After all the QR and 2d code talk last week, I of course starting seeing the codes everywhere. And even in the US, where I said they weren’t used much commercially. I still stand by that they’re really used only for B2B purposes — there was one on my flight check-in print-out from Continental. There was a colorful, argyle-y code on the wall at MoMA, and then there was this Pitney Bowes ad I saw in the airport.

Pitney Bowes Ad

and closer up

Pitney Bowes Ad

Intriguing, no? Definitely an image that brings up a lot of questions.

The data matrix code isn’t meant to be read — the ad’s call to action is to text “Pitney” to a number, which sends you to their mailsream website. The answer to the question is that it can help organize patient communications. Once again, a B2B function. Now, wouldn’t it be cool if consumers could read the code in the ad?

Maybe they can — I can’t tell since my phone is behind the times. If you can read it, let me know.

I also sent this to 2d code, and they posted it today.

New York in a New York Minute

MoMA Gallery SpaceI’m sure I’ll be posting a bit more, with photos and better descriptions, but Evan and I got back from our New York weekend today.

We left from Gatwick airport Friday morning and had a 2-hour delay off the bat since our plane didn’t arrive on time. After an uneventful flight — Evan slept and I finished reading Youth in Revolt (very funny) — we got to Newark, took the train to our hotel (the W, very nice) and got ready to go out to dinner.

We had Greek food (yum), went to see Towards Darkness (unfortunately the theater wasn’t very full, though it was well-received by the friends and family who came), and went out for drinks at the Thirsty Scholar (fun!).

Saturday we went to MoMA (very cool, check out the photo), walked through Central Park (always lovely), had Mexican food in DUMBO (quite an adventure to get to, though the food was delicious), and went out with friends at B Bar.

Sunday, we had brunch (I miss American-style brunch), Evan bought a camera, we had drinks with a friend, then spent a long time in Newark airport waiting for our flight (we were early). The flight was bumpy. Evan slept; I didn’t. I did, however, completely conk out on the train in from Gatwick. I also managed to take an accidental 6-hour nap this afternoon (oops) while Evan was at work.

More about the weekend soon.

Also, check out my latest Hitched article, “Online Tools to Keep You Organized.”

Weekly Reading: Londonist Posts

Bactrian Camels at the Budapest ZooAs you read this (well, if you’re reading this when I posted it) I’m on my way to New York. I’ll likely be offline for the weekend, but I’ll be back in London Monday and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to report.

But as is current Friday custom around here, check out my Londonist posts for this week:

  • Bactrian Burglars in Bishopsgate: Have you seen Brian the camel?
  • Richmond Park Cull: No Other Option? A new cause for London’s animal lovers — save the deer!
  • Lewisham is Seeing Spots: Measles outbreak due to low vaccination rates.
  • Grape Case Quashed: A man pulls a silly suit on Marks & Spencer and loses.
  • Lessons Learned: Melt Chocolate Master Class: More on the chocolate class from Wednesday, plus the recipe for the chocolate martini. (This link may not work as I couldn’t check it, since it hadn’t been posted when I wrote this post. It should work, but if it doesn’t, you may have to scroll through Londonist.com or just wait for me to post the right link later. Sorry if it causes any trouble.)

Photo of a Bactrian camel from the Budapest Zoo, July 2007. Brian looks substantially different, but it’s the closest thing I have.