Monday, March 16, 2009


Z Istanbulu, ktery jsme si naramne uzili, hlavne diky hostelu Tulip, kde jsme se citili jak doma a kazdej den promokli jsme se tam radi vraceli, jsme pokracovali po pobrezi do mestecka Canakkale. Hlavni atrakci okoli jsou archeologicke vykopavky Troja z doby Rimske rise, ale musim rict, i kdyz to ma slavnou minulost, tak za tech 10 euro to nestalo, takova rozkopana hromada kamenu a nove postavenej drevenej kun.
Nemile nas prekvapili ceny autobusu, i kdyz jsou luxusni a servis je jak v letadle, tak ceny jsou jak v zapadni Evrope, nas 6 let stary pruvodce je uplne mimo s cenami a vsechno je tak 4krat drazsi. Teda musim rict, ze cena benzinu je vyssi nez v Cechach, asi 1,30 euro.
Dalsi celodenni presun byl pres mega mesto Izmir do Selcuku, bohuzel vestinou ty dny, ktery stravime v autobuse neprsi a sviti slunicko, Kdyz jsme prijeli do Izmiru tak bylo 17stupnu, ale to bohuzel jenom jeden den.

Selcuk je maly prijemny mestecko nedaleko od Efezu, Efez je anticke vystavne mesto, coz jsme navstivili a to stalo za tech 10euro, taky neprselo a tak jsme si udelali peknej den po okoli Selcuku.

Vecer jsme vzali nocni autobus do Kappadokie, kam jsem se hrozne tesila, vsechny fotky, co jsem videla, byli jak z nejaky pohadkovy rise a taky ze jo, po 12 hodinach jizdy jsme vystoupili ve vesnici Goreme a byli jsme uprostred ty krasy.
Kappadokie lezi primo v centru Turecka, je plna piskovcovych skal, do kterych jsou vytesany jeskyne (slouzili jako utociste prvnim krestanum pred Rimany).

Taky jsme se ubytovali v jeskyni a uzivali si ty pohadkovy rise, teda vcera kdyz jsme se probudili, tak venku napadlo 5cm snehu, tak trochu mrznem, dnes napadlo jeste vic a zitra uvidime....A dalsi den, nas ceka nocni presun na hranice se Syrii, kam uz se moc tesime, za prve pocasi, snad bude tepleji!!!!a potkali jsme nekolik japonckych cestovatelu, kteri akorat prijeli ze Syrie a dali nam hodne tipu a rad a vsichni byli ze Syrie nadseni.

Musim se zminit o jednom japonckym paru, kteri nas uplne dostali, jeli stopem do Anglie do Bristolu na vlastni koncert, vypadali jak z nejakyho fantasy komiksu, obleceni meli vlastnorucne upleteny, usity nebo uhackovany a vezli za sebou 2 vozejcky, na jednom hudebni nastroje a na druhym batohy. Tak jim drzim palce at ten svuj koncert v kvetnu stihnou!!!
Jinak tureckyho jidla jsme se nemohli dockat a ted nam to prijde tak trochu nuda, porad dokola kebab v chlebu a zapijime to mistnim jogurtovym napojem Ayran, je to moc dobry, ale jist to 2krat denne kazdej den.....zacne byt nuda, ale obcas kdyz ma clovek stesti, tak se to da prostridat Cobrou ( mistni cockova polevka) a nebo Lahmacun (takova turecka pizza s mletym masem a korenim).

Co nas tu bavi jsou mistni psi, jsou extremne pratelsti, ale jak clovek jednou pohladi, tak uz se jich nezbavi. Kazdej den mame minimalne 2 spolecniky, a jdou s nami treba pul dne a to za jedno pohlazeni!!! vzdycky si rikame, ze si na konci reknou o penize, ze nam delali pruvodce:):)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Turkish Delight

It was a struggle to fight our way out of Istanbul's chaotic otogar (bus station) passed the 168 ticket windows and across to the metro terminal but eventually we managed it. Soon we were recovering in a guesthouse in the central Sultanahmet district of Istanbul.

On our first morning in Istanbul we awoke to pouring rain. Therefore we decided to start our exploration at the indoor Grand Bazaar, a labyrinthine warren of commerce. After a few hours the rain had still not abated so we decided to brave the conditions. We had a wander around the famous Topkapi Palace as well as gazing at the twin mosques of Sultanahmet, the Blue mosque and the Aya Sophia mosque. Later in the day the sky actually cleared and we were able to appreciate these views even more satisfactorily.

Some quick researching uncovered the fact that springtime in Istanbul is particularly wet, with 80% chance of rain most days. Therefore we were not surprised when the rain continued on and off for the next two days. On one of those days we made the pilgrimage out to Ortakoy to try the famous Kumpir, the baked potato filled with all manner of bountiful treats. After crossing Galata bridge through the hordes of fishermen we headed across the Bhosphoros to the Asian side of Istanbul by ferry. Ironically, at least when looked through the eyes of Western perception, we found it to be cleaner, better organised, and more relaxed than the crowded European side.

From Istanbul we headed for Canakkale, on the Aegean coast. The bus fare sent us into fits of apoplexy until we boarded the bus, not only was it a 'business class' bus with a 1-2 seat configuration, there were 'in-flight' magazines, personal entertainment, and all manner of complimentary drinks and snacks.

Canakkale is situated exactly inbetween the ancient site of Troy and the Anzac battlefields of World War I. Disappointingly the most accurate description of Troy is a dug up hill with a famous history, oh and a giant wooden horse by the entrance. Despite the romanticism evoked by the Turkish tourism board literature I still agree with Dave Lister's summary of the battle of Troy:

LISTER: I dunno though. This wooden horse of Troy malarkey, I'm not buyin' that.
RIMMER: It's one of the most famous military maneuvers in history!
LISTER: I mean, the Greeks have been camped outside Troy, kerpowing, zapping, and kersplatting the Trojans for the best part of a decade, yeah?
LISTER: So all of a sudden they wake up one mornin' and the Greeks have gone. And there outside the city walls they've left this gift; this tribute to their valiant foes: a huge wooden horse, just large enough to happily contain 500 Greeks in full battle dress and still leave adequate room for toilet facilities? Are you telling me not one Trojan goes, "Hang on a minute, that's a bit of a funny prezzy. What's wrong with a couple hundred pairs of socks and some aftershave?" No, they don't -- they just wheel it in and all decide to go for an early night! People that stupid deserve to be kerpowed, zapped and kersplatted in their beds! You know what the big joke is? From this particular phase in history we derive the phrase, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts," when it would be much more logical to derive the phrase, "Beware of Trojans, they're complete smegheads!

The Anzac beaches on the Gallipoli peninsular was an equally disappointing experience, mostly because we never actually got there. We crossed back onto the peninsular but were stuck in the port. In the end I was not so disappointed because I was already saturated with Aussie and Kiwi connections everywhere I looked - here a 'Wallabies hostel', there a 'Boomerang cafe'. It seems as though both the Turks and the antipodeans have got together to remember a treacherous and ill-fated battles by turning it into the biggest marketing exercise all along the Aegean coast.

Food was one facet of Turkey we looked forward to the most. Sometimes it seems that the only food they know is the kebab, chicken, lamb and sometimes beef, in a pitta or wrap or served on a plate. These are delicious but there are some other hidden delicacies as well such as Lahmacun, known as Turkish pizza, a baked flat bread with mince and spice toppings, or Corba, the thick, warming lentil soup. The best way to wash all of these down is with a cool Ayran, a mixture of slightly salted yoghurt and water, very refreshing!

Whilst we were there the financial crisis hit Turkey. All of a sudden one day there were long queues outside the bank, heading all the way up the road. The next day the same queues were outside the Lottery ticket vendors. A country where the people place their trust in the Lottery over the banks! All this at the same time as the towns are full of election buses, blaring music out at towns along the campaign trail, in anticipation of the upcoming local elections.

From Canakkale we headed further south through the sprawling city of Izmir to the much nicer town of Selcuk. It felt like a resort town but slightly inland from the coast. Nearby are the Roman ruins of Ephesus (Efes), which was formerly the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Unlike Troy this site is very impressive, well preserved and spread over an expansive area. Between the ruins and the town lie the remains of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of The World, unfortunately not much of this remains either, but at least they are not charging an entrance fee.

In the end the higher cost of travel in Turkey was one of the reasons that we accelerated our pace and sped on. The other reasons were that we had only had two dry days since arrived and that we were already craving something to eat other than kebabs! We skipped the milky cascades of Pamukkale and the Whirling Dervishes of Konya and took a night bus straight through to Cappadocia. This region, in the central Anatolian heartland of Turkey, is otherworldly, unreal, the product of fantastic imaginations. The landscape is covered with these rock formations they call 'fairy chimneys' for obvious reasons. There are houses, shops and hotels built in caves in the sides of these geological oddities. Therefore the local marketing ploy changed from the Aus/NZ theme to a Flintstones theme, everywhere pictures of Fred Flintstone, welcoming visitors to cafes, bars, restaurants and hostels. On our first day we just wandered around, dumbstruck, vowing to take a million photos the next day. However the next morning we woke up to a snow blizzard. It hardly stopped for the next two days, although it did not stop us from trekking in, around, under and over the landscape. There are many well-worn trails heading in each and every direction from Goreme, through the kitchly named valleys (Love Valley, Rose Valley etc.) and up onto the ridges for panoramic views.

In Cappadocia we met a Japanese couple who are hitch-hiking to Bristol to meet the rest of their band for a gig in May. They were dressed like some kind of fantasy warriors from an ancient Japanese fable. They were dragging two trolleys, one for the instruments the other for their belongings, across Turkey, eastern Europe and beyond. The girl had a pad of paper with her signs already prepared, the one on the bottom said 'A7 - Kempton'. I hope they make it!

There are a couple of aspects of Turkish life that I would like to see adopted in the England. The first concerns television. Regardless of what program you might be watching on whichever channel, be it a documentary, soap opera or sit-com, the latest football scores will continually flash up in the corner of the screen, which can only be a good thing. The second aspect is that of dogs. There are dogs everywhere here, but they seem to chose their owners rather than the other way around. Each dog has a house where he lays on the porch or step, where he gets food and water, but most of them appear to have just turned up unannounced and set up home.

Everywhere in Turkey you see a juxtaposition of the old and new, of tradition versus modernity. You see wind farms overlooking olive groves, luxurious coaches overtaking a horse-and-cart and old villagers downloading ringtones for their mobile phones. Turkey faces many challenges including a rising fundamentalist problem, their attitudes to the minority Kurds, the Armenian issue, and their EU ambitions. One thing is for sure, this carousel of progress is only moving in one direction.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jak jsme si uzili Istanbul/How we enjoyed Istanbul

17 ti milionove velkomesto, ktere stoji urcite za navstevu.
City of 17 million people which is well worth visiting.

Blue Mosque

Grand Bazaar

Fishermen on Galata Bridge

Fish market

Aya Sofia Mosque

Photos by Monika

The Big Potato

When we asked our friend Mehmet what we should do in Istanbul he told us that we should go to the Sunday market in the Ortakoy district of Istanbul where we would find "the big potato". How could we refuse an offer like that!

Ortakoy is across the golden horn from Sultanahmet, in the part of Istanbul that resembles the stepping stone between the European and Asian sides. It took us a combination of bus and tram rides to get there. When we arrived we found a typically tacky market, selling all sorts of junk, mainly to locals but with a smattering of tourists who had found their way there, perhaps with a similar objective to ours.

No sooner had we arrived than we saw a row of stalls selling Kumpir, the big potato. My initial reaction was of slight disappointment when I realised that a Kumpir is actually just a massive jacket potato, albeit stuffed with all manner of fillings . In my minds eye I had pictured some sort of giant, exotic yam. Nevertheless this disappointment soon faded as I ordered one with all the toppings, including cheese, cous-cous, black and green olives, tomatoes, chilli sauce and garlic mayonnaise, corn, peas, grated carrot and purple cabbage, onion and, bizarrely, potato salad. The only topping I passed on was the rather suspect looking salami (obviously not pork based). As you can see from the photo, the result was very satisfying!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sbohem Evropo

Tak v pondeli 2.brezna 2009 jsme vyrazili na dlouho dobe planovanej vylet z Prahy do Kapskeho mesta. Neodolali jsme nabidce Ceskych Drah a za pouhych 500kc jsme se vlakem svezli az do Budapeste. Na stopa nam stejne prisla trochu zima a bylo to tak krasne jednoduchy, nastoupili jsme v Holesovicich a o 6 hodin pozdeji jsme vylezli v Budapesti.
Cestou pesky z nadrazi do hostelu jsme si ozkouseli tihu batohu, kazdej mame asi 15kg a budem si muset zvyknout. Muj sen je cestovat s malym batuzkem, ale pokud budem kempovat a varit, tak to musi byt o nejaky to kilo tezsi.

Hostel East side za 5euro byl v zimnim provozu a tak Milan, srb, kterej se o hostel staral celej den, pil pivo, kouril a koukal v kuchyni plny prazdnejch lahvacu na telku. Budapest jsme si uzili, pulka dne po pamatkach, pulka dne v termalu a vecer na pivo.

Dalsi nasi zastavkou bylo mestecko Novy Sad, hlavnim duvodem bylo, ze je to sestra mesta Norwich, ale zastavka stala zato, libilo vic nez v Belehradu, Z Budapeste peknym pantakem do Szegedu, tam jsme naskocili na motoracek pres hranice do Srbska, pres 2 hodiny jsme se drncali do 50km vzdalenyho mestecka Subotica, rozdil byl fakt viditelnej mezi Madarskem a Srbskem. Ale zase jsme se domluvili mnohem snadneji a hned jak jsme vylezli z vlaku tak jsme se zapovidali s chlapkem a nakonec mel cestu do Novyho Sadu a za polovicni cenu autobusu nas tam vzal. Z radia se valila srbska dechovka a on nam celou dobu vypravel, pak jsme nabrali mistni ucitelku nemciny, pozval nas i domu, ale to jsme jeste nevedeli, ze v Novym Sadu budem spat a tak jsme odmitli, ale je to skoda. Odpoledne jsme tam dorazili a slunicko zacalo svitit anm se tam zalibilo a rozhodli jsme tam zustat pres noc,

Dalsi den jsme se nedostali daleko, vlakem do Belehradu, kde jsme nemeli moc moznosti na pokracovani do Istanbulu, vlak do Istanbulu byl dalsi den rano a jedina moznost byl nocni vlak do Sofie, tak jsme meli asi 9hodin v Belehradu, svitilo slunicko a strasne foukal vitr, ale po tom dni se nam tam libilo, ochutnali jsme mistni pivko Jelen a takovej kolac z listovyho testa plnenej balkanskym syrem.

Nocni vlak byl poloprazdnej a tak jsme si uzivali vic nez pulku cesty samy v kupe s natazenyma nohama, na Sofii uz jsme nemeli tolik energie a tak jsme rovnou skocili na vlak do druhyho nejvetsiho mesta Bulharska Plovdiv, sice bysme radi pokracovali vlakem, ale moznosti bylo mene a tak autobus do Istanbulu zvitezil, par hodin jsme na nej muesli pockat, ale cesta trvala jen 6 hodin.

A tak jsme dorazili do Istanbulu do brany Asie.

I kdyz by nas vyslo levneji letet, a nebo kdyby jsme jeli v lete, tak bysme stopovali a spali venku, tak to stejne nevyslo tak draze, s dopravou, jidlem a 3 noci v hostelu nas vyla cesta do Istanbulu neco mezi 3000-4000kc.

(Almost) The Orient Express

The train from Prague’s Holesovice railway station wound its way back through the eastern part of Prague that we had just passed through to get to the station. We passed through the Klanovice forest and waved at Pavel in U Dasu (although he probably never saw us) before the train sped through Uvaly and out towards Moravia and on through Slovakia. The journey was quiet and comfortable, our only disturbance was the two Hungarian women that were having some sort of gossip-a-thon between Bratislava and the Hungarian border. At around 6:30pm we arrived in Budapest. It took us a fair while to walk to our hostel, predictably situated on almost the opposite side of Budapest from Keleti railway station. Soon enough though we arrived at the East Side hostel where we received a very friendly welcome.

We spent the next day wandering around Budapest. We followed a typical tourist route through the Parliament area, across the Danube and up to the castle district. Returning we headed out to the famous, opulent Szechenyi baths. Here we lolled about for the rest of the afternoon in the thermal pools, hot tubs and saunas.

The next day we took the train south to Szeged. We watched the previous train to Szeged depart as we sat waiting in the queue to buy tickets, which was very frustrating. Leaving Budapest we realised that rural Hungary is a very deserted place, there were hardly any farms or villages, just miles of flat land. The only other thing I learned about Hungary is that the drivers are very considerate, especially when compared to typical Czech drivers, who think they are all Nigel Mansell. Just before Szeged the clouds broke and we saw blue sky and sunshine for the first time since leaving England, this was the first sign for us that we were on our way to somewhere foreign. In Szeged we almost missed the small, one carriage, train that trundled its way across the Serbian border to Subotica. The journey of around 25 miles (or roughly Norwich to Great Yarmouth) took over two hours. During this short journey I really felt a wave of euphoria flooding over me. There was the smell in the air that I associate with the sort of countries that I enjoy, a mixture of cheap diesel, frying oil and burnt rubber, the smell of ‘making do’. People were going about their business in ways that seem bizarre, inefficient or just stupid, but you know there must be a reason behind it. The transport was slow and uncomfortable and there was no room for my backpack. I felt hot , sweaty and happy. At the border crossing the guard(ess) singled out only my passport for further inspection, no doubt due to that Pakistan visa that seems to raise eyebrows everywhere, and this just a day after the deplorable scenes in Lahore!

One of the inexplicable issues was that just as we arrived into Subotica the last train to Novi Sad until late evening pulled out of the adjacent platform. If they had just scheduled a five minute gap then there would not have been a dozen people all having to find a way onward out of Subotica. Our way out was to accept an offer of sharing a taxi with a Serbian woman. The taxi driver offered to take us the 100km to Novi Sad for the same price as the bus. Little did we know that bus is actually twice the price of the train, but nevertheless, it was a bargain. It was also fun chatting with both the driver and the teacher. As Serbian is part of the family of Slavic languages it became quite easy for us to understand, and they had no trouble understanding Monika.

For those of you who don’t know (shame on you!), Novi Sad is a sister city of Norwich. In practical terms this means that various groups from Norwich, e.g. fire brigade, can get local funding to visit Novi Sad on a jolly boys outing. However, it is also a very nice city with a clean and well presented centre and an impressive fortress on a hill across the river. The perfect place to break a journey.

The next morning we left Novi Sad on a train to Belgrade. Waiting for the train to leave we sat over a coffee in the canteen. Looking around we realized that of our fellow patrons, half of them were drinking beer, this was 8:30am, and all of them were smoking. I have had a few conversations recently about smoking in eastern Europe and all I will say is that the further east you go, the further they are from a smoking ban!

Arriving in Belgrade we felt like we had hit a brick wall. OK, its acceptable that there is just one train to Istanbul and it leaves early in the morning, and one to Sofia that leaves in the evening but I found it strange that there were no other trains headed even in the direction we were headed. Over a coffee we had to decide whether to wait for tomorrows train to Istanbul or to take the overnight to Sofia and try our luck from there. I went for the Sofia option as I thought we would save spending another night in a hostel and, having been in Sofia before, I knew the transport options were wider than in Belgrade! So we bought tickets for the night train to Sofia and set about wasting 8 hours in Belgrade.

Although fairly small and low-key for a capital city Belgrade is not as nice as Novi Sad. We took a picnic up to the fortress and wandered around there before returning to the main centre. The highlight of Belgrade for me was eating a cheese burek, which is a thick filo pastry pie filled with Balkan (like Feta) cheese.

The train journey was fairly typical, if uneventful. Guys in the corridor smoking and staring into the other compartments, people getting on and off in the middle of nowhere and a pair of women chatting loudly in the middle of the night and compulsively switching the light on and off.

Luckily for me, as it was my idea to go to Sofia, we were able to jump straight on a train to Plovdiv, Bulgarias second largest city, in the middle of Bulgaria from where we had to wait but three hours for a bus to Istanbul. We almost made it all the way by train but in the end convenience overcame the romantic ideal. Its hard to imagine that a town like Plovdiv, with legions of stray dogs and a gypsy woman on the corner sniffing some fumes from a paper bag, can be part of the same EU as somewhere like Luxembourg or Stockholm.

Finally we rolled into Istanbul, the first stop when leaving Europe via this route, no matter what your destination.