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London Luton Airport and St Albans


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The two-and-a-half-hour flight was uneventful, though because I was next to the window and the weather was good I got some great views of the countries we passed over. We didn't go as high as some flights I've taken before. At one point we flew over a huge offshore wind farm - rows and rows of wind turbines off the coast of the Netherlands.

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Shadows were lengthening by the time we got to Luton Airport. Dave, Emma and Mark were there to meet me and take me to St Albans. Seven months since I was last on British soil - it felt strange to be back, but wonderful to see everyone.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:02 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged united_kingdom airport sisters dave st_albans Comments (0)

Last stay in Sofia; the Ladies' Market calls

Sofia


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Yesterday morning Dave said goodbye to Veliko Tarnovo as we caught the 10.30 bus to Sofia. When I bought the tickets it felt strange to be speaking Bulgarian again after not having done so in the previous two and half weeks.

The 3.5 hour journey was uneventful, though we did see some sunflower fields. After taking a taxi to Hostel Mostel and settling into our private room, we headed out for a late lunch at our favourite place; if you've read any of my recent Sofia entries, you might guess where this is - a small pizza café at the junction between the Court of Justice and Boulevard Vitosha. Delicious, handmade on site, large slices and cheap.

After that we thought about going to the Ladies' Market, but then had the thought that it would probably be better to visit it in the morning. Stalls might be running out of stuff and packing up by this time in the afternoon. With that in mind, we headed back to the hostel and had a nap, played pool, had our free dinner and used the internet until it was time for an early night.

We went to the Ladies' Market in the morning, as we had intended. This market was the one place I had seen recommended but hadn't actually been to yet in all my previous visits to Sofia, so I was particularly keen to go. Not only was this Dave's last time in Sofia, it was mine as well. When I leave Bulgaria in a few days' time, it will be by train from Gorna Oryahovitsa, a town five minutes' drive from Veliko Tarnovo. The market was well worth a look-around, as it seemed to have some of pretty much everything. We didn't buy any of all the fresh produce around (though if we had been here for another night I would have bought some to cook for dinner), but I did get some crystallised kumquats.

Once we got back from there, we packed up, checked out and took a taxi to the airport. I was sad to be leaving Hostel Mostel for the last time. The staff were all nice but one girl in particular was always especially so. At check out I made sure to tell her how much I had enjoyed coming here.

After saying goodbye to Dave at the airport, I took a taxi to the bus station and got on the next bus back to Veliko Tarnovo.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:11 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market airport hostel buses dave sofia bulgarian bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Dave's last day in Veliko Tarnovo

Veliko Tarnovo


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We arrived back in Veliko Tarnovo quite early in the morning. Although we had managed a reasonable amount of sleep for a bus journey, we were still extremely bleary and tired, so the first thing we did was lie down to nap for a few hours. Then the afternoon was filled with sorting out all the photos we'd taken over the last two and a half weeks, doing washing and sorting out our packing.

Late afternoon/ early evening we walked to Shtastlevitsa (the Lucky Man) via the craftsmen's street. Dinner was typically delicious; to go with it we shared a litre bottle of elderflower cordial mixed with water, ice, lemon slices, sugar and mint.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:42 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged dave bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Turkish Delight (Lokum)

Istanbul


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Edit from March 2019: Altan Şekerleme is still going and still appears to be very highly rated!

Today, our last day in Istanbul and Turkey, there were three priorities; A) to revisit the Spice Market, B) to go to a specific shop for some Turkish delight and C) to catch the correct night bus back to Bulgaria.

A) came first, after a typically satisfying breakfast at Piya Hostel. We were keen to return to the Spice Market to get some more spices for ourselves and some presents for people. No fake saffron this time!

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

Between the Spice Market and Altan Şekerleme

One thing we didn't get at the Spice Market was the Turkish delight. I had been recommended a different place to buy that from instead. It was only round the corner, in a back street - a shop called 'Altan Şekerleme'. The Turkish delight, ('Lokum' in Turkish and Bulgarian) is hand made on site here. As soon as we stepped inside and started looking at the piles of Turkish delight on offer, some pieces of it were handed to us as free samples by the lovely old owner and younger female assistant. Delicious! I could taste the natural ingredients; it was not at all artificial-tasting, like some Turkish delight can be. I bought two kilogram boxes of different flavours; one for my family and one for us two to share. For his family Dave bought a kilogram box of mixed sweets - some Turkish delight, some marzipan pieces coated in dessicated coconut and some hard candies like boiled sweets. There was a funny moment at the end when I tried to take the bag of boxes from the owner - he shooed me away and gave the bag to Dave to carry instead!

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On the way back from there we got off the tram two stops later than usual so I could buy another two pairs of cheap trousers from the same stall outside the Grand Bazaar that I had been to before we went to Cappadocia. Once I had bought them and we had taken the tram back two stops, we walked back to the hostel on a rather circular route via Kennedy Caddesi, the road that runs along the seafront.

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On our way along that we came across the ruins of the Byzantine Bucoleon Palace; only some high walls remain now, almost completely taken over by climbing vegetation.

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Back at the hostel we rested for an hour or two in the communal area. The girl at reception, who turned out to be the daughter of the owner, was really nice and helped us by ringing the otogar (main bus station) and checking bus times for us. As I expected, there was only one bus to Veliko Tarnovo - a night bus. Apparently they couldn't reserve tickets for us over the phone, but they said that so long as we got there a decent amount of time beforehand, tickets wouldn't be a problem.

We arrived over an hour in advance. The main otogar is absolutely huge, so beforehand I was worried that it might take us ages to find the right bus company (Huntur). Almost as soon as we stepped out of the metro station we were accosted by a guy asking where we wanted to go. As soon as I told him, he insisted that if we followed him he would be able to get any ticket for us. My suspicions were raised so I said no thank you, we already know where to get our tickets from and how much they should cost. Just then I looked up and what should I see on the other side of the station but a 'Huntur' sign - so we headed off at a brisk pace, saying no thank you again to the dodgy guy.

Buying our tickets from Huntur was easy. We had a lot of time to kill after that so we went inside the main station building to explore. We bought some dinner, drinks and snacks to have on the long journey.

The bus was comfortable enough and we managed to get a decent amount of sleep. The journey took 12 hours this time and seemed to go smoothly. I remember waking up once and seeing that we were stationary at the side of the road, but thinking nothing of it and going back to sleep after ten minutes. Well, later on (after we'd arrived in VT) it turns out that the bus had broken down and we'd been there for about three hours!

Goodbye Turkey - we will definitely return!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged market palace turkey istanbul hostel buses dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Back to Europe

Istanbul


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Edit from March 2019: The restaurant we went to was called Ahırkapı Balıkçısı - it's still going! Definitely a place I recommend! Piya Hostel is still going too and I recommend that as well.

Dave woke up not feeling well at all - but he made it OK to Istanbul. By the end of the flight he was feeling better. Instead of getting the bus, metro and tram to our hostel, we took the more unusual route of a bus to the Asian seafront (Sabiha Gökçen Airport is on the Asian side, but miles and miles out of the city itself), with a view then to take a ferry to the European side and lastly a tram and a walk to Piya Hostel, the same place we had stayed at before our Cappadocian and Aegean adventures.

Before we got on the ferry we had a great Balik Ekmek each for lunch on a café-boat. I really recommend Balik Ekmek - such a simple idea (freshly-caught fish boned, grilled and stuffed into a crusty roll with some optional salt and lemon juice) yet it works so well.

On arrival at Piya Hostel we went straight to bed for a nap - we had had an early start in the morning. Late afternoon we started out on a walk round the corner to the Arasta Bazaar and the Istanbul Handicrafts Market, but only about 100m away from the hotel Dave stubbed his toe and it was bleeding, so we went back to our room and I patched it up for him. The market would have started packing up by the time I finished, so we decided just to have some dinner instead.

We had tried to visit this restaurant before, but if was closed for Ramadan then. Ramadan has finished now though, so as soon as we realised it was open again we were there like a shot. It was a tiny seafood place just round the corner. I had a swordfish skewer and Dave had shrimp salad; the shrimps were massive and the chunks of swordfish on my skewer weren't far behind! We shared a cold (but cooked) aubergine and tomato appetiser as well, plus some baklava when it came to dessert and we still had space. The food was great and the owner/waiter was very softly spoken and charming, not pushy at all like some of the waiters are round here.

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After dinner we walked back to the waterfront in order to fulfill a long-held desire of mine; to at least dip my fingers in the Strait of Bosphorus. This was a little more difficult than it sounds, because the 'beach' consists only of big boulders piled up so closely together that there's no space on the ground to stand. I did, however, manage to get my hand in the water; mission successful.

Posted by 3Traveller 01:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged airport turkey istanbul hostel buses ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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