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In the middle of Austrian wine country

Deutschlandsberg


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When I arrived in Deutschlandsberg last Sunday after a smooth 55-minute train journey from Graz, I was picked up from the station by the guesthouse owner and taken on a brief driven surprise tour of the town, including the little castle which lies on a hill overlooking the town. Deutschlandsberg lies in wine country, as I could see from the fields of vines on each side. There was an amazing view from the castle; apparently you can get married there - a stunning setting, to be sure. I'd heard that it contains an interesting museum; this turned out to be true, but apparently it's closed for the winter. The restaurant there - a very good one, apparently - is also closed until April.

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The town itself is small but very pleasant to walk round, with colourful buildings, market stalls, a peaceful atmosphere and some Konditorei for coffee, hot chocolate, beers and cake.

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This evening we climbed one of the hills surrounding the town.

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The course I was teaching this week went well. It was general English, which I have lots of experience in, but for the first time ever I had to prepare one of the groups for a show. It felt quite strange to be acting more like a drama teacher than as an English one. The show was good considering how little time they had to create a script and rehearse (it was a 4-day course rather than the normal 5), though there were definitely areas that could have been more polished. The story that the class and I came up with was a modern retelling of Cinderella with some role reversal and the appearance of one or two characters from other fairy tales.

It was an informal show, only performed to another class rather than to the whole school and/ or to parents; I was quite grateful for that because it was my first Show and because of the said lack of enough rehearsal time! Next week there isn't a Show because it's an exam prep booster course, but in my final week of this contract there is one, so I've already had a couple of ideas for how to streamline the deciding-on-the-type-of-show and the scriptwriting stages.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:06 Archived in Austria Tagged landscapes market austria english_teaching fortifications deutschlandsberg Comments (1)

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)

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)

Sunset and coffee next to the Aegean

Izmir


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This morning we took a train from Selçuk back to Izmir. Dave wasn't feeling very well, so when we got to our hostel room we just rested in bed for a few hours until about 6pm. We stayed at the same hostel as before (Shantihome), but this time we got a better room; bigger, with a nice balcony to sit in, and with a lock on the door!

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After his sleep he felt better, so we went on a walk to the park we'd passed through on the way to and from the train station. It was still sunny and warm, but the main heat of the day had gone. An ice cream kept us going on the way there.

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After strolling round the park, we walked to the seafront, passing through a market on the way. The market was a basic one, like a car boot sale without the cars, with people selling things from blankets on the ground. A lot of household objects, tools and things like that.

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We reached the seafront much further south than where we'd been the other day, so we just followed it north until we reached the area of Alsancak. The sea was much more choppy this time, but this hadn't deterred the hundreds of fishermen who had set themselves up all the way along the seafront. The sunset was amazing, the large, very red sun hanging lower and lower over the sea until it disappeared altogether over the horizon.

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It seemed that nearly half the population of Izmir had come to the seafront area - variously sitting on the grass in the stretch of park next to the seafront walkway, fishing, enjoying the sunset and filling up the seafront restaurants and cafés.

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As we got nearer to Alsancak we suddenly started hearing lots of chanting and some whistles... We noticed a long line of police officers stretched across the grass, from the restaurants to the seafront walkway. A flag-waving protest was making its noisy but seemingly peaceful way along the path next to the restaurants. We couldn't make out for sure what it was about, but I thought it might be related to the terrorist bombing in the town of Suruç (the other side of the country, near the Syrian border) earlier today.

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After passing that we continued to the same small restaurant we'd been to when we were here before. I had the same thing as before, because it had been so delicious; Dave had a tuna salad. We finished with some delicious Turkish coffee. In a plain cup without any accompaniments, unlike the stuff we had in more tourist-orientated places in Istanbul and Cappadocia, but the best tasting in Turkey so far.The other coffee I've had has been very nice, but this was the winner!

Posted by 3Traveller 15:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains market turkey izmir hostel dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Spice Market & a taste of Asia

Istanbul


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The Spice Market was our morning destination on Saturday. Held within a building dating from 1666, it was formerly known as the Egyptian Market because the spices used to be shipped in from Cairo. As well as spices, it sells mounds of fruit teas, dried fruit, shelled nuts, Turkish Delight and wrapped and unwrapped blocks of olive oil soap. I couldn't wait to experience it...

Before we got there, however, we found ourselves wandering around the Main Market, which fills the streets around the Spice Market. In fact we had quite a job finding the latter due to the mazy street layout and all the market stalls! The Main Market was very interesting to look round in itself. It was filled with stalls selling a wide range of household goods, including wicker baskets, cooking utensils, tools, t-shirts, hats, headscarves, jeans, knives, plastic toys, towels, pets (cages of birds, green lizards and white rabbits), pet food, blocks of coloured soaps and some jars of live leeches in water.

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Needless to say, once we found the Spice Market I loved walking round, savouring the colours and the mix of exotic scents. I wished my family were there to appreciate it all, especially the piles of huge juicy-looking dates which they would have loved but were wasted on me. I bought some 'meatball spice' (which smelled genuinely lovely) and some 'Turkish saffron' which I've since found out is not saffron at all but a cheap imitation called safflower. I should have been suspicious about the price not being sky-high!

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These are the surroundings of the Spice Market;

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I had read somewhere that the Turkish Delight at the Spice Market is not actually that great, and the best place in Istanbul to get it is from a shop nearby. Before we set off to find it, however, we went to different shop nearby which apparently has the best baklava in Istanbul - at least we tried to find it, but didn't manage to - it was supposed to be in the main market, but around where it should have been we only found a baklava shop of a different name. We bought some from there anyway, as it looked good, plus some Turkish rice pudding. It was lovely, so no regrets.

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It was between one and two o'clock by now and we needed to move on to catch a ferry to the Asian side, so we decided to look for the Turkish Delight shop on our return to Istanbul before we go back to Bulgaria, instead. Before we got on the ferry we had a tasty 'Balik Ekmek' each; this is an ultra-fresh fish fillet thrown onto a grill and then stuffed into a huge crusty roll with some chopped lettuce and raw onion. Lemon juice and salt are optional condiments. These are made and sold on the seafront.

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The ferry trip was a great experience. It was a commuter ferry, not a public excursion one, so it only cost about 2 lira. It took about 20 minutes and we loved all the different views we got of the skyline. Minarets, skyscrapers, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower... We passed a French destroyer docked at the headland next to the palace; Dave said he thought the small black and white flag displayed on it was the international quarantine signal.

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On arrival in Asia, we headed to Kadikoy produce market, where the locals go apparently. We just window-shopped instead of actually buying anything, but it was good fun to see all the different goods; fresh fish, containers filled with honeycombs, the biggest cherries I've ever seen, other fruit and vegetables, yoghurt and cheese, baklava, eggs, olives, dried peppers, crystallised and dried fruit...piles of colourful soaps, too.

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Something the Asian side had which we hadn't seen in the historic European area was sideless carts piled with antiques or secondhand books. These were wheeled about the streets and then set down for a while for people to browse at. Some if the books were in English, but none we wanted to buy, though I did enjoy having a look at a book for adult English as a second language learners which was published in the 1950s... I regret not buying that now, actually.

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Another thing we noticed was groups of older men sitting around cafe tables playing a particular game which involved a lot of clicking, sliding about and picking up rectangular cream counters. Some other cafés had younger people playing backgammon and other board games.

The last thing we did before returning to Europe was to have Turkish coffee and a Turkish dessert called 'Kazan dibi'. I tried some Kazan dibi once at the Lucky Man restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria (a place with a small Turkish population); the stuff I had today proves that what I had in VT was genuine. It's delicious, if filling!

Some photos from the return ferry trip;

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On our return to Europe we decided not to get the tram back yet, but to walk across Galata Bridge to the other European side first for a look around. There were loads of fishermen on both sides of the bridge, using extremely long lines. One of them caught a fish just as we walked past him- it flopped around on the ground for a while before being captured and put into a container of water alive.

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The Strait of Bosphorus, while not crystal clear of course, was much cleaner than I was expecting for such a big city. We spotted a few white jellyfish and some small silvery fish (maybe sardines?).

For dinner we had another 'Balik Ekmek' each, from a cafe on the seafront; they were even better than the ones we had earlier!

When we were back in Sultanahmet and walking from the tram station to our hostel, we couldn't help but notice that hundreds, even thousands of people were pouring in from every direction and settling themselves and their families onto rugs spread out on the grass in Sultanahmet Park. We guessed that it was due to Ramadan- people sharing the breaking of the day's fast with their friends and family in a shared environment. It was nearly sunset by then, so this was more than likely.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges market turkey istanbul asia ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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