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Arrival in Cappadocia

Istanbul and Göreme


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At 03.15 am we got a shuttle to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Waiting for the shuttle at three am, we were expecting all the streets to be deserted, but to our surprise we saw several men sitting at tables in front of closed restaurants and cafés, chatting with friends. We guessed it might be something to do with Ramadan - I know that they can't eat until sundown, so they need to get all their meals in during the night.

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At the airport there was a beautiful exhibition of travel photography to look at while we waited for our flight, which took off half an hour late at about 07.30.

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An hour and five minutes after that we arrived at Nevşehir Airport, where we were picked up and taken to our amazing hostel/hotel in Göreme.

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Fantastic place, fantastic setting amongst lots of fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations. Our hotel is built into one of them! We were welcomed with free tea, coffee and plate of delicious, moist cheese puff things.

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After half an hour or so of sitting in the lovely courtyard, we were allowed to check in early. Our room is amazing! it's cavernous yet comfortable, with stone walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, cupboards cut out of the walls and archway over the head of our bed. There's a terrace above us with a spectacular view...

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We caught up on sleep for several hours, before venturing out to explore. It is so pleasant here! Just round the corner from our hotel was a large area of ground covered in piled-up blocks of white stone - a stonemason had clearly been at work here in the open air, though he wasn't to be seen at that moment.

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Five minutes later, just as we passed a mosque the muezzin began his call to prayer. After a lovely wander round town we had an early dinner at a café - a Turkish savoury pancake and some rice pudding for me, a sandwich for Dave and a chocolate milkshake each.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged art night hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Return to Plovdiv - this time with Mum!

Plovdiv


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Half term has just started in the UK, so Mum has come to Bulgaria for a week! She's flown into Plovdiv this time, rather than Sofia. I've come to Plovdiv to meet up with her; tomorrow I return with her to Veliko Tarnovo, where we'll stay until next Thursday. She flies back from Plovdiv too, so on Thursday I've arranged for us to go back there via the Shipka Pass, Kazanlak and the Valley of the Roses.

Mum arrived in Plovdiv yesterday, while I was still in Veliko Tarnovo. I had work yesterday and this morning, so I wasn't able to come until this afternoon. In my absence she had a nice walk around, taking note of all the architectural details on the colourful buildings, before joining an excellent free city walking tour. Apparently, two days ago Plovdiv found out that it had won the competition to be European Capital of Culture for 2019, so the whole city is still celebrating. Before the tour started she saw people in traditional dress going down the street, and once the tour had started and had reached Nebet Tepe (the hill with ruins on it), they saw hundreds of helium balloons released in the distance. Credit to Mum for the following two sets of pictures;

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After the tour finished, she went back for a proper look round the Roman amphitheatre and some antiques and handicrafts shops, including one where she could see weavers at work in the back and another which had the most amazing painted wooden chests.

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Meanwhile, I was on the bus from VT; great weather, wonderful scenery... lots of poppies in bloom now, by the roadside and in fields. I arrived at a different bus station to the one I was expecting, but I'd cunningly brought the free city map I'd saved from March, so I found my way to the hostel easily enough. I arrived only five minutes after my ETA of 18.30. We're staying at the same place I stayed at in March - a hostel/hotel in a wonderful wooden National Revival building right in the middle of the Old Town.

We had dinner at a restaurant in a historic building which used to be the Muslim equivalent of a monastery for the mystical sect of Islam (Sufism) that had whirling dervishes in Ottoman times; in fact in the main dining area dervishes used to whirl. The building had two floors and a garden - there were extensive wall remains built into the main dining area. We ate in the garden; bread, tarator and a mixed grill of kebapche (flattened meatballs), kyufte (similar to kebapche but enlongated), a pork chop, two curly sausages on a skewer and some chips. We also shared a salad of roasted red peppers, raw onion, parsley, olives, tomato, cucumber, a mixed vegetable dip-like mixture and some large white beans in a garlic sauce. The beans had a taste and texture very similar to potato.

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After that we walked to Nebet Tepe and wandered around the ruins while looking at the sunset over the city spread out before us. The air was balmy and there were lots of locals sitting in groups on the fortress walls. Mum said it reminded her a bit of Calton Hill in Edinburgh, with groups of local youth congregating in the fresh air in the evening. The atmosphere was very pleasant.

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On the way back from Nebet Tepe we looked in some art and jewellery shops which were still open.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:39 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night hostel buses bulgaria mum plovdiv fortifications roman_remains bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Arrival in Veliko Tarnovo for Christmas

Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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Breakfast at Hostel Mostel was excellent, one of the best hostel breakfasts I've ever had; Bulgarian yoghurt, Bulgarian feta cheese ('cirene'), boiled eggs, olives, salad items, scrambled eggs, sliced apple, sliced kiwi fruit, waffles, jam, chocolate spread, cereal, milk, juice, tea and coffee. After filling ourselves up we had a game of pool on the free pool table, packed up our stuff and asked reception staff to order a taxi to the main bus station for us.

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The time was now about 9.45 am. As soon as we arrived I bought tickets to Veliko Tarnovo, though not as easily as I'd expected. The company I wanted to use, ETAP, had no spaces left on any bus until 2pm, so I checked another company option instead, seeing from their timetable that their next bus to VT was at 11.30 am. They professed to have no tickets whatsoever for any bus to VT, however, so I had to go back to the ETAP desk and buy the 2pm tickets after all.

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So a long wait was ahead of us. Oh well, we'd been in similar situations before on our various travels and knew there was absolutely no point getting stressed out or annoyed about it; a laid-back approach is by far the best to take. So we took ourselves, Dave's big case and my rucksack upstairs to the seating area, made ourselves as comfortable as we could and played a mammoth 10-round game of 10-card rummy, a process which took up nearly an hour. (Dave won.)

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At 12.30 we wandered over to a food counter and had a very leisurely lunch of pizza and (in my case) créme caramel. Then we went down to wait by the bus until the doors opened and we could get on.

The journey was uneventful, though we did see a beautiful sunset. It was completely dark when we arrived in VT. We stopped for a few photos on the way to my flat so we didn't get in until just past 6pm.

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Dave started unpacking and sampled one of the bottles of Bulgarian beer I'd bought for him a few days ago. We also went next door to buy some 1kg tubs of honey from my landlady.

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After about an hour we went out for dinner at Han Hadji Nikoli. We shared an antipasti plate, Dave had a Bulgarian pork grill and I had stuffed chicken breasts, with buttered broccoli as a side. Great quality, as always.

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It had been a long day, so we went straight back to the flat after dinner, finished unpacking and headed for bed.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:18 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged night christmas hostel buses dave sofia bulgaria veliko_tarnovo han_hadji_nikoli bulgarian_cuisine Comments (0)

Whale-watching and Isla de la Plata

Isla de la Plata and Puerto Lopez


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Day trip to Isla de la Plata, but before we arrived there we did some humpback whale watching! It's a bit of a cliché, but they are so majestic. We loved the way they rise right out of the water before plunging down again. We saw lots of spray coming from their blowholes, too, and once when I and two others had moved to the front of the boat, two or three of them appeared right in front of us very close to the boat. It was exhilarating seeing creatures so large so near.

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Once we arrived at Isla de la Plata we split up into two groups; one went on a long walk and the other one did a slightly shorter one. It was extremely hot and sunny and I'd forgotten my hat, so I went for the slightly shorter one.

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I was really happy already, because of the amazing humpback whales, but then my day got even better because I saw lots of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Great Frigatebirds - not sure which of the two they were, but both types have red pouches beneath their beaks that inflate like balloons) perched in bushes. I'd always wanted to see them and they were the one type of bird I didn't manage to see on the Galápagos Islands which I had really wanted to. We were able to get so close to them, I managed to get some good photos.

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We also saw lots of blue-footed boobies and some pelicans. The boobies were just standing on the ground beneath bushes. They were extremely tame; not tame because they have got used to humans, but tame in that they haven't learned to fear us.

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With one pair that we saw, the male demonstrated part their courtship display - he lifted his feet up and down and then picked up a stick to present to the female as a nest material. Isla de la Plata isn't nicknamed a 'Poor Man's Galápagos Island' for nothing! The other group also saw some red-footed boobies.

Once we got back to the landing point, we got back on the boat for some lunch - a cheese roll, a tuna roll and some pineapple and watermelon slices - before going round the coast of the island for a bit to do some snorkelling. While having lunch we saw three green sea turtles around the boat.

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Unfortunately there weren't any in the snorkelling place, but we still got to see lots of fish. We got into the water straight off the end of the boat, not from a beach.

After changing clothes back in Puerto Lopez, we went back to the same restaurant where we'd had lunch the day before. This time, as I had promised myself, I had the fish with peanut sauce, which was just as delicious as I'd hoped. I'd raved about the lobster so much to everyone the day before that this evening one or two of the others tried some of their own. They also thought it was amazing.

We moved on to a beach bar on the sand after dinner and had a few drinks. I had a couple more of the Coco Loco cocktails.

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Eventually, pretty late, we headed to bed. On the way, I noticed something I remembered seeing in Montañita at the staff Christmas party; hundreds of little birds perched all along the telephone wires along and across the street.

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Posted by 3Traveller 02:44 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds night turtles pelicans coast beach ecuador puerto_lópez explorations blue_footed_boobies frigatebirds ecuadorian_cuisine tropical_fish whale-watching isla_de_la_plata extreme_weather Comments (0)

World Cup Final, leaving drinks and my last day at work

Guayaquil


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Earlier today we all met up at someone's flat to watch the World Cup Final and have a barbecue buffet at the same time. Germany was my seeded team in the teachers' World Cup sweepstake, so I ended up winning $50! Thanks Germany!

Yesterday evening I went out for my leaving drinks with my now-ex colleagues. We started off at Arthur's Café in Las Peñas. Although the food took a long time to arrive, it was good, and we had a fantastic view of the river and the lights of Guayaquil round the curve of the bay. A supermoon was out and we also caught sight of the Captain Morgan ship (which turns into an all-you-can-drink floating bar on weekend nights) sailing up and down.

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From Arthur's Bar we climbed to the top of Cerro Santa Ana next door, going up the steep steps and paths round the side and back of the hill rather than the main ones at the front. My idea was to take some photos from the terrace at the top before stopping in at different bars on the way down. I remembered the only time I had tried to do this on a night out before, the terrace turned out to be closed to the public after midnight, so I was keen to get to it before then this time around.

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To my joy, when we got to the terrace the lighthouse was still open, so I climbed to the top of that and took in the amazing views of the terrace and chapel directly below me and then spread out before me the lights of the city, the bridge joining Guayaquil with Daule and the darkness of the River Guayas and Isla Santay.

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The upside to the often oppressive year-round hot and humid daytime temperature of Guayaquil is that after dark, even in the middle of the night, it is never ever even the slightest bit too cold. Permanent t-shirt weather. The humidity goes down and when there's a bit of a breeze going, like there was tonight at the top of the hill, it is pleasantly balmy. Although I was happy and having a great time with the rest of the group, at the same time it felt slightly poignant at the top of the lighthouse because I knew it was almost certainly the last time I'd be in that position with this view.

From the upper terrace we moved on to the lower one and found seats outside on the terrace of the wooden Puerto Pirata bar, 'the pirate ship'. We spent quite a while there, with the lighthouse looking over us, before we moved on down the hill.

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We stopped at a succession of small quirkily decorated bars, including one where I saw two dressed-up clowns in full makeup sitting in a corner having a drink together (!). Our final stop was slightly bigger bar with a dancefloor we took advantage of for a while before heading home in taxis.

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On Friday 11th I had my last teaching session; my Friday class of public sector English teachers from 5 - 9 pm. It was quite touching at the end because the students were all really nice, despite the fact that I've only had them for three once-a-week classes. One of them even said "you're a best teacher!" (sic)... during the break halfway through the lesson, one of them (who is a head teacher, out of interest) told me she loved the activities in class because they were funny... I wasn't 100% certain what she meant, because something I've noticed a lot of students do here is use the word 'funny' when what they mean is 'fun' - but I didn't think it quite appropriate to make her elaborate in that situation. I suppose it was still complimentary whether she meant 'enjoyable' or 'amusing'! I just smiled and said thank you and that it had been a pleasure for me to teach them, which is true.

It was an eventful class in other ways as well. Within the first hour I looked up at one point because I saw through the window out of the corner of my eye two people standing on the staircase outside the classroom looking down; standing there were two ex-students of mine that I had in FCE (First Certificate of English) prep classes on Saturdays until I went on holiday with Dave! It looked like they really wanted to speak to me, so I put my head outside the door to have a quick word. They seemed startlingly excited to see me. It turned out that they were just about to take the speaking part of the FCE exam. A few encouraging words were in order before I returned to my class.

Not long after that, 'I' from receptionists/course co-ordinators came in with a phone to take some photos of me and the class to put on the school's Facebook page to commemorate the fact that it was my last teaching day here. After the official photos had been taken, some of the students made her take photos with their phones as well.

During the class I had them doing role plays to practise doing the different parts of the PET (Preliminary English Test) speaking test. Lots of moving chairs around and changing between being the examiner and one of the candidates. Hopefully they are a lot more aware now of what type of activity they have to do for each part, and how to do them.

I leave for Loja tomorrow; I won't be in Guayaquil again until the 24th.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:30 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties night football barbecue ecuador guayaquil explorations english_teaching cerro_santa_ana las_peñas Comments (0)

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