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Bucharest

Bucharest


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Bucharest was incredibly hot and humid, almost at Guayaquil levels, but very interesting.

First of all I had fun exploring the old town, passing through University Square on the way.

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There was no free breakfast at the hostel, so I visited a bakery instead and ate the result (a small savoury pastry sprinkled with poppy seeds and filled with bacon and melted cheese) next to a small statue of Romulus and Remus being fed by the wolf.

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Then I came across the Old Princely Court, some remains of a palace used and extended by Vlad the Impaler, who as it happens was born in Sighisoara, my next destination after Bucharest.

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First of all I went underground into the brick cellars - it was interesting, with the bonus of being deliciously cool - and then I looked round the rest.

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This included the accompanying church - originally built in 1559, but much-restored since then. The Romanian Orthodox Church seems to differ from the Bulgarian in that the candle-stands are actually boxes and are outside in a separate area. I bought and lit a candle for Dad, and after I'd done so a woman came up to me, pressed two small packets of biscuits and two boiled sweets into my hands, said something in Romanian and walked away! She did the same with another woman, who hadn't lit any candles yet.

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The old town also contained the old and beautiful Stavropoleos Church. It was covered in frescoes on the inside and I had fun finding out the names of the saints in them via transliteration. It seems that Romanian used to use the Cyrillic alphabet.

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I also loved its pretty, peaceful little courtyard, where I stopped to sit down and have a cold drink.

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The old town was definitely well worth looking round.

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Last of all I visited the National History Museum, which was great. Special mention to the anthropomorphic pottery, the stuffed wild boar, the exquisite metalwork from 5th - 3rd century BC (helmets, cow head-shaped drinking horn, diadem of gold leaves and fish-shaped silver harness appliques) and the 14th - 16th century weapons.

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After a rest back at the hostel, during which I had two more savoury pastries for a late lunch, followed the Ashes cricket live updates for a while and caught Kate online for a bit, I headed back out. My destination was the cemetery where Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu are buried, but on the way I stopped for a bit outside the infamous Palace of the Parliament. It was built on the orders of Ceaușescu and is the second largest building in the world (the Pentagon is the largest). A large part of the original city centre was wiped out to accommodate it.

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I found the cemetery OK, but it took much longer than I expected to walk there, so by the time I arrived at was nearly 19.30; it was supposed to close at 20.00. After spending about twenty minutes unsuccessfully looking for their graves, I had to give up and walk all the way back again. Although I knew which row and number their graves were, the numbers of the rows didn't seem to follow any particular order, and lots of the rows didn't have any number at all. It was quite maze-like and to be honest looking for the right graves was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack! I'm still glad I went though, because it was interesting to see what a Romanian cemetery is like. Nearly all of the gravestones were shaped like crosses and were made of very white stone; there were some small mausoleums as well. I noticed lots of inlaid circular photos or pictures of the dead, like on the stones in the courtyards of the monasteries I've seen in Bulgaria. Outside the cemetery entrance there were lots of flower and coffin sellers with their wares on display at the side of the pavement.

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Instead of going straight back to the hostel, I made a diversion to an area of town I hadn't been to before, in order to have dinner at a restaurant I'd been recommended. I regretted it before I even got there, because I was so knackered (it was quite a long diversion) and as soon as I got there and saw a different restaurant there, I regretted it even more. It looked a bit posh and I was in not the cleanest of clothes and was literally dripping with sweat. Normally I would have just gone in anyway, but I was practically on my last legs by now and decided on the spur of the moment just to go in the nearest supermarket instead. I bought a pasta salad and a custard-like chocolate pudding, plus drinks, and tottered home. I knew that if I sat down for dinner at the restaurant, I wouldn't be able to get up again!

Posted by 3Traveller 08:57 Archived in Romania Tagged art palace cemetery museum hostel romania dad bucharest orthodox_church romanian_cuisine extreme_weather 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)

Topkapi Palace

Istanbul


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Topkapi Palace was an absolutely wonderful experience; definately one of the top of my life to date. It just kept on giving - round every corner there was something else interesting, or another beautiful view.

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Topkapi Palace was the most important residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, and was famous for its opulence, luxury and magnificence. Legends built up about the famous Harem and the eunuchs who guarded it. The very mention of Topkapi Palace brings to mind images of jewel-encrusted sultans lounging about on shady terraces and gardens, sipping at iced sherbert from crystal goblets and languorously picking at silver or fine porcelain platters of fruit or confectionery...

Anyway, having entered through the main gate into the fine gardens of the first courtyard (which are free to get into), we continued through the next gate into the second courtyard. We didn't have to pay at this point because we'd bought Istanbul Museum Cards on our first day, which allows free entry into lots of famous attractions within a 5 day period.

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From the second courtyard we entered the famous Harem. Only part of it was open to visitors, but due to the vastness of it, even that took quite a while to see. There were different apartments for the sultan, the Queen Mother, princes and other members of the sultan's family, a courtyard for the eunuchs, a short corridor with a long counter where eunuchs left dishes of food delivered by kitchen staff (for the concubines and other people to take), and one or two other places. The decoration of each room was beautiful, with stunning, colourful patterned tiles all over the walls. One room had paintings of piles of different fruits.

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My favourite part of the Harem, however, wasn't a room at all but the Courtyard of the Favourites, where only the sultan's favourite concubines were allowed to go. The terrace had a really good view of the Golden Horn, the river which separates the two European sections of Istanbul, in the distance. I sat on a bench and pictured how I thought the courtyard might have looked 400 years ago; I thought of an extract from a book of historic travel accounts from over the ages that I have, which was written by a European visitor to one of the earlier Ottoman sultans. He was the only visitor allowed to get a glimpse of the Harem; usually, he said, anyone caught within the Harem or even glancing into it from outside, who was not the Sultan himself, the Queen Mother, one or two other select members of the sultan's family, a concubine or a eunuch, was instantly put to death. He mentions peering through an iron-barred window for a few seconds and glimpsing concubines playing at ball in a courtyard.

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Once we emerged from the Harem, we wandered round the other two courtyards and then looked round the second one again properly, as the first time we'd been there we'd gone into the Harem almost straight away instead of exploring.

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We saw so many interesting places and things, it would take me forever to describe them all in appropriate detail! The following are some of the highlights;

- a lovely rose garden with a fountain in the middle; the rose season has clearly just turned, but there were still lots of relatively fresh-looking red and pink blooms left.

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- a terrace with an even more beautiful view of the Golden Horn and Galata Bridge than the courtyard in the Harem had. It also overlooked the Fig Garden and the Elephant Garden behind (no explanations for the name of the Elephant Garden were given; maybe one of the sultans kept a managerie in that garden at one point?) Overlooking this view was a small golden-roofed covered seat where one of the sultans liked to break each day's fast during Ramadan.

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- a terrace on the other side, with a magnificent view of the Strait of Bosphorus, the other European section and the Asian section. On the way there we looked through a couple of small but magnificent kiosks; the Terrace Kiosk, where the Sultan watched sporting contests in the garden, the Revan Kiosk, which was used to store the Sultan's turbans, and the Baghdad Pavilion, used as the library of the Pricy Chamber from the 18th century onwards.

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- a bottle rose sherbert we shared... It lived up to every expectation! It was sweet and tasted a lot of roses; apparently mashed rose petals was one of the main ingredients. The courtyard we sat in was the perfect place to drink it.

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- the palace kitchens, especially the confectionary kitchen where huge copper cauldrons, iron ladles and marble slabs were displayed. There was lots of fascinating information about the confectionary, syrups, sherberts and also medicines, soap and scented candles that were made here.

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- the Arms & Armour display. This was one of the best I've ever seen; extremely well preserved and beautifully engraved and patterned helmets, daggers, swords, axes, maces and bows. It also had arrows, chainmail and colourful wicker training shields.

- the Treasury; this contained a massive glittering diamond, a 22-carat gold jug and ewer, a basket of huge emeralds, rings encrusted with rubies and sapphires, more very finely engraved swords, a British Order of the Garter presented to one of the sultans by Queen Victoria, Chinese Ming pottery and lots more.

- Some of the holiest relics of Islam, including parts of the Prophet Mohammed's beard, his sword and of of his footprints set in stone. In the same exhibition we saw a metre square model of one of the holiest Islamic buildings in Mecca, made entirely from mother-of-pearl.

On our way out of the palace we stopped to flop for a bit on the grass. Outside the gates we bought two salted, grilled corn-on-the-cobs from a street seller and ate them on the way back to the hostel. It was now past 17.30 and we'd spent four and a half hours at Topkapi!

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For dinner we ate on the rooftop terrace of a fish restaurant round the corner from the hostel. Dave had bass, I had bream (both of which came with rice and salad) and we shared an iceberg salad and a spinach casserole. Dave also had some olives wrapped in anchovies. They gave us free baklava and Turkish coffee afterwards! Dave went into raptures about the baklava, and for good reason!

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:24 Archived in Turkey Tagged palace turkey museum istanbul roses bosphorus dave unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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