Monday, 12 February 2018

Don't Look Now!* Two Days and Two Nights in Venice

The long-awaited 60th birthday present from number 1 daughter (not her fault as dates were set and broken on both sides) was an incredibly beautiful and unforgettable lightning visit to Venice. Planned just a couple of weeks before departure but lovingly researched and booked by the aforementioned number 1, this was a visit to the stunningly atmospheric and eerily romantic city of 118 islands.

One of the many things that strikes you as you head over your first footbridge en route from the people mover which transports you from the coach that transports you from Treviso Airport (not the rather handier but much more pricey Marco Polo) is that there is no sound or smell of traffic. From here it's by foot or boat. The narrow streets and alleyways, which in cities like Marrakech with its equally skinny byways are thronged with scooters and donkeys and inappropriate cars as well as pedestrians, are quiet apart from the sound of your own heels clicking on the stone cobbles. Where these thoroughfares are busy is nearer to the Rialto Bridge or Piazza San Marco for though this is February, it is also Venice Carnival and so, though sometimes damp and cold, the tourists will come - and quite rightly so. But in the darkened and narrow alleyways, especially as dusk falls, only the occasional sound of chatter breaks the sometimes eerie silence and the sounds of the water lapping against the stone.

Our hotel for two nights was the Al Duca di Venezia, a boutique hotel with very helpful staff and ornate, if snug, bedrooms. But the name of the game on such a short visit is to dump our stuff as dusk falls and head into the night for wine and tapas (yes, ok, it's Italy not Spain but tapas gets you a stunning selection of brochetta) before a big bowl of spaghetti alle vongole. No late nights for us because we have just two whole days to make this city our own and experience as much as we can of what it has to offer.

Al Duca serves a good breakfast with a delicious cup of thick hot chocolate which is a meal in itself. Then armed with a map, guide book and our phones we set out to discover the city's secrets. Number 1 has been here once before - and relatively recently. I, on the other hand, have been twice - once on an utterly miserable school trip aged fifteen and then again the year before we were married with dear friends who provided us with an especially memorable moment when we stopped in the Piazza San Marco at Caffe Florian. That day we were sitting outside cafe enjoying the sights and sounds of Venice. There was a string quartet/quintet playing and suddenly our friends vanished and the orchestra moved en masse to our table and played 'our song' - Moon River - as our friends hid behind a pillar giggling and enjoying our embarrassment.

So first it's the Basilica San Marco but not before we've wandered through the fragrant and colourful fish and veg markets. The Basilica is mercifully not too full of tourists to enjoy a quiet moment in its ornate grandeur. Then next door to the Doge's Palace which boasts impressive frescoes and  murals but the most memorably atmospheric moment is crossing the Bridge of Sighs - a last glimpse of freedom - before entering the dank, inhospitable prison. Our plan then is to go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection - closed, as it turns out, and Ca' Rezzonico, the place where Robert Browning lived and died in Venice - ditto closed. Hmmm... so when in Venice ... it's a very big bowl of pasta and a gondola ride.

This I have never done before but I've checked the gondola stations on our travels and the price is 80 euros everywhere - no haggling. The brightly-dressed gondoliers are in sharp contrast to the black gondolas which number about 400 in the summer. Our gondolier is chatty and informative, keen to take us down the Grand Canal to the 7* hotel where George Clooney got married. He doesn't however understand our amusement when we sail under a washing line of many ladies' knickers and is merely keen for us to know that he doesn't live there!

So our second evening kicks off with a rapid pizza before we head back into the Piazza San Marco to see what Carnival activity is occurring, which, as it turns out, is a disco. But it's the sights, not the sounds that draw us, for everywhere, day and night, the main piazzas and bridges are thronged with masked characters of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. These snappy dressers pose over and over again for snaps from tourists, acknowledging our thanks with an elegant nod of the head.

Our second day begins with a walk to the Jewish Ghetto. In 1516, the Jews of Venice were locked into their ghetto every night as ruled by the Venetian Republic, but though compelled to live an area enclosed by two guarded bridges, the remainder of the time they had the freedom of the city with the other Venetian citizens. The area is dominated by Ghetto Nuovo Square where there is a monument to those who were rounded up to be taken to concentration camps during the Second World War. Of the 243 taken to Auschwitz only 8 returned at the end of the war. A poignant reminder that man's inhumanity to man continues from generation to generation.

Then another brisk walk to catch the boat to Murano, famous for its glass. This is a chilly boat trip to another island dominated by canals and bridges. Every shop sells the famous multi-coloured glass though we are advised by one young shopkeeper, keen to practise her English on a quiet day, that if you can't see the minuscule bubbles in the glass, even here, it is probably imported from China or India. We see an artisan moulding tiny glass elephants, deftly pulling ears and trunks into shape under the pale blue flame. We are advised that glass-blowing demonstrations should be free but the only furnace not breaking for lunch (which apparently starts at 1.00 and ends at 3.00!) expects us to pay so we decide to catch a vaporetto back to San Marco in time for the fancy dress competition of the day.

This is the one for amateurs with prizes of entry to the famous Carnival Ball (a mere 500 euros for a regular punter!). The participants from all over the world claim they have spent literally months creating their costumes and the effect is stunning.

So now there is only time to try to visit Ca' Rezzonico once again but this time we are half an hour too late and are doomed once again to see only the ground floor rooms. "Come back tomorrow!" we are told, but of course, we are now in our last few hours before making our way to the airport. We stop at a pasticceria and enjoy a tea and frittelle (doughnuts) surrounded by young Venetian students from the local university.

We detour en route back to the hotel to pick up our bags, heading through San Marco and over the Rialto Bridge one last time, before the very brisk walk to the people mover. Because we have to wait for it to arrive, we make the coach transfer with less than a couple of minutes to spare. Had we known that our Ryanair (you get what you pay for) flight is delayed by nearly an hour we probably would have panicked less! The net result of the flight delay is a serious dash from Immigration through Stansted to catch the very last train to London. Phew!

A wonderful, sensually-overloaded trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Venice Carnival simply must be done.

*Don't Look Now is a 1970s classy thriller set in Venice starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie. The film features a dwarf in a red duffle coat which made number 1's choice of coat a source of constant entertainment to me. Great movie (though probably very dated now) featuring the city at its eerie best. Catch it if you can!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

"You say goodbye and I say hello..."*

New years make me reflective - and, no, not in the sense of motorway workmen's jackets but in a rather more cerebral way - and as January begins dark and cold, it's hard not to look back as well as forward. So first a look back on the year we said goodbye to just three nights ago - dressed as angels and demons and quaffing some of my beloved's finest, of course.

2017 kicked off with our holiday of a lifetime to upside the down in Australia. It turns out that most of my best fun this year has involved gadding round various countries or, as they say at work, "Are you off on holiday again?" Australia was a massive wow for me and despite suggesting to my other half that a reprise of the Aussie experience this dark and dismal January would be very well received, apparently the coffers are not full enough for another all-singing, all-dancing trip to the other side of the world. Ah well, we'll be back, I promise.

However, for much of the rest of 2017 I have been gapping like a teenager. Starting with a hilarious weekend in Iceland in search of the Northern Lights with Ebabe and Wheezy, followed by a mid-week jaunt to dear friends in Guernsey, a beautiful island I absolutely love with direct flights from Leeds - hurray (flights have been subsequently discontinued so less hurray). Then a lull before a fabulous river cruise up (and down) the Duoro in Portugal with Lady H, her mum and the intrepid granny who was on especially fine form and then a relaxing week as a guest of Auntie Sue Sue in Sotogrande in her glorious apartment (yes, I am always available for this one!).

Summer was for the most part packed with tennis and both our village teams had a good season with the usual mix of triumph and frustration. It was especially nice to finish as runners-up in the Dales Ladies' where we threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the opposition in the final and were only marginally beaten on count-back. Meanwhile, the fitbit got me walking further and though the dog became significantly slimmer and fitter, it seems the status quo remains weight-wise for me. Note to self: walking further and playing more tennis do not mean I can eat more. Fitness and weight loss featured strongly in my New Year Resolutions this year (and every year - ha!).

Then off to Apartment Antonia in Kalkan in September as guests of number 2 and JS before spending a few days exploring Istanbul. Overall, Istanbul was a slight disappointment to me but, to be fair, by the time we arrived, we had already had bad news from home and were feeling more than a little bah humbug. The good news on this one is that the intrepid granny came through surgery brilliantly and has thrown herself into doing all the exercises set for her so she can rock and roll at the bowling club this year.

One of my plans for last year was to combine our trip to Turkey with a few days in Cyprus. This proved difficult and after a rather heated phone call with the Cypriot Consulate in London, we gave up on the task and instead I hopped on a plane from Stansted in November for a fabulous few days with Nigel and Sarah in their lovely Cyprus home. Great fun, great tennis, great friends - what more can I say? Yammas!

So that brings us to the year end. Christmas was lovely but the children arrived and left, as they have all year, without us gathering the whole lot together at any point. In case they read this (which they generally do because they like to check up on what I am saying about them) what I would really like for my forthcoming birthday is to have them all in the same place for 48 hours. Is that a big ask? We shall see... We did manage that once in 2017 when they all rocked in for the twins' 21st birthday celebration and it will remain the best time at home in a year of hellos and goodbyes and general gadding about.

So what would I like in 2018? Most of all, good health for all my family and a peaceful time for us all. Excitement is all well and good (and there's usually no shortage throughout the year) but actually the joy of just being together with family and good friends (sorry, getting soppy) is the best. Happy New Year!


Thursday, 23 November 2017

London: Not London

I was recently trawling through the weekend broadsheets - this process usually takes till about Thursday - when I came upon a headline above a restaurant review. It read something like: "A new star - not London". The restaurant is in Leeds, so I can only assume that as far as the national press is concerned, there is now: 'London' and 'Not London' i.e. the rest of the United Kingdom. Actually there is probably also 'the Home Counties' where people who used to live in London now live but to all intents and purposes, that is also 'London'.

When I read the national press, I note that ever fewer mentions are made of anything outside London. This either has the effect of making me irritable - do they really think that London is the only place where stuff happens? Or smug - we like it here and we like that perhaps the quality of life we have is our best kept secret. Whatever, it does serve to remind me that the North/South gap is the greatest it has ever been in my lifetime and the resulting rush of our young people to experience everything London has to offer is the net result.

Which brings me neatly to my London double-header - not sure what that actually means but think it might be a sport-related expression - i.e. two trips to London in quick succession. All three of our beautiful girls live in London now and I suppose at least it means I can see multiple daughters at once, or all three in a short space of time. And indeed, all that was achieved last week in part one of the 'double-header'.

Number 1 always meets me from Kings Cross because, I think, she is convinced that I can't manage the Underground. And, it has to be said, I am more than happy for her to continue to think exactly that as she always meets me at the barrier on arrival and waves me goodbye at the barrier on my way home. Let's not tell her that senility hasn't quite crept in yet!

Last week's jaunt starts outside a very nice bar in Kings Cross. Once the haunt of prostitutes and ne'er-do-wells, Kings Cross is so smart now and a great place to meet friends when I am fresh off the train. Number 1 and I are on a mission to meet up with my fabulous godson who is very dear to me and we are hoping to meet his lovely girlfriend too as we were only briefly acquainted at a wedding a couple of years ago. And so we sit outside under the heaters (not great for global warming but the trend for hard surfaces in bars makes it virtually impossible for number 1 to hear inside) having a massive catch up with godson, girlfriend and number 1 and her husband. Happy me! In fact, very happy me after a glass or two of rioja!

It is all going so well so... it is bound to go awry. We are due to meet up - 3 daughters, one husband (not mine!) and me - at a nice Italian. We are a bit late, number 2 is on time and therefore not impressed with the rest of us and number 4 works late and therefore arrives an hour and a half after everybody else. It never works, this family getting altogether thing. And then it is off to the new home of number 2 where Mr Milton (furry friend and ex-lodger) is waiting. This new home is a work in progress so it is sort of camping out i.e. me on a blow-up bed. Absolutely fine for me but this isn't going to work for part 2 of the double-header when my beloved joins us!

Up early and it's off to meet another godchild for pre-work coffee. This is the marvellous red-headed goddaughter who insisted I speak at her wedding and, of course, redheads are not to be denied. So another fabulous catch-up before the two redheads - godchild and number 2 daughter - dash off to run the world and number 4 child pitches up so that we can make our way to the grand excuse for the whole visit - the ATP Year End Finals at the O2.

We are privileged to watch some sublime and very closely contested doubles won by the eventual winners of the whole thing - Kontinen and Peers - followed by an absolute belter of a singles with Marin Cilic and Jack Sock. I now have a tennis crush on Jack Sock who threw the absolute kitchen sink at the match and happily won.

Then it's one of my big treats to myself - the Thames Clipper. I love this way to see London from the water; to admire the sights and see the modern towers of Canary Wharf and the stunningly atmospheric Tower of London. Imagine being rowed in to the Tower and stepping off at Traitor's Gate with little hope of ever leaving alive! Number 4 thinks my enthusiasm for this rather chilly, sitting-in-the-back-of-a-boat-in-the-dark trip is a bit bonkers but she plays along. Equally, I play along when we get in the tube at London Bridge packed like sardines whilst two woman have an argument that almost comes to blows. I want to intervene and suggest they might both chill out but apparently, had I done that, I would probably still be in a high dependency ward in London - aggression or what!

My final morning is spent visiting a cemetery. Sounds weird perhaps but actually it is Highgate Cemetery and definitely worth the trip. Yes, Karl Marx is buried here and loads of others too including some of the artistic giants of the 20th century. I am intensely moved by the poignant messages on the World War 1 graves and fascinated by the extraordinary range of the great and the good, the unknown and forgotten - from the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery (yes, really) to authors like Douglas Adams (A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) where, like Sylvia Plath's grave which I visited a few years ago, people leave pencils rather than flowers. Apparently George Michael is or yet may be buried at Highgate where his mother is already buried. A fitting resting place for a great artist.

So it's back up to God's Own Country now but only for a few days as next up is the sport and music weekend - England v Samoa at Twickenham followed by Phil Collins at the Royal Albert Hall. Well, life is for living and as the Scottish proverb says (and it's probably on a headstone somewhere at Highgate): You're a long time dead.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Yamas Nigel and Sarah Mou!*

This year has been something of a gap year for me and my last - I promise - trip of the year has been to visit dear friends in Cyprus. Here's how it goes...

When Nigel and Sarah announced they were moving to Cyprus some eighteen months ago, there was such a mixture of emotions - I was pleased they were starting a new life together somewhere that I knew was dear to Sarah but I also knew they would leave a big hole in my life. Sarah and I have pounded round the tennis courts of Ripon together at least three times a week for a number of years. More than that, we have been through some thick and very thin times together. I know how much I valued her kindness and support when times were tough for me and I hope I did the same for her.

We had a joyful and sometimes hilarious farewell trip with them to Rome before they set off on their great life adventure, taking in ATP Tennis, sightseeing and a very significant amount of eating and drinking. Then there were various farewell events and suddenly it was time to say goodbye. Of course, they've been back to Blighty since then and we've had fun times but I always like to be able to imagine people in their actual habitat like visiting our friends in Sydney earlier in the year, so somehow a visit had to be achieved.

Now I am a great one for believing than in the general run of things, you get what you pay for. And thus it is almost always the case with low-cost airlines. So, whilst thrilled with my purchase of return flights from Stansted to Paphos for just over £100, I know there will be a catch. And then Ryanair announces they are cancelling 2,000 flights and I think... well, you can imagine what I think. But aside from pulling my flights even earlier in the morning it is all looking good. And actually, there is no catch on the way out, excepting getting up at an unearthly hour. Flight three quarters full, crew charming, departure and arrival on time. Result!

At Paphos Airport my lovely friend is waiting to drive me an hour across the island and up into stunning hills above Polis to a little village called Lysos. Their house is beautiful and it feels like a proper home and it is just so brilliant to know that we have a few days to catch up on months of gossip (how does she know stuff that's going on in Ripon that I don't know about!?) and laugh about good times and old friends shared. So aside from a serious amount of laughter and chat, we fill the four days together with running, tennis, meeting up with another old friend from Ripon Tennis Club who has lived out here for twelve years now, and enjoying some fabulous local food and wine. Nigel asks me as we drive to the airport at a truly unholy hour on Saturday morning what has been my high spots so here they are (in no particular order!):

1   Tennis at Aphrodite Hills. I am warmly greeted and hosted by the Nomads who are a delightful crowd and make me so welcome. Two tennis sessions with lots of different partners and everyone without exception makes me feel part of the gang. Thank you to Jane and all my partners and fellow players. I'll be back!

2  A superb last night of dancing to Chris King and the Firebirds with Nigel and Sarah's posse! Classic moments of tambourine-playing by Nigel and some great dancing (don't you love it when you can just go for it on the dance floor because nobody knows you and nobody cares?!).

3  Running with Nigel. So, he says: "Be careful of snakes - there are lots of poisonous ones." Me: "OK", panicking - I don't like snakes. Nigel: "So we'll start off by walking backwards up this hill because it stretches out your muscles." Me: "How can I look out for snakes if I'm walking backwards?!"

4  Fabulous food at the Old Town restaurant in Polis. Beautifully tender duck and a very nice bottle of Shiraz - happy me!

5  Meeting Athena. Athena runs a coffee shop in Lysos and we go there for a drink and to meet this delightful lady. And she tells us such a great story which will stay with me for a long time so I think I'll share. One of a large number of siblings, as a toddler she caught chicken pox and although she quickly recovered she completely stopped talking. Her parents put her in a basket and took her round the village to all the Marias (by which I think she means the roadside Madonna icons rather than ladies called Maria) and everyone threw bread into the basket and when she got home she could speak again. She says, at this point, that she hasn't stopped talking since but it is a charming tale and she is charming herself.

There are lots more of lovely times together but those moments are special and whilst we battle through the cold, dark winter here, I shall be thinking of them in their sunlit, happy home which they so generously shared with me.

And finally... Ryanair's payback! Even earlier than originally booked, Nigel gamely drives me to my flight and I find the airport quite busy at 5.00am. The only flight going out for several hours is mine so everyone is getting on my plane. We queue (Priority Q and Other Q and you can guess which one I am in) and by the time I get to the front, everyone who isn't Cypriot is being relieved of their cabin-sized suitcase as there isn't room in the overhead lockers. The flight is rammed and the cabin crew are less than charming. There's turbulence regularly so we are constantly being told that we can't use the loos - frankly, you had to be desperate as they are filthy. The cabin crew have no change and having waited over an hour for my 5 euros, I head to the back of the plane where the crew are all sitting around chatting and ask, only to be told quite brusquely that they still don't have it. It arrives about 20 minutes later (presumably when they have finished chatting) and handed to me with no apology. The poor lady next to me has a broken table so has to hold her coffee till she has finished it. And the final insult... the flight leaves and arrives late so the pilot decides to land at speed. We hit the deck hard followed by the slamming of brakes. As I say, you get what you pay for.

*Probably spelt wrong but you get my drift. Happy, happy times with dear friends.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Istanbul - Marmite?

Now we're back home and already the holiday in Turkey seems like a distant memory and the tan is fading fast but I am conscious that I left us/you on a plane to Istanbul so let me wrap up our final adventure 'Turkey 2017' like this.

Having garnered a few opinions before we went and since our return, it would appear that Istanbul is a little like Marmite. And I'm still not sure which side of the Marmite street I stand. But first, we arrive from sunny Kalkan to a very wet Istanbul so not a good start. As we queue up for a taxi at Ataturk Airport, from the long line of available cabs we are allocated one which looked like my twins had learnt to drive in it! A dent on every panel and a fairly elderly driver who announces as we pile in that he is 'the second best taxi driver in the world'. We have to ask, obviously, who is the best... Michael Schumacher apparently! He turns out to be a very chatty chap, driving along, showing us pictures of his grandchildren on his phone and winding through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town where cars are parked on both sides and if you meet someone coming the other way, you just have to work it out between you.

We had elected to stay in the old town because this is a what-can-you-do-in-36-hours trip so we were in the heart of tourist-land but our hotel, the Four Seasons, was stunning and a calm oasis away from the bustling streets. From our balcony we have a view of the Blue Mosque (with a couple of rooftop restaurants in the way) and as soon as we dump our bags, we grab our Four Seasons umbrellas (error number 1, as it turned out) and hit the streets.

It is just a short trot to the Sultanahmet which is the focal point of the old town. But first you have to run the gauntlet of the carpet-sellers. After ten days in Kalkan, we are fully conversant with the calls from the restaurant and shop owners wanting to sell their wares. In Kalkan, they call to you and you respond with a 'no thank you' or 'we'll come another time' and they smile and wish you a good evening. In Istanbul, it is much more reminiscent of the souk in Marrakech but significantly more aggressive and persistent, as we are to discover. And it turns out that staying out of the rain with a Four Seasons umbrella (which doesn't even say Four Seasons on it) is like waving wads of notes. But we stick to our plan and head for the Blue Mosque, albeit slowly.

Our first destination dominates the skyline and we follow the groups of mainly Oriental tourists towards the entrance but just as I am getting my obligatory headscarf from the little wooden hut outside, my beloved is approached by a local who seemingly just wants to chat (error 2). He tells us where to go and asks us if we'd like to see the small bazaar when we come out. Given that there are thousands of people milling about, we don't expect he'll find us when we come out (error 3) and we head inside with a smiling 'see you later'.

Inside there's an outer courtyard full of useful information about the religion, society, history of the Quran, attitude to family and women and so on. In the few short hours we've had in Istanbul we've seen many women in the hijab and niqab. This is quite a contrast from the free-and-easy streets of Kalkan although on the beach at Patara where there were mostly locals enjoying a day out, a good proportion of women were wearing the hijab. I've read a few articles about the Muslim attitude to women and I remain confused by their position which appears to be that the choice of whether to wear these garments is in the hands of the female population who apparently find it liberating. I'm finding this one a bit hard to accept when the men all wear westernised attire right down to swimwear on the beach.

At the far end, there are double doors where people are taking off their shoes and putting them into bags before entering the Mosque proper. As with previous sightseeing experiences in Australia, the Chinese groups seem oblivious to instructions as to where they can and can't go and inside the Mosque tourists are only allowed around the edge because the carpeted centre is rightly for worshippers only. And, of course, these worshippers can only be male. Regardless, groups of Chinese of both sexes march into the middle of the Mosque to take selfies, only to be chased off by the Muslim equivalent of a verger.

So we head out and, surprise, surprise, our little chum is waiting for us, spotting us immediately in the crowd and anxious to take us off to the small bazaar... and then, oh no, not the small bazaar but actually his friend's carpet shop where we are ushered upstairs. Nooooo! Because we've been to Marrakech, we are at least able to 1) refuse to sit down and 2) refuse all offers of drinks, hospitality etc because if we do, we are not getting out of there without a carpet and we had to learn that the hard way in Morocco.

The problem with staying in the old town is that all the restaurants are tourist-fodder unless you want to eat in a hotel but we find somewhere pleasant and sit on the pavement watching the world go by. It's ok but we think if we came back we would opt for staying in the newer Taksim area where there are better places to eat.

The following morning, we set off out for an early breakfast before our first port of call, the Basilica Cistern, one of the stand-out attractions for us. However, despite researching 'best places for breakfast in Istanbul' none of the places mentioned were open at 9.00am. Eventually we found quite a groovy place where we sat on cushions on the floor and had apple tea and baklava (well, I did. My beloved had something much more substantial, of course.) Then off to the Basilica Cistern which is a stunning  enormous water cistern under the streets of the old town. The Cistern has featured in From Russia with Love and the Da Vinci Code and is well worth a visit.

Then on to the Topkapi Palace which was home to the Sultans and their many wives in the 15th century. The grounds are beautiful and you do get a sense of the enormous wealth of the sultans in the living areas and the harem. The wives were guarded by eunuchs from Ethiopia and both the wives and the eunuchs were educated and could achieve high status if favoured by the sultans. Other reading I've done since my return suggests that if you were favoured in either category then life was acceptable but the ones who didn't make the grade met with pretty horrible ends - but the audio guide definitely doesn't tell you that!

Having walked a very long way (according to my Fitbit) it was time for a break before walking up the hill to the Grand Bazaar. Now I love the souk in Marrakech where, along with all the tat - knock-off football shirts, handbags, jewellery, carpets, textiles etc - you can glimpse metalworkers, dyers and so on actually creating their wares. The Grand Bazaar is indeed huge, covering 61 streets and it's a mass of humanity with every kind of clothes, leather, jewellery, carpets and nicknacks but definitely nothing that appears to be locally made or unique. Is it worth a visit? Well honestly, probably not unless you're in the market for gifts to bring back.

Our last night in Turkey and we find a nice-ish restaurant on the street and walking back the view of the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (tomorrow's visit and our last) lit up at night are stunning.

On our way to the Hagia Sophia in the morning we meet our most persistent carpet seller yet who follows us to the Hagia Sophia, re-arranges the queue outside so we are at the front and generally pesters the pants off us. Finally, as we go in, he promises to meet us afterwards when we make our way back to the hotel.  Oh dear!

The Hagia Sophia is beautiful and is the biggest church constructed by the East Roman Empire. This is the third reconstruction of this stunning church and somehow its familiar style of architecture is more beautiful than anything we have seen before on this trip. Is it because we understand and accept our own religious ideals? I don't know but we may well have inadvertently saved the best till last. Then we have our best meal in Istanbul - breakfast is freshly squeezed orange juice and a toasted cheese sandwich from a vendor in the square eaten sitting on a bench admiring the view of the Blue Mosque.

Tired and anxious to get back to the Four Seasons in time for our taxi to the airport, we genuinely can't face the carpet-seller-from-hell and we stage a massive detour round the narrow streets to come out below the hotel thereby avoiding him. Drastic measures when I guess we could have just been rude to him. Would he have cared? Probably not, but there's something too polite and British about us and we'd rather walk further than deal with him.

So, would we go again? Yes, probably but not to the Sultanahmet but somewhere more buzzy and less touristy than this area. Anyway, it's ticked off the bucket list - at least for now.

One final thing... on the plane on the way back I was sitting next to a man from Oregon. He asked me about Brexit which I answered frankly and then I asked him if the events in Las Vegas would change the Americans' attitude to gun law. His answer was equally frank: "That had nothing to do with gun law." There's none so blind as those who will not see.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Tales from the Turquoise Coast

Last year, we had a new experience in the form of holiday in Turkey staying in a beautiful apartment owned by one of our four children and her husband. This sojourn in their holiday home feels like a very a good return on the investment we made over thirty years in our children! At last, the financial tide is flowing in our direction!

So this year we're back, travelling a deux rather than with the aforementioned child number 2 and her husband JS and Kalkan is once again a welcoming, relaxing and friendly experience. Has much changed since we were here last? Well, on the upside, we've discovered more lovely places to eat (very important when travelling with my beloved) with Gourmet the stand-out choice on our last night. And we've visited a few new places - Kas (pronounced Cash) which was nice to see, larger than Kalkan but probably not lovely enough for a repeat visit, and Patara where the beach is stunning and runs for miles of soft sand. But actually the star attraction at Patara is the Roman town about a quarter of a mile inland. The ruins of the amphitheatre, main street and other major buildings have been restored and maintained and unlike many other archaeological sites, they have not been plundered for their stone to build other later settlements, thanks in part to the silting up of the estuary which made this a port in Roman times. Regular readers will know I have a passion for the Colosseum in Rome where genuinely (weirdly - according to my family) I can almost feel the vibration of the gladiatorial battles through the ancient stones. Or maybe I've watched the film too many times, who knows? So this is like a mini-mini-Colosseum.

Here at Patara, the amphitheatre is much smaller but still seated 6,000 at its peak. And right in the centre of the tiered seating that surrounds three quarters of the nearly semi-circular edifice is a tall stone with a perfectly carved gladiator's breastplate and sword. It gets a big thumbs-up from me (classical pun here!) and I'd like to come back when it's not quite so hot. Also, on a different note, the beach is cleared of sunbathers at 7.00pm each evening in the summer so that the turtles can come up the beach to lay their eggs in the sand. Not that we saw any, of course.

Whilst we were alone (before being joined by number 2 and JS for the last few days of our holiday) we returned to two of our favourite places from our first venture here last year. Adam's Place is a roadside restaurant outside Kalkan on the road to Kas and boasts the most stunning views - perfect to watch the sun going down into the sea - ssssss, as we used to say to the children (sound of something very hot going into cold water, obviously). Also the food is superb: home-cooked by the family with the fruit and vegetables grown on-site in the abundant vegetable garden that you can admire from your table on the terrace. Adam is a charming host and we will continue to return here each year. The other must-visit is Villa Mahal villa mahal, a short boat ride across the bay to the stone terraces of sunbeds and the best place to swim - ever! The water truly is crystal clear and turquoise and the food at the restaurant is sublime. We managed two trips here this year and it is one of my favourite places on the planet - a description never spoken lightly! Definitely out of our price range to stay here but bliss to go for the day.

The only less attractive changes were the number of road blocks now operating though on each occasion we were swiftly waved through - whatever the Turkish Police/Army are looking for, it doesn't look like we have it. And the stray dogs in Kalkan who were in evidence last year but mostly further down into the town. Now some have migrated to the roads outside the apartment and their spasmodic barking can be irritating. But those things are merely minor irritants compared to how absolutely lovely Kalkan and Apartment Antonia are.

So we've had a week of spending time together, me and my beloved, catching up on all the stuff that can't be packed into the weekends which now make up our only time together because he works away from home and now we're ready and excited to be joined by our generous hosts.

Number 2 and husband JS are collected by us from the airport for the last few days of our holiday and the first few days of their's. Both exhausted from their hectic lives, they are more than ready for a long break. It's lovely to spend time with them when it's more than just a Sunday breakfast or the collection or delivery of their dog Milton aka Hilton as he spends more time staying at his second home with us than at his own pad. But all that will be changing soon...

One of their regular treats is a visit from Dimitri, the masseur, who gives three of us a proper pummelling! He also gives me a big telling off about not warming up properly before sport and - this is not good news - what running is doing to my knees. I have been running 5.5k every morning here before breakfast and absolutely loving it - despite the odd Cosmopolitan in a rooftop bar the night before. I may have another thirty years in me but my left knee probably doesn't. Need to think about this...

So today we said a sad farewell to number 2, JS and Apartment Antonia and now we are flying north to Istanbul for two days - our first visit and a new adventure. Just a brief detour before we face what promises to be a difficult few months in Blighty. But first, the mysterious and exotic city of Istanbul beckons.