Izmir and Istanbul

Well, the European part of my adventure is over – I can’t believe it! I’m in Boston now with my boyfriend’s family, and still thinking about our last week in Turkey. As previously mentioned, we found Izmir to be rather boring, and in retrospect I think I would’ve skipped it and spent more time wandering around Selcuk. There were a few interesting sights – namely, the clock tower and the seawall.

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They did have the remains of an agora, but it was fenced off and a bit hard to see. For something to do, we decided to take a day trip to Cesme on our second day there. Cesme was actually quite pretty – it’s a little town on the western edge of the coast. We ended up buying some souvenirs there because we found it was cheaper than in the city. Unfortunately, we went on the one day that the castle is closed (Monday), so had to content ourselves with walking by the water.

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We did catch a pretty sunset in Izmir.

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The final stop in our trip was Istanbul, a city that I’ve heard great things about and that didn’t disappoint. Istanbul is amazing – it’s so full of life and history. One thing I learned is that they have good bonds with Korea, which I was surprised by. They were putting on a Turkish-Korean cultural expo while we were there, so we saw both Korean breakdancing and Turkish folk dances. It was really interesting as a way to see more of the culture.

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Most of our visit in Istanbul consisted of sightseeing. Our first day we saw the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, two incredible religious buildings.

Blue Mosque:

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Hagia Sofia:

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We also checked out the Grand Bazaar, which was enormous and a bit of a labyrinth. Luckily for me, the boy got bored of looking at the stalls and kept track of our whereabouts. The next day, we visited Topkapi Palace, which is also enormous but beautiful. It took us over three hours to walk through everything, but it was worth it.

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We also visited the Basilica Cistern, which is underground and used to be the water system for the city. It’s dark, slightly eerie and very cool.

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On our final day, we took a trip to the Asian side – just to say we had been – and had lunch, before traipsing back and climbing up Galata Tower. The views were amazing!

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Other stops on our visit were the Spice Bazaar and Suleymaniye mosque, both worth a visit. In conclusion, a city definitely worth visiting, and one I will remember for a long time. I do have to admit it’s nice being back in an English-speaking world, though a bit odd.

A final food picture to sum up my trip.

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Goodbye Europe, until next time…off to a different adventure!

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Oldies but goodies in Turkey

We shifted countries – hello, Turkey! I wasn’t really sure what to expect from here. I think I had a decent picture in my head of what Greece would be like, but Turkey was a mysterious blur that promised cool coastlines and old stuff (my favourite). So far, it seems to be delivering, though our current stay in Izmir has been a little lacking.

Our first stop was Bodrum. We only spent a night here, as it was more of a stopping point on our way to Selcuk. Both the boy and I were extremely sleep-deprived, as we took an overnight ferry and then another ferry to get from Santorini to Bodrum, and I think this affected our ability to sightsee – it was more wandering around in a bit of a haze. My impression of Bodrum was that it had a pretty harbour and seaside, a cool castle (see below for pictures), and not much else. To be fair, we didn’t look too hard for more sights. The castle was about all we could manage.

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Oh, and some food.

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We then took three buses up to Selcuk. We stayed in a really interesting and unique hostel called Atilla’s Getaway – it’s a ten minute drive from Selcuk itself, but it had a springwater pool, delicious food and was isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. The highlight of our visit was Ephesus, ruins of a city that were absolutely amazing to see. To me, it topped the Acropolis, which is saying something. Luckily for us, there was a long dusty walk from our hostel to Ephesus that let us see some of the countryside.

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Ephesus itself is so, so cool.

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These looked like alien space debris to me.

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After Ephesus, we headed to Sirince, a small little village 20 minutes outside Selcuk. The highlight of the area was fruit wine, and I fell in love as soon as I tasted it. I’ve decided it’s the best wine I’ve ever tasted.

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We’re currently in Izmir, and to be honest, a little bored. After the wonders of Ephesus, Izmir doesn’t seem to have as much to offer. We’re going to take a day trip tomorrow, though, and then it’s time for Istanbul, so I’m sure it’ll pick up. I can’t believe there’s less than a week to go – time is flying by!

Swept away by Santorini

Well, we’ve reached the end of the Greece portion of our trip, and I am writing this from Bodrum, Turkey. The boy and I agree that though we greatly enjoyed Greece, we’re excited and ready to move onto our next country. However, I must dedicate some time to Santorini, which was my favourite Greek destination. Santorini is essentially what you think of when you picture Greek islands – whitewashed buildings standing on the cliff of a beautiful blue sea.

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Our first afternoon, we took a trip up to Oia, which is the more “traditional” village. I found it very similar to Fira, just a bit sleepier. The view was astounding, though, and watching the sunset was amazing.

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Fira was also fun to walk around, though we got rather lost in the twisty streets trying to find a particular restaurant (figures that’s what we’d be doing). Lots of tourist shops, but the higher you climb, the quieter and prettier it becomes.

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We also visited Perissa, a black beach.

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Our last day was spent visiting the excavation site at Akrotiri, which was very cool, and made even more interesting because we had already seen a lot of the removed frescoes and objects at the archeological museum in Athens. We then tramped over a small mountain to reach a red beach, which I maintain was red-black and therefore a teensy bit disappointing.

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We then spent a killer overnighter on a ferry heading to Kos, then to Bodrum, and are currently both sleep-deprived and ready to hit bed early.

Oh, and how could I forget the food? Santorini was pretty good food-wise, we had some yummy eats.

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Crete-cation

Destination number two completed – we have conquered Crete! (More like half of Crete, but I like the alliteration).

Our visit to Crete consisted of three spots – Agios Nikolaos, Ierapetra, and Heraklion. We decided to stick to one section of the island because of limited time, and sadly didn’t see any of the western side – another trip, perhaps. My overall impressions of Crete are positive, but in a strange way I think I was slightly disappointed by the amount of tourism here. In both Agios Nikolaos and Ierapetra, it’s obvious that the entire town caters to the tourists, which leaves you feeling like you experienced zero of the actual local culture. Heraklion is also pretty touristy, but there’s more to do, so I didn’t feel that quite as much. The island itself is pretty cool, though – quite arid, very hot and dry with mountains, but with beautiful crystal clear aqua water that makes you want to fling yourself into it at every moment.

Starting with Agios Nikolaos – we spent an afternoon here, and that’s pretty much all that was needed. There’s a beautiful harbour and bay, and that’s about it in terms of interesting sights.

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We actually had a much better time in Elounda, which is a 30-minute bus ride from Agios Nikolaos. Elounda is this sleepy little fishing village, and it was much quieter – perfect for a stroll by the ocean, a drink, and some down time for us.

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Our next stop was Ierapetra, which is on the southern side of the island. Ierapetra, like Agios Nikolaos, was very touristy – though we did discover a fortress! Our main activity here was swimming to prevent overheating. We also had a gorgeous hotel here, El Greco, where we had a free bottle of delicious Cretan wine. Does life get better?

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The next day we did a day trip to Chrissi (Chryssi?), an island about 45-60 minutes away from the mainland. Chrissi is this entirely deserted island that makes you think of the kind of island people get stranded on – there’s nothing but trees, sand, and breathtakingly beautiful water. We had an awesome day swimming and lounging. Nothing quite like the feeling of being caked in salt for five hours.

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Our final destination on Crete was Heraklion, the capital city. Heraklion is definitely much bigger than the other places, and there’s a bit more to do. We saw the Natural History Museum – notable only for its ferocious fruit-consuming tortoise – and the Palace of Knossos, which was very cool. The boyfriend and I couldn’t stop mocking a review we saw on trip advisor, which said “there was nothing to see – just rocks”. Just rocks that are thousands of years old. No big deal.

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Palace of Knossos:

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Overall, I liked Crete, but I think it’s time to move on to Santorini. Also, I can’t forget my food shots. Food here has been average, with the exception of two meals – veal/baklava in Elounda that was to die for, and a pork knuckle in Heraklion that was delicious.

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One week down, and we still want to be together. Yay! Two more weeks to go! :)

A Greek (and Turkish!) graduation

Well, I’m back on the road, trusty humongous turtle bag in tow. It was a tough end of the semester, but I am finally done my undergraduate career! What do you do when you are finished the endless amounts of homework? You take your boyfriend and go to Europe, of course. In my case, Greece and Turkey.

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The first stop on our trip was Athens. I had mixed feelings about the city, where the sights are amazing but the city itself feels a bit grungy. Our priorities, of course, were the old stuff. We saw the historical sites, and they were amazing – the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Ancient Agora – as well as the National Archeological Museum and the Acropolis museum (which, by the way, is one of the most beautiful museums I’ve ever seen – it’s brand new and flawless).

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As well, we wandered through the National Gardens – hoping for a bit of shade, as it’s averaging around 35 degrees Celsius a day, which for a poor little Vancouverite like me is blistering hot – the Olympic stadium, Parliament and Syntygma Square. On our wanders, we saw the Changing of the Guard, which has to be the silliest solemn ceremony I’ve ever seen. The guards, who wear giant pom-poms on their feet, perform a rigid set of movements which involves kicking the ground a lot and touching their toes to each other.

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Of course, who can forget one of the best parts of the trip – the food! Greek food is delicious.

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So far, my favourite food in Athens was moussaka and roast lamb. It was droolworthy. Since then, though, we’ve moved to Crete, where our dinner earlier tonight blew everything out of the water. We just finished day one in Crete – it’s looking promising, as long as we don’t melt from the heat! Also, Greece has an amazing amount of stray cats. They are everywhere. It’s a bit disconcerting to see them attempting to eat food from underneath someone’s table.

Brrrrrrrrrr-lin

When I tell the Europeans that I’m Canadian, their first response is: “Oh, so you must be used to this cold then. This must be nothing.”

My response? “Actually, I’m a Vancouverite…we’re wimps.” I have been freezing my butt off in Berlin for the last two days and simultaneously loving it and wondering if my toes are still there.

My last days in Geneva were balmy compared to Berlin. We wandered around the Old Town area, saw the Jet D’eau (the tallest water fountain in the world), checked out the crypts under the cathedral, looked at a lot of watches that we couldn’t afford…that sort of thing.

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One of the areas I quite liked was Carouges, an older, artsy neighbourhood of Geneva. We also went to go see the UN building, which had this enormous chair with a broken leg sitting right outside. I kind of wondered what would happen if a giant attempted to sit on it. Overall, it was a great and enormously international city.

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I’ve found Berlin to feel very different. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that Berlin feels that it’s brimming over the edge with memories. I actually have liked it a lot, despite the fact that there is snow everywhere and I can barely feel my fingers at the end of the day. On our first day, we went on a tour that touched upon most of Berlin’s biggest monuments and areas. It was actually really interesting, and I think I understood a lot more out of the city’s history than if I had simply wandered around on my own.

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We also discovered an amazing chocolate place that we’ve now been to twice – it used to be the chocolatier for the royal family. Today was full of Christmas market shopping. I am probably lucky that I only have one backpack, because if I didn’t have a space constraint I would’ve bought an extraordinary amount of stuff. Instead, I had to cry inside and walk away (and buy myself things that can fit in my stomach, instead…)

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We also went to go see the government building, which was pretty cool. You got to walk up this dome at the top, and I’m sure if it hadn’t been covered in snow it would’ve been a great view. Instead, I got to study the icicles pretty closely and guess at what half the city looked like. It was still worth it though.

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I’m pretty tired now, but one more week before I go home! Tomorrow is a bit more of Berlin, and then off to Copenhagen, where I’m hoping for a few degrees higher in temperature. (I’m funny, aren’t I?)

Marshmallowifying

It seems that every time I take a trip, I lose track of time in the last month and my poor blog suffers for it. I really want to do a post on what I was up to in Italy for the last while, but I’m also really excited about where I am right now, so I think Italy will have to wait for a few days – perhaps I’ll do it when I’m sitting in an airport.

Friday was my last day in Italy, and while it was bittersweet, yesterday I set off with a friend for Geneva, Switzerland! It took us almost the entire day to travel from Prato to Geneva due to some train complications, but we made it here in the end. It is very distinctly winter here – I felt like I had passed into some mystical winter wonderland when our train went through a tunnel and emerged in the midst of hugely majestic, snowy mountains. It was absolutely magical. No other words for it.

Today we went on a cheese and chocolate tour that passed through Bulle and Gruyères, two towns about an hour or two from Geneva. It may have been the best money I’ve ever spent in my entire life. Geneva is surrounded by mountains and water, so we got to drive through and see these beautiful towering peaks all around us. I didn’t realize how close Geneva is to France – it’s only half an hour drive in some parts to the Swiss/French border.

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Our first stop was the Nestle/Cailler chocolate factory in Bulle, where my friend and I nearly made ourselves sick with the amount of chocolate we ate. This morning, I would’ve sworn on my Macbook that I could never get sick of chocolate…and then I ate the equivalent of five bars of chocolate in about five minutes. The tour was very cool though, they had an explanation of chocolate that moved you through these crazy decorated rooms, you were able to taste the cocoa beans and see how they made the chocolate, and then taste all the chocolate you could hold in your stomach.

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After that, we headed to Gruyères, which is one of the most picturesque places I have ever been. We had a delicious cheese fondue lunch, which was also possibly the most cheese I’ve ever had in my life at one time.

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The views from Gruyères were breathtaking.

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After we got back to Geneva, we went to check out the parade for L’Escalade, a festival they hold in early December to commemorate an attack they repelled. There was a large parade with people in medieval dress holding fire and whatnot – it was pretty cool. There were sheep and everything! Unfortunately it was so busy I had a hard time getting a good picture, and then we got extremely lost coming back to our hostel and spent over an hour wandering around Geneva in the dark. It’s pretty cold here, hence the marshmallowifying I’m doing to myself – I wore six layers today. It was quite impressive, I doubled my size. I’m pretty sure if I fell over there’s no possible way to do damage to my upper part as it was so wrapped in sweaters and jackets. The things I do to stay warm.