Category Archives: Travel to Europe
We had a long day yesterday – I was at work until 9:30, Astrid until nearly Midnight, and then we had to clear up and prepare the house for a couple of days away, which usually means setting up enhanced kitty services to hold them through the long weekend. We finally managed to get maybe 4 hours of sleep, max, before the 5am alarm.
At 5, though, we woke up to a text message from British Airways. Uh-oh!
You may have heard about a small fire on a parked plane yesterday at London Heathrow Airport. Well, despite the fact that it was an empty plane at a remote parking area, the airport was completely closed for about 90 minutes yesterday afternoon. That might not seem like too much, but Heathrow is the world’s busiest international airport and the third-busiest overall, with nearly 70 million annual passengers (after Atlanta and Beijing but ahead of Chicago, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Paris). More importantly, it is totally full – there is no spare capacity, so as soon as something goes wrong the effects cascade quite broadly.
So, it is likely that our plane and/or crew were diverted to another London-area airport, like Gatwick, or otherwise mis-positioned elsewhere around Europe. It just would have been nice to have known that before going to sleep, so that we could have avoided the crazy-early wake-up call!
Given the short length of the weekend trip, we have just cancelled the flights and the hotel. You might recall that we were only doing this because of an expiring 2-for-1 voucher, which British Airways has helpfully told me cannot be extended, so will likely be lost. I will fight for it, but it seems to be more up to American Express than BA. Still, we can use the rest – although it would have been a great weekend to go somewhere cooler, as today it is 90F here, which is about as hot as it ever gets (and with no A/C anywhere, it is pretty uncomfortable).
We will just have to find another time to visit Poland!
And that’s all we ate in Istanbul.
I jest. Sort of.
We DID eat a lot of kebabs … but they were pretty amazing. Especially the Teste kebab, which (despite Alex’s hesitation based on the suspicious sounding Latinate root), turns out to be meat and veggies cooked in a special clay pot. They have to break the clay pot to get your food out, and it’s done in quite a dramatic fashion with flame and calculated tapping on the pot … different restaurants play it up for tourists, of course, but we got a big kick out of it.
We also had some amazing bread, which comes out all puffy but slowly deflates over time.
After our 4th of 5th meal of meat and rice though, Alex wanted some pasta, so we ventured to a special restaurant on Istiklal Cadessi that serves authentic Turkish pasta. It was …. interesting. I’m afraid it’s clear that Italy is the winner in the pasta stakes. Turkish pasta looks a lot like gnocci, but comes floating in a pool of oil and cheese. There is no sauce per se, just a lot of oil and cheese. Did I mention the oil? And the cheese?
I didn’t mind it that much, actually … except that it’s an awful lot of the same flavor, and it takes a long time to work your way through that much oil and cheese. By the end, my arteries were groaning!
By far the highlight of the trip for me was the baclava. I’m a fan of the honey and pistacchio treat from way back when …. and I had some of the best baclava in the world. I especially liked it when served as above, with ice cream on top! Yummy!
This picture is probably my favorite, because it shows our Christmas dinner. This is what we ate mid-day on Christmas day, sitting in the square between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. It’s a simit, which is kind of like a pretzel, but without the twisty bit. It’s sesame bread, and they’re sold on the streets as a quick mid-day snack. Forget a turkey and all the trimmings … for us, a simit and a Coke made for the perfect Christmas dinner!
That title sounds vaguely dirty, but I promise the Bosphorus is anything but! (Ha ha … that also sounded dirty!)
Also known as the “Istanbul Strait“, the Bosphorus is the bit of water that separates Europe from Asia. If you look back at Alex’s blog last week, he had a great map showing how the water really stands between the two continents. It is apparently the narrowest strait used for navigation, which we can testify to after seeing all the giant ships with containers on-board! It’s apparently quite a dangerous stretch of water, because it’s narrow, the water flows quite fast, and there are some 80 degree turns that the giant ships have to navigate. Not to mention all the ferries dashing across between Istanbul and Kadikoy!
I’ve always had a strong desire to go on a cruise up the Bosphorus – my earliest memory about it dates from my 7th grade history class, when Ms. Leinwebber talked about going to Istanbul and sailing up to the Black Sea. She talked about how beautiful it was, seeing Europe on one side and Asia on the other … and that moment has stayed with me ever since. So when we made plans to go to Istanbul, I knew that a water journey was high on my to-do list!
Knowing that, we checked the weather and chose Thursday for our cruise excursion, because it was supposed to be bright and sunny all day. We actually had great weather the entire time we were there, and Thursday turned out beautifully. But we didn’t quite make the cruise we had originally planned on! The boats leave Eminonu quite early in the morning, by 9:30 or so, and take 3 hours to sail up the strait. Then they leave you in a little coastal town for about 2 hours, and then it takes 3 hours to sail back down. That’s a looooong day on a boat!
So we decided to do something a little different. We took the tram as far as it would go on the Galata side of Istanbul, and then hopped on a local bus up to Bebek, where there is an old castle perched alongside the water. It’s one of the castles that Sultan Mehmed II built when he besieged Constantinople – ultimately the city fell, and it became Istanbul. From Bebek we walked up to Rumeli Hasari, which is a really cute little waterside town – with nice looking cafes and a gorgeous walkway along the water.
Then we waited (a loooong time) for another bus to get farther up the Bosphorus, and conveniently we met up with the day-long Bosphorus Cruise on the way back! So we still got to experience the water, but only one-way. Which worked out perfectly. I think it was a really good choice – especially because a lot of the other people who had been on the boat all day were bored and tired … some were even sleeping!