29 June 2014

Istanbul

Istanbul is officially on my to-return-to list. We touristed hard, as I was leaving earlier that the rest of the group and obviously wanted to see everything. I'm happy to say that I almost did.

Turkey was a trip that I didn't research too much, other than picking out a few sights I wanted to see, and I will admit that I didn't know beforehand that it spans two continents. I found this pretty cool, mostly because I had never been to Asia before, and now I can say that I have!

The Haman experience was high on my to-do list, but it wasn't easy to find one that would be authentic, inexpensive, but also decent. Luckily, one was recommended to us and it was great. I was looking forward to someone exfoliating 10 layers of skin off of me, and to getting a good massage, and I was successful. I wouldn't recommend it for the shy, as I was completely naked and the girl giving me the rub down (ha!) was pulling my limbs every which way like a rag doll.

I've decided that I need to dedicate separate entries to some of the Istanbul sights, so today I'll just leave you hanging with some photos, and the promise of future stories to come.
Just. The. Tips.
Standing in Europe. Looking at Asia.

The Grand Bazaar.

15 June 2014

Pre-Season Bodrum

We split Turkey into a two-part holiday, half seaside, and half cityside (did I just make that up?). Bodrum is an adorable little town on the south-eastern coast of Turkey, actually right beside Greece! But we’ll talk more about Greece after I go there in July ;) Bodrum is known as a swanky resort town, but we lucked out in getting there just weeks before their high season started, so it was actually quite a sleepy little seaside town at the time.

We arrived pretty much with the sole goal of getting sun and swimming. The weather didn't work out quite the way we had hoped, which left us with some time for sightseeing. What's there to see in Bodrum you ask? Well. There's a castle, and admittedly I found it cooler from the outside than the inside at first, but once we got towards the walls and were able to walk around the perimeter it was pretty cool. We caught one of the daily calls to prayer from up there, and got some amazing views back on the city.

The other major sight in Bodrum is the Mausoleum. I honestly had no idea what to expect at first, and there's a good chance that this was the first Mausoleum visit of my life, and after wandering around the same area for a solid 30 minutes, we finally came to said Mausoleum. From this point forward, we will just refer to the Mausoleum as Rocks. The highlight of Rocks was speculating on all of the ghosts that were probably there. I definitely felt cultured after our visit though! Rocks = Culture.

A seaside visit just wouldn't be complete without a boat trip, so we handed over our €10 and went off on a cruise for the day. Our stops included some kind of cave with a hot spring (which I'm pretty sure was just warm water from the sun shining down on it), a cliff jumping spot (complete with a sign at the top where there is a man-made ledge to jump off of telling you NOT to jump), and a couple of other spots where we could jump off of the boat and swim. Now, I pride myself on being able to swim in COLD water, but the water in that area in May was positively frigid. And it's misleading, because it is a beautiful shade of turquoise. 

Our hotel was spectacular. About a 10 minute walk up-hill, but well worth it for the views of the city that you got from up there. The pools (yes, plural), and resident cat were pretty enjoyable too.

I love looking at other people's wine cellars.
Marble. So chic right now.
Wearing marble makes you instantly more pensive.

If anyone can tell me the name of this fruit, and where I can find it in Canada, then I will worship at your feet.
ROCKS!
CULTURE. Just kidding. It's a car, folks.

5 June 2014

Paris, je t'aime.

Ah, Paris. Je t’aime. I could probably just leave the post at that, but instead I’ll share some of my favourite highlights with you.

We touristed hard in Paris. We saw every sight we could, except for the catacombs due to a three hour wait, and a lot of the museums. As we were in Paris during free museum day, we thought we’d take advantage and hit up some museums on that day. Apparently we weren't the only ones. We thought we’d get an early start to avoid lines, but we were two hours too late. When we arrived at Musée Orsay the line-up had already snaked its way through the square, around the corner, and all the way down the street. We took one look and decided we didn’t need to get cultured that badly. But we did take note of and comment on the impressive line-up skills in Paris, it seemed so organized coming from Italy! We decided the only way to avoid the lines was to try the non-free museums, and went to the Musée Des Arts Décoratifs to see the Dries Van Noten exhibit. Worth it.

We hiked up through Montmartre to sit in front of the Sacré Cœur Basilica where we were treated to live music, as well as quite the show by a guy who juggled a soccer ball around with his feet while hanging from a lamp post. With the view of the city behind him, it was quite an impressive show.

Let’s get serious for a minute and talk about Parisian food. I’m sure I’ll lose some Italian friends with this comment, but France wins food. Sorry! But, it’s true. Italian bread and brioches don’t really do much for me (unless we’re talking about Pane di Luca focaccia), but our daily croissant and baguette was nothing short of heavenly. It’s hard to say what our best meal was, but the most memorable for me was in Montmartre after our trek up the hill. We had checked out some restaurants on our way up, and the owner of La Cave Gourmande promised us that he had the best bœuf bourguignon in Paris. Sometimes you just have to trust a person, and guess what? He was right. It makes me teary eyed just remembering it.

Another memorable experience was our visit to the most hipster bar I have ever seen, and it took two attempts to get it right. The first night we headed off on a mission to find this place, and at one point, walking past a door that had no sign but where a couple of people had entered, I joked about it being so hipster that was probably it. We all laughed and kept walking. One more block down we checked the map and discovered that I was right. What kind of establishment wants a sign anyway? Not Le Comptoir Général! When we backtracked, we were turned away because it was closing at 1am and we were too late. So for our second attempt, we headed out earlier in the evening and were determined to be successful. Success! We were in, after our admission by donation. What awaited us on the other side can’t even be put into words. It’s a must see, and did I mention it’s actually a museum?? Museum or not, there was a bar, and we were thirsty. We ordered the T Punch, and were given about an ounce of room temperature liquid. Upon asking for some ice, the bartender hesitantly looked at us and finally started to add some ice, but before she could get it close to the glasses, another bartender screamed (yes, screamed) that NO, we couldn’t put ice in the punch, that would obviously ruin it! She did give us a glass of cold water though, only after we promised not to mix them.

Picture mash-up below:

 
 

19 April 2014

Marrakech: Part 3 - "Nice wrists, nice eyes!"

Ok, so back to Part 1 when I mentioned the huge culture shock; this was my first time visiting a Muslim country. For me, the most interesting part of this was the call to prayer. They start between 5am and 6am, and will likely wake you up, but it’s almost soothing. And, should you happen to try to siesta later on, you’ll get woken up again around midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and nighttime. The pre-sunrise one always seemed to last the longest though, with each mosque chiming in at a different time. I don’t know if it’s because they need more of a reminder to get out of bed and pray at that hour, or because it takes each person at each mosque that much longer to get up and start calling. It was mesmerizing to sit on our riad’s rooftop in the middle of the medina and listen to a call to prayer because of how it seemed to surround you, coming from one mosque on one side, and then one farther away, and then one right next to you.

One thing that always made me laugh (and only sometimes made me feel like a piece of meat) was some of the comments we heard, that are obviously used on every single tourist so they come out so naturally for them. I don’t know if they’ll have the same effect when you read them, but here’s a sampling.

“Shakira! Lady Gaga!”
This was how they tried to get our attention. We felt like real celebrities. Actually, that’s all that we respond to now. Oh, and neither of us are blonde?

“Need a place to eat?”
“No thanks, we just ate.”
“But you look Starvin Marvin!”
This we got a few times walking through the food stalls in the square at night, and it made me laugh so hard.

“How much can you pay?”
Bargaining is the name of the game, but no one seems to respond well to “nothing.”

“Everything is half off because tomorrow I close.”
“Oh, you’re closing?”
“Yeah, tomorrow is my day off.”
“Oh, so you re-open the next day?”
“Well, yeah.”
Good sales technique.

“Small store, small price. Big store, big price.”
In an effort to convince us he had better prices.

“I’ll take you to my brother’s / father’s / uncle’s / cousin’s / relative’s store where you’ll get the best deal.”
We even promised this kid who showed us to Terrasse des épices that we would visit his dad’s store after. We didn’t...

“Where are you from? English? Oh, Canada? I have a cousin there!”
Doesn’t everybody?

“No guide, no money, no problem.”
We wised up pretty quickly and told anyone who offered us directions that we had no money to give them.

“Oh, you’re looking for <insert any place here>? I’m actually going there right now, I’ll show you!”
See comment above.

“Wow, nice wrists, nice eyes.”
Just kidding, they were actually saying “nice breasts, nice ass” but it sounded a lot like wrists and eyes. Sweetest words a girl could ever hear?

17 April 2014

Marrakech: Part 2 - When You're Not Eating

Ok, we’ve talked about the food; now, let’s talk about what to do between the eating. The first recommendation is to get lost in the souks. But, that’s not something you need to be told to do, because I promise you that even those of you with the best sense of direction will get lost. Take a map, but don’t trust it too much. We even gave our map to a couple of shop owners to show us where we were and they didn’t know. Be wary of those telling you (kids especially) that they’ll take you where you’re going because they happen to be going that way as well – it’ll cost you.

Hopefully while you’re lost in the souks you’ll find some cute shops, after all it is the place where I found bronze ostrich-skin shoes that were apparently only made in my size. Snap.

Also, bargain, bargain, bargain. The general rule of thumb is that you should pay half of the initially quoted price, and many of the things that you see will be in other stalls so you can easily say you’ll keep looking or come back. Must-buys include spices, amber, and argan oil. If you’re thinking about buying some leather, do yourself a favour and don’t go to see the tanneries. You see, there’s a reason they give you a sprig of mint to smell when you arrive at the tanneries, and that they have been banished to the outskirts of the medina – they treat the leather with pigeon poop and urine. Yep. You read that right. And once you smell that, you can never un-smell it, and you will forever think about how your new bag is so soft because it had a nice long bath in pigeon poop . . . and urine.

When wandering through the Jemaa El Fna square, day or night, don’t make eye contact with the guys will monkeys or snakes, or the women offering henna tattoos. They will put a monkey on your shoulder, or grab your hand and start drawing!

In terms of sights, two places to see in the medina and to escape the heat would be the Ben Youssef Medersa, and the Saadian tombs. Check out the dorm rooms of the medersa, and try to imagine 5-10 people sleeping per room. It makes my old little Vancouver condo look positively luxurious.

Don’t bother with the Royal Palace, as it is never open to the public, and don’t believe anyone you pass on the way there who promises that today is the only day it is open. Lies. Also, the mosques are reserved for Muslims only, so you’ll just have to enjoy them via the call the prayer that you’ll hear five times a day, or from outside.

Take a break from the medina and head over to check out the Jardin Majorelle, if only to say you visited Yves Saint Laurent’s house. More importantly, the garden is spectacular, it’s a nice escape from the heat, and Majorelle blue is a colour best seen in person. It's also my future home, so you'll want to get familiar with it.

And remember, if you want to enjoy that new leather purchase, stay far away from the tanneries. Or, just come to visit me in Italy and buy some leather here!
I took a picture of this corner so we could find out way back to the riad, and caught this kid in the middle of telling me, ''No pictures, please!'' Sorry, kid.
The ''Look Up'' rule applies everywhere.
Yves Saint Laurent designed a Love card every year for the holidays. This is my year!
Jardin Majorelle photos below.
Jemaa El Fna square at night.
From the outside (of the medina) looking in . . . and around.
A mosque you cannot enter.
Souk photos below!