Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Turkey - Bergama, Assos and Troy

The Red Basilica, Bergama
Since it was really only a lunch stop we didn't have much time to see Bergama but at least we
did get to see the huge red brick Basilica built by Hadrian in the 2nd century AD as a temple to the Egyptian god, Serapis.  It was later converted to a Byzantine church and today has a mosque within its walls. It was closed for restoration work when we visited, nevertheless we had a pretty good view of it through the security fence.


Bergama is famous for its woollen carpets and several carpet shops had their rugs spread along the pavement for passers by to walk on. They don't mind  foot traffic on their rugs, saying that it "seasons" them.  The town was sleepy and we enjoyed being the only tourists around, strolling the perimeter of the Basilica, spotting a local tradesman's donkey and cart and a number of tortoises sunning themselves on rocks in the river.  For lunch we found a "locals" café where I had a huge kebab, stuffed to bursting with chicken and salad, and an ayram drink,  $1.75NZ all up, it was the bargain of the century.  One of our group spotted a fruit drink in the fridge and took a hefty swig only to realise it was a very strong vinegar.  The look on her face was priceless! 
Trader's donkey, Bergama

A couple of hours later, and after turning on to a winding, bumpy and, at times, hair raising, cliffside road  we arrived at the
tiny beachside settlement of Iskele, our overnight stop.  Several hotels line the beachfront with wooden sun bathing platforms built right out over the water.  I was surprised at how dirty and littered the actual beach was.  It seems nobody bothers to clean it, since nobody goes on it, such a shame. Nevertheless, Iskele was a picturesque little place with small fishing boats tied up along the sea wall and a magnificent sunset to enjoy during our pre dinner drinks.  As the sun went down and the evening turned cool the hotel staff arrived with warm pashminas for us all, a much appreciated touch. Later we enjoyed a delicious traditional Turkish meal of mezze, sea bass followed by kumar pasha for desert.
Snuggly wrapped in pashminas and having our first taste of raki

Next morning there was time for a walk along the sea wall to bask in a golden sunrise before leaving to visit Assos,  on the top of the mountain, and the ruined temple to Athena.  Aristotle opened an academy in Assos and attracted a group of other philosophers to study there.  When the town was attacked by the Persians he fled to Macedonia. Today  a modern statue of Aristotle, minus a hand, takes pride of place at the entry to the village.  St Paul also visited Assos on his travels. The ruined temple to Athena  has 6 of the original 38 pillars standing and commands breath taking views across the Aegean Sea and out to the Greek island of Lesbos.  It was so peaceful there with nobody else around save a friendly, toothless, old man clutching a handful of herbs which he wanted to sell to us. 
The Greek island of Lesbos

At the Temple of Athena, Assos

Then it was onto Troy where we were met by our guide, Mustafa, an erudite and articulate fount of knowledge.  Mustafa told us that he had grown up in Troy, playing hide and seek among the ruins and building forts with the old rocks and stones lying around, something that would be forbidden today. Troy dates from the bronze age when it was established by the Hittites and was immortalised by Homer in The Iliad.

In the wooden horse at Troy
 Our first stop was to have our photo taken in the replica wooden horse.  It was a fun thing to do and, thankfully, the only touristy thing about Troy. Of course there is no evidence that there ever was a wooden horse but it's a good story.  Originally built in a valuably strategic position, on the coast, where it had complete control of the Dardenelles, Troy today is 5 kilometres from the sea due to silting up of the harbour. The city had 9 levels of settlement, the earliest 3,500 years ago.  The last king of Troy was Priam who had many wives and children,including 50 sons.  His naughtiest child was the famous Paris who abducted Helen, daughter of the king of Sparta, thus triggering the Trojan war. Many battles were fought over Troy and so the city was built with many ramparts and defences.

3,500 years old and still as strong as ever.  Wall at Troy
I was particularly intrigued by the curved corridor leading to the city gates designed to ensure there was not enough room to use a battering ram to knock the doors down. Coming from a country as young as New Zealand it is always fascinating to visit places hundreds, if not thousands of years old.  Troy didn't disappoint, there are still solid walls and ramparts dating back 3,500 years.

 Mustafa was an excellent guide, a respected scholar, author of several books on Turkish history and had the ability to bring Troy to life for us.  Later we had lunch at his family run restaurant, just down the road and were surprised to see him mucking in serving hot chips to hordes of hungry visitors.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My Beatles

To paraphrase their own song "It was 50 years ago this week the Beatles came to town to play"  Town being my home town, Auckland.  Today's morning paper carried articles about this momentous (to teenage girls anyway) occasion stirring up my own memories.  I know some of the girls I went to school with bunked off in order to go to the town hall to see the Beatles at their public appearance but I had never bunked school and was too much of a scaredy cat  to start.  The daring girls came back the next day, heroes happy to take their punishment, bringing with them the thrill of Beatlemania to ripple through the school.

I'll never forget the first time I heard the Beatles.  We had a large room in our house, we called the playroom, nowadays it would be called a rumpus or family room. It had a large table and was where I did, or was supposed to do, my homework.  Because it was well away from the rest of the house I could sneakily turn the radio on and listen to my favourite music without my parents noticing...for a while, anyway.  This particular night the Beatles came on singing Love Me Do.  It was like a thunderbolt.  Their sound was so fresh, new, different and captivating that I was hooked immediately. Just as people remember where they were when they heard President Kennedy was shot I vividly remember that evening and that magical sound coming from my cheap and tinny radio.

  As it happened my parents had a close friend, a single woman in her 50s, who was a Journalist for Auckland's evening newspaper.  She reviewed shows that came to town and from time to time would take me along as her plus one.  In return I would answer her questions after the show to give her a young teenage perspective for her reviews.   I was fortunate to go with her to Roy Orbison, Frank Ifield and a few
Some of my old theatre programmes
other shows.  The day the Beatles were in town she rang my home.   I answered the phone and could hear the excitement in her voice. I just knew I was going to be asked to the Beatles.  Unfortunately my mother was out shopping and it was late in the day. Darry did not ask me, she wanted to have it okayed by my mother first and told me to get my mother to ring her urgently. My mother arrived home too late to contact her so I never got to the concert only to find out later that there was, indeed, a ticket for me.  I still look back sadly  on that lost opportunity.  Darry took me to other shows, and I was very grateful, but nothing could make up for missing the Beatles concert.

My beloved Grandmother who I adored, and still do despite the fact she died many years ago, would sometimes rescue me from life with six brothers and take me out for a girly day.  She loved the cinema and on occasion would take me and my cousin to two movies in a day, one in the morning, then  lunch at Smith and Caughey's, a grand old department store in Auckland, and then to another film in the afternoon.  It was fun, my cousin and I reveled in it.  A Hard Day's Night was on and my grandmother had heard that it was popular with young people so she took us.  My cousin and I were thrilled and proud of our cool grandma.  We loved it, I'm not sure about grandma!  My cousin and I were amused when some girls in the front rows were screaming and my grandmother tut tutted declaring "Fancy bringing babies to a film like this" and "Why don't their mothers take them out". She was serious and we didn't have the heart to tell her the screamers were Beatles fans.

My first Beatles LP and I still have it.

I loved the early Beatles' music, painstakingly saving up to buy their first took me months!  I went right off them, though, when they started going all psychedelic and weird. However these days I still pop their CDs on for a bit of nostalgia now and then. 

Ahhhh, memories, memories, 50 years, eh,...gone in a flash..

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Handy Travel Hints

Today, for a change, I've decided to share some travel hints which I have found particularly useful.  Some are aimed at making travel easier for singles but most are helpful to anyone.  I hope they help to enhance all those wonderful trips you are planning! 

1) Where possible book accommodation with breakfast included.  I find that after a   hearty breakfast, all I need is a midday snack and a cup of coffee to see me through until dinner time.

2) I resent having to pay a single supplement.  In my opinion it's bad enough having to travel alone without being penalised for it.  Search the internet for deals which exclude the supplement, they are there. Some cruise companies waive it in the shoulder season and some group tours will pair you up with another single traveller to room share. Not everyone is comfortable with sharing with strangers, though, so if you want to keep costs down find a friend to travel with.  I have done this several times and it has worked well.  As there are more and more single older people travelling alone I think it is about time the tourism market catered for them somehow.  I am sure there are golden opportunities for businesses in this area.

3) Always take a book with you when eating alone in restaurants. I forgot to once in Hong Kong and felt lonely and uncomfortable.  It was a relief when, without being asked, the waiter bought me a book of photographs to look through.

4)  I have found that it is easier to get chatting to locals as a single person than it is as part of a couple and as a result have met some charming and interesting people along the way.  Be is often you who needs to open a conversation.  Be brave too if you simply want to excuse yourself from the conversation.  Best excuse "I am meeting a friend/my husband/wife/son etc"  or, if you distrust the person "My son the heavy weight champion!!" :-) Be open minded but cautious.

5) If you can afford it or, even better, if there is a special deal, upgrade to the executive floor of a hotel.  I have done this a few times and found it to be marvellous for a solo traveller.  Breakfast, afternoon tea, and generous happy hour finger food and drinks are usually all included in the price of the room.  Most good hotels have a dedicated lounge for the executive floor and at happy hour it is a great place to get into conversation with fellow travellers.  I have spent several days in Hong Kong and Vietnam staying at executive level and have met many interesting people to while away a couple of hours with.  Another plus is that I have ended up spending nothing at all on food, offsetting the extra cost for the room.

6) Trying to manage your luggage when you're alone can be difficult so invest in a four wheeled, hard shell suitcase.  They are expensive but well worth the investment.  Once you have one you will wonder why you hadn't bought one sooner.

7) Don't be afraid to ask people to take your photo on your camera so that you are in at least some of your photos.  They are generally flattered to be asked.  I have never been turned down and in return I offer to take their photo for them.

8) Take only one dressy outfit, unless on a cruise.  Usually I find I it isn't needed but is good to have just in case.

9) Pick up a hotel business card or brochure to carry with you to use for directions back to your hotel or to show a taxi driver when language is a barrier.

10) Use large snap lock bags for packing your underwear, socks, T shirts etc. (separately) and make sure you keep using them for the whole trip. It makes living out of a suitcase so much easier.

11) Three really handy items to take are a quilted vest which is useful as a make shift pillow and for chilly days, a sarong ( I take a Turkish hamam towel which is perfect)which can double as a towel, a sheet, a wrap or a beach cover up and a pillow case for dirty linen.  I always pack these and use them all the time.

12) Take a multi country power plug and remember your recharger leads

13)   I hate the crumpled look so I search out travel clothes which don't wrinkle and are non-iron.  It is worth the effort. Clothes don't wrinkle as much if you roll them to pack  but I still prefer the non iron option.

14) Other Helpful things to take: A selection of snacks, useful if you arrive late and/or are very tired.  Also good if you wake too early for breakfast, a common occurrence with time zone changes.  A notebook, for jotting down your experiences.  You think you will remember details but, believe me, you don't.  You can also take the notebook to a restaurant instead of a book.

15) Take a medicine kit. Include any prescribed medication, insect repellent, anti-diarrhoea medicine, antibiotic cream and anything else you think necessary

16) Those throw away shower caps from hotels are perfect for packing shoes in.

17) If you are going to a major attraction or one of the world's great museums or art galleries buy your tickets ahead.  It is a glorious feeling to sail past others queued at the ticket office and saves valuable travel time.

18) ...and, finally, take comfortable shoes.  This may be the last hint but it is probably the most important.  I learnt this early in my travels from painful experience.

Well, there you are folks.  Just a few tips I have picked up on my travels.  Please feel free to add any others in the comments  at the bottom of this page.  I love to hear other people's ideas.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Rambling Around the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Sunrise in Moloolaba, from our apartment
I love the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane.  You have probably already gathered this from previous posts when I have talked of travels there with friends and family.  This May my sister-in-law and I decided that the onset of winter in New Zealand was a great time to take a break in the sun before settling in for the wintry haul towards summer. Our location of choice was Mooloolaba, ideal for its ready access to some delightful small towns in the surrounding area, its  long, golden surf beach and  vibrant mix of cafes, restaurants and enjoyably browseable shops, oh, and the all important supermarket for supplies.

Mooloolaba Beach

Our accommodation, at Osprey Apartments was spacious with two good sized bedrooms, two bathrooms and panoramic views up and down the coast line and across the surrounding countryside. We judged it to be perfect and happily settled in for a week's stay which seemed initially to stretch ahead forever but passed by all too quickly. As luck would have it we had 7 perfect sunny days with temperatures in the mid to high 20s. 

This was a relaxing week with plenty of time for reading, walking, hanging out and swimming. Nevertheless we still had time to visit many of the area's attractions, which I have already written about, and happily discovered a couple of new ones.

Spirit House Cooking School, Yandina

My sister-in-law is an excellent cook and a keen foodie.  When she discovered there was The Spirit House Thai cooking school in Yandina, half an hour from Mooloolaba, she was keen to visit and, as a lover of Thai food, so was I. It took us a wee while to find but we eventually  pulled into its small, unremarkable car park.

It was a thrilling and delightful surprise therefore to enter through the traditional Thai gate and discover an authentic, tropical, Thai garden, complete with pools, waterlilies, carp and statuary.  I was enraptured, never mind the cooking school, I was in heaven.

We wandered the gardens for a while, me furiously clicking my camera, before entering the cooking school, a long low building nestled amongst the trees.  The school holds daily cooking classes on a wide range of themes, from BBQ cooking to Asian Banquets and Traditional Thai.  The classes are $150A, are popular and usually booked out and include a meal of the food cooked, with a glass of wine, at the end of the class. There is a stunning restaurant in the grounds also.  Having been to Thailand on several occasions I could not shake the thought that I was back there.  We spent some time looking through the shop on site and both agreed that if we had had the time we would have loved to take a class there.

This is a major ginger growing area and just around the corner is the Ginger Factory which processes the ginger for sale.  The factory contains a theme park which includes tours of the factory, an old cane train for rides through lushly planted gardens, rides for the children, shopping and regular free entertainment.  It was late in the day when we arrived so we just looked around the shops and slurped on divine ginger and golden honey ice creams, the ice cream, honey and ginger all made on site.  The Ginger Factory looks like a fantastic place to take children for a day out.  Prices for rides were reasonable and access to the shops and gardens are free.  I'd happily go back there another time.

Colonial Cottage, Buderim
 I had passed through the small town of Buderim three years ago and liked the look of it so was more than happy to go and have a proper look. It is a growing and desirable  residential town with a population of around 40,000, a pleasant climate and views from it's mountain side location out to the coast. 

The main street is blessed with attractive unique stores - no chain stores, thanks very much!  We both loved the handcraft shop with its gorgeous selection of hand knitted and smocked baby clothes - very tempting but we managed not to succumb - and a group of happy chatty women  gathered around a large table enjoying a quilting bee. We found an excellent delicatessen where we bought supplies for dinner and had lunch at a lovely café run by 40s something women who seemed to be in a great muddle but produced delicious food.

After lunch we made our way to the town's colonial cottage, originally owned by one J K Burnett and built in 1880 from pit sawn cedar and beech.  There we met the delightful, voluntary guide, Joan, a bubbly, enthusiastic woman who we took to be around 80.  You would never know it, though, she was so full of life.  She told us she was a widow, who had retired to Buderim from Sydney and had never been happier.  Her life was full of activities, voluntary work, U3A (University of the third age), craft activities etc.  Such a happy, inspiring person, she made our day.  The cottage was a pleasure to look through, too, as a glimpse into the hard colonial life of early Australia.

So there you have it.  A week passes all too quickly and soon we were homeward bound with a bag full of good memories.
 I must also comment that we found every Australian we met to be friendly, helpful and chatty.  Good on you, Aussies!