Oh Istanbul !!

When we booked tickets to Istanbul, I knew something magical was brewing for times to come up. The magic that promised of oriental charms and sights, of a cultural trip different from anything I have experienced yet, of delicacies, of sumptuous buffets and mezze, of dope coffee and cay. And of course of baklava.

I was in class 9th when one of my cousins visiting from the USA, bought baklava while at transit in Istanbul. My sweet tooth knew this will be one of the choicest sweets from outside India, I would be relishing in years to come.

For our first two days, we booked a hotel in the heart of Istanbul, in Fatih, Literally 5 minutes walk from Sultanahmet – the blue mosque. Slowly we fought 12 hrs flight and time zone difference, and undefeated loitered around the area. We found rasta bazaar, which was a miniature version of Grand Bazaar, we saw tourists thronging benches between Hagia Sophia and the blue mosque. There was a seller selling roasted chestnuts and corn, we opted for former and were not disappointed.

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Albeit to our surprise, coming from the tropical island, we underestimated the weather and had to venture out to buy jacket/sweatshirts. We got 2-way ticket to Aksaray and were promptly guided to a nearby mall by locals. It was pleasant to be outside the tourist district, and have a feel of local life in Istanbul. We ended up buying some fresh fruits (cherries and almonds). After an hour or two, we hired a cab back to our hotel, too tired to walk back to the tram station (T1 line, as its popularly called there).

Next day we had time till lunch to explore Istanbul, before catching a flight to Capadoccia. I entrusted my confidence with “the Museum of Turkish and Islamic art “. We two were the first ones to get into the museum at 9 am and had the whole lobby and all the antiquities exclusive to us. We admired begone era of Turkey, its journey, meandering through its corridors of past. I was pleasantly surprised to see Prophet Mohammed relics in the museum. We ended with a vista greeting us with the view of Sultanahmet. Of course, photography ensued.

Thus we ended our first leg of Istanbul visit.

After flying out from istanbul on Turkish airlines, and catching this amazing pic of Bosphorous Striats dividing Asia and European part.

For next 6 days we would be visting rest of Turkey. On our 6th day, we caught a flight from Izmir to Istanbul. This time we were staying in the modern corner of Istanbul, 5 mins walk from Taksim Square in chic Ramada hotel. Most of the group was tired from the journey and slept off after lunch. But sleep eluded me, and I ventured out to find famed Galata Tower. I queried at the reception desk, and the receptionist said something called “Istiklal Street”. I could not found Istiklal Street somehow on google maps and ended up doing a 2 km walk across the Bosphorus to Galatasaray. When I took the climb up from the main street, the presence of touristy shops on both side signaled the approach of Galata Tower. And few steps down the cobbled pathway, there it stood – the Galata Tower adorned with a long serpentine queue of tourists vouching for a 360-degree view of Istanbul. I took some obligatory pics from the camera, and walked away from it, happy to have discovered it on my own, and now sleepy from waking up early to catch that Izmir-Istanbul flight. I took a cab back to the hotel, and saving myself extended meter costs thanks to google maps when the aged driver almost took a wrong turn to get some more Lira.

Musings

On his diurnal morning pilgrimage to work, sometimes his eyes were wide awake to register happenings around. Today was this day.

There was a girl with coffee, spilled coffee on her snow-white sneakers, which were current haute couture of this generation.

She tried to erase the coffee marks using a tissue, for what were white sneakers sans their white glow?

He sat surrounded by daily commuters, mostly engaged religiously to their smart phone screen, among the cacophony of apps and data. A bright shaft of sun illuminated their plebian shenanigans, revolting against their machine, and trying it’s best to get their attention off their artificial lighting, and all it got was squinted eyelids in response.

Michael Chabon had been his constant companion for almost two weeks now. The book, though short like a novella, was ” a natural exuberance and extravagance of Chabon’s writing is matched by his dazzling wit”, as Sunday Telegraph has noted.

It provided a certain solace and nutrition to his senses starved of prose & verse, but abound with automation tools and career/soul searching

The metro moved through the stark contrasting world on either side, as seen through its windows. Greens of Dover juxtaposed to cemented high rises, on opposite windows.

They descended at Buona Vista. A diffident Chinese teen, adjusted his coiffure subconsciously, while passing by cute European teenagers. For such was Singapore, a complex amalgam of countries and continents, merging in this giant 740 square kilometer cauldron of dreams, identities and life.

“One north “, the automated voice announced.

And thus began his work day.

The lazarus effect?

28 June 2016

1515 hrs

He woke up two hours earlier than usual nine o’clock, and after hanging around in a bed for a while, thought he should submit that travel insurance claim for broken and water logged camera. The claim form asked for original receipt, which meant getting that black box of Fujifilm out and dusting it off only to find unfilled warranty card, and no sight of bill. That would be bad, he haplessly hovered with on-off button of now defunct camera body.

It had served him well, when he bought it right before his trip to Ladakh , three years back. It caught glorious landscapes, impossible clouds and pink flushed cheeks of Buddhist monk kids. He started to get hang of its function, came back to Singapore to be charade by his friends – photography gurus- of having shot everything with  exceedingly high ISO. Only then he realized that mirror less camera have behemoth ISO of 25,600.

Next he got to Paris,France on an official trip , he was able to snuck in his faithful camera among corporate luggage and snuck out for Church of Notre Dame , Shakespeare and company , reflections of Eiffel tower in water puddles and one and half winged sculpture in Louvre. The zoom lens became his favourite, sending him to places inaccessible, top of Louvre, or zooming in to unaware streets buskers.

 

Next he got amazing pictures of his cousins marriage and tried it out in his hometown, most ancient city of world , to catch the glory of sun rising over ganga. Soon he would take it around absolute corners of world, getting roman colosseum, or capturing couple reading at Roma Termini, and the gigantic Bruneschelli architecture marvel of Florence cathedral, an Italian wedding in Cortona, Tuscany.

And then he got chance to mend his ISO mistakes, with yet another version of Ladakh, only this time it was Scottish Highlands. The verdant green , and its lochs and other worldly landscapes promised him ample photographic adventure. He started off to Isle of Skye from Glasgow, and after twelve hours of bus journey, followed by 30 minutes’ walk , and 20 minutes hitchhike from generous Scottish young couple from Inverness in old red model of Audi two door automobile. He reached Kingsburg, some 15kms from central village of Portree. And beautiful it was, with a loch at the end of horizon, sheep pens and a small stream and 4-5 cottages. Just what he had hoped from Skye. Long endless blue skies, marked by greens and azure blues of Lochs.

 

Next day he embarked on a 8 hours round trip of Skye, since doing it solo on foot or bike looked impossible in one day. He staggered and resisted the urge of climbing Old man of Storr , and just being fulfilled with a view from down next to mini bus. What else can one expect from tours like these ?

The kilt falls were just okayish , rather the bagpiper was more enthralling to his camera eyes and bagpiper’s bagpipe to his ears. They continued down and up, and finally to Quairaig , it was misty, and rain hung in heavens above waiting to come down, the chill of winds was agonizing yet beautiful, and the mountains above and below and his levels added to dreamy escape , and unadulterated panoramic view all the way to horizon.

Then came fairy glens, followed by Neist Point and then came Fairy Pools – one that have caused this whole write-up. He walked down the hill through fields with girl from Los Angels and dentist from Australia , explaining pros and cons of being in Singapore to the American. The fairy pools ensued, and he marvelled at transparent water which hung over rocks like ether, and bunch of Scottish kids plunging in chilly water. His tour guide had given him small water bottle, do taste the water, you will live for hundred years !!

 

He found a miniature waterfall enough to get his bottle filled, he bent down, about to place his right leg firmly. That was the moment he remembered , him bending down with water bottle, with Beth – American next to him , and dentist bit far behind, cold of the air.

Next moment he was in that freezing cold water. He slipped over precarious and slippery algae, his right foot and hiking boots never found the grip they wanted. Neck deep and paddling vigorously he realized what a disaster it had been, he managed to took off his promised waterproof jacket , Beth gave her a hand, but he calmly handed her jacket first, and then tried to rise up. But the rocks around were high , and there was no grip to be found, for a moment he remembered his rock climbing lessons, and tried to get a firm footing on a rock ledge, underwater, but its slippery even underwater !

A good Samaritan finally gave him his hand , and he emerged from the fairy pool, not a single drop of fairy water on his taste buds, and yet neck deep in the pool. Those fairies were naughty for sure, or just snatched his century opportunity ?

He stood there, shivering in windy eight degrees, with his three layers already lying on rocks, his camera gave away, with a strong crack on its lens. iPhone flickered for a while and then slept off, and he …he just stood there saddened at loss of picture and camera. Dentist came back and assured him he could still get travel insurance and promised him a ginger ale , “since you don’t drink beer anymore” when they were back at Portree.

 

Fast forward 28 days, and today morning, he was haplessly trying out on-off button. He thought of giving it a try with a battery pack, and lo and behold it switched on. He could not contain his happiness, it was “the promised waking up of Lazarus, as if jesus had healed it”….and with tunes of Oasis “you and me are gonna live forever”, he started his day , knowing his camera was back.

PS : for those who are unaware of the story of Lazarus, it comes from John 11:1-44,New Living Translation (NLT).

http://christianity.about.com/od/newtestamentpeople/a/JZ-Lazarus.htm

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Of piccolo latte and OCD traveller …

He thought to himself, may be for today the espresso should be enough. Consequently he skipped the daily pilgrimage to local Singaporean coffee shop, which served kopi C. He was about to cross over starbucks , when thought of piccolo latte stopped him. He turned around, still unsure of what the said latte is referred to as in this part of world.

A week back in England, Bath to be exact, he had hard time explaining Starbucks barista , what is a piccolo latte. He was served some stupid double shot mixed with milk, and then only the senior barista realized its called Piccino. http://www.starbucks.co.uk/menu/beverage-list/espresso-beverages/piccino

Nonetheless he tried to, apparently interning barista , that he wanted this piccolo latte, and she was like latte , how many shots ? Which glass ?

He did not want to take chances on first morning coffee , and rushed out blabbering forget it.

– It’s better to go to my regular café , at least they know what a piccolo latte is ?

He doubted Howard Schultz original idea of bringing in the Italian coffee experience to the world through starbucks. He never liked starbucks coffee atleast the regular ones were like drinking loads of warm milk, enough for bathing Shiva in Shavaratri, and then a meagre hint of coffee. It was more of marketing and branding probably , or may be he was just another coffee snob.

– Hey good morning, I never got chance to ask you how was your holiday ?

–  Well I ended up being in Scotland for most part of fifteen days. I think Scotland is much better than England.

– Not bad. So the alone part of trip or the one with family

-That one is hard, I liked both one.

While he was planning vacations, he was dreading the family trip, having been away from home for years, and recently getting used to backpacking and qualifying for OCD traveller, who does not wants to miss anything. But it turned out to be quite well, the family vacation.

So … now its some payment application code waiting for him, and his faithful double shot coffee.

 

 

Cote d’azur Part II

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Marseille

Initially when I arrived at Marseilles airport first thought was to dude lets explore this thing, after all this was only place I had heard about before barring Nice and Monte Carlo. Also the word was around that they have anointed Marseille as 2013 European capital of culture. Yet as it happened I moved to La Ciotat and it was just an tangential touchdown. Little did I know, yeah I know I tend to overuse this phrase, that I would get ample opportunity to explore this city.
It started with quest across the old city, La Paine ___ , only sad thing the instructions were in French. I somehow managed to use english and latin etymology. In France you would never fail to notice graffitti and coming from Singapore where you get caned for graffiti this was a true wah-lau moment for me !!
Too bad that I cant leave this post to be finished as photo essay, bloody technology upgrade to iOS 7, made me loose my pics. #Laments And all I have now is social media album and whatsapp. Nonetheless, #RegainsEnthusiasm , I decide to be unperturbed by these hiccups.

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It was also awesome feeling to see catch Ulysses and his some twin brothers, <I wanna go to Dublin… on Joyce’s day >. The quest took longer than expected and left me drained with that sweet pain in legs, and yet I proceeded to newly opened Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM)  http://www.mucem.org/#.
Well it wasnt exactly a museum but more of architecture museum, made to likes of an old Mediterranean town. And voilà ! it felt like that. It offered majestic view of the vieux port and palace for Napoleon’s mistress across the small strait that ended in Mediterranean. And of-course the highest zenith in Marseille, Church the Notre-Dame de la Garde

 

MuCEM-shadows

Aix en Provence

They say that its city of fountains, well there were fountains at every square but…
The whole city had an aura of peace, and a long history dating back to 425 BC, no wonder its the capital of Provence. We happened to chance upon the saturday market, and it was great seeing folks coming in their station wagons and putting up temporary stalls. We reached bit late and most of the stalls were packing up. We proceeded to lively part of the Aix-en-provence, yes you guessed it right – old city !
I would have described the french crepe we had, but I think I can capitalize on it for another blog post. You see most of the time I am lacking ideas to jot down and travel gives you a lot to write about. So why not ?

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Baux en Provence
Hmmm….baux-en-Provence, pronounced ___ . The old gang turned up after initial “dude we were going to Cassis, we even got the boat reserved. ” But alas it was Aix-en-Provence and baux-en-provence. And I know no one is lamenting about Cassis now.
There was this castle on top of a hill, and it was a beginning to feel like a deja-vu after eze. But lo and behold, what do we see !! Trebuchet ! No fucking way, it’s a real trebuchet !! The feelign that age of empires fan would get seeing a real life Trebucher is undescriable. It was single nasty piece of weapon that sent shudder across opponent’s army.
-He has got swarm of Trebuchets, we are royally screwed.
And as if Trebucher wasnt enough we saw other weaponeries, (aaarghh my lost pics #Laments). The view from the top was uber and all we could see was farms which would produce, huile-de-olive ____
All hail the mightiest strategy multiplayer game of all times, Age of empires !!

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Some more villages…
On our way back to Marseille aeroport, we had lot of time to kill, so why not explore adjoining areas. We were able to catch Calas-Cabries and Les Pennes Mirabeau, but nothing great about them to jot down. Calas had a small, like really small castle on top with a courtyard and in Les Pennes we did not even bother to get down.

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 Marseille Aeroport

And then return flight from airport, and Starbucks did not offer free wi-fi, infact no wi-fi at all. Huh ! Managed on 20 mins of free airport wireless and half hearted attempt to change MAC ID for a renewed session, and 20 minutes are kinda enough for chatting on viber/whatsapp/gTalk.  How ubiquitous communication has become in this age (:

Cote d’azur – Part I


Although I am not aiming this blog to be a travel blog, yet there are already quite a few travel posts so heck with it. Let logic prevail.
Bonjour !
So lets start with …hmmm…either I stick to Asia or move across seas to azur water of Mediterranean. Chronologically Asia should come first but heck !!

  • Marseille aeroport

omitted…

  • La Ciotat

To be covered later …

  • Cannes 

Nay I did not cover Cannes (!!), for obvious commercial reasons.

– Show me French countryside, I had enough of urban landscapes in Asia.

But then manged to send a cinephile friend a postcard, talk of vicarious deeds…

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  • Antibes

Actually I did not expect, Antibes (pronounced Awn-teeb) to be that much of touristy affair, but surprisingly it was. Old Antibes, yeah there is always an old city in French riviera. And still I am still rationalizing that why I skipped Musee Picasso. #Laments
Frankly speaking,( umm writing) I was lying around on my fat ass, chatting around, sipping wine, relishing rava idle (!!)  for the hospitality was great, I ain’t complaining.

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  • Juan les Pins

Pronounced (Joo-Ahn … Not Juan). Even this will fall under great hospitality, but me and AOE fan managed around the old city in a car. But the beach was awesome, and stony, and windy, and panoramic and with possibility of scuba diving,  the last part ‘died a wet death’, time was not very keen on waiting for me.

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Ohh it had a library named after Albert Camus.

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  • Nice 

Well to sum it up, Nice was nice 😉
I was beginning to see the pattern for cote d’azur. There is impossible blue Mediterranean, a high vantage point, chateau de Nice in this case, and then the major tourist attraction, the old city !!
the coastline was pretty pretty (okay…no more stupid wordplays), and yeah how could I miss that french cuisine. And today even after 3 weeks of gorging, binging and gluttony, if I managed to loose weight, its worth mentioning isnt it ?
there was this Socca, italian dish which was huile d’olive version of desi besan ka chila, which by the way was sunday special dish during school days. And then these folks made me eat Lebanese, not that I am lamenting for there was awesome poulet___, viva la chicken !!

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Dear Bangkok, although it was just three night stand with you , yet I fell in love with you. Until I am back to you…

Day 0 : Sinagapore to Bangkok

The best fridays are the ones when you know you are flying of to a another country. Despite the usual immense workload, we all managed to get through the last weekday, and with FTW  in bold , the backpackers at Changi.  It was 2200 flight, I was looking for distraction, it was still too early to take “India Unbound” out. Changi never fails me, the new distraction was  – a symphony of tropical raindrops.

http://m.changiairport.com/terminal1/

Well after long 3 hrs Bangkok greeted us. We hovered above the city for like 20 minutes, and man it looked amazing from ‘such great heights‘.  It looked like a metropolitan anatomy laid bare. There were veins glowing with yellow and white lights, with intermittent patches of darkness. Tourist-anatomist in me was delighted to know that he would be trudging these arterial roads and street soon.

Day 1

One simply does not skip the breakfast buffet at any tourist trip. It was sumptuous, aligning with the old saying  ‘…eat like a king’.

Being a group of seven, we hired the big mercedes mini van, and launched our journey to outskirts of Bangkok. To – Damnoen Saduak floating market. Riding around the bit dirty canals in a boat,  with hot humid weather did not deter our excitement. The hustle and bustle, the traffic, the shop owners haggling for their goods, it was a modern art of canvas with rainbow of colors.

While other were in tourist/photographer mode, seeing the Bangkok cuisine unfolding in front of  my pallet , I inadvertently went into foodie mode. (and still managed sans bangkok-belly 😉

Anticlockwise, Fruit seller,Sticky rice with mango,sweet coconut,Psidium guajava, best Guava I ever had,Making of som-tam,Som tam (green papaya salad).

And since I lost appetite for words so let the pics do the writing. 🙂

Bangkok

At tiger temple

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View from Bridge over river Kwai

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Day 2 :

Royal Palace, Bangkok

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I continued the rendezvous with Bangkok’s street food. It was a utter delight to both eyes and taste buds.

Here chicken pad thai (thai noodles), various fruit juices , bbq banana and cha-yen (thai iced tea)
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And last but not the least, , leaving Thailand sans thai massage would have been crie. consequently a bone crushing ‘wat-pho’ massage.

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