Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cappadocia- A different world in itself

I would say your trip to Turkey can’t be complete if you don’t visit Cappadocia. It will be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. The landscape of Cappadocia doesn’t look like it is a part of this Earth. It looks like a mysterious place with unique geological and historical features with many underground cities to unravel.

The tour guide picked us up from Kayseri airport and straight away took us to unravel the mysteries surrounding us. Our first stop was the Devrent Valley, also known as the Imaginary Valley due to its resemblance to the lunar landscape. Gazing upon the Devrent Valley we were confronted with overwhelming natural beauty with no civilization for miles. The extraordinary landscape is an archeological wonder filled with fairy chimneys, rock pillars, amazing volcanic structures and unique rock formations.

From Devrent Valley we headed to Zelve Open Air Museum. Until as recent as 40 to 50 years back the houses carved in the rocks had been a part of a cave town bustling with cave dwellers living in a honeycombed fashion. The Christians and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony. You can still see the Cave Churches and the Cave Mosques. The inhabitants had to ultimately move out due to the dangerous risk of erosion and had to finally settle in modern villages. It is extremely hard to imagine that people chose to stay there for such a long time without any electricity or technology. I am no one to judge but really have respect for those who stayed there since they valued their fellowship more than the comforts of materialistic world. I can certainly say that they were richer than us in every way for they spent quality time with their friends and family without any modern day distractions of phones, television or other gadgets that sidetrack us from our own people. Although now a ghost town it takes 2 hours to walk through the valley to see the entire place. I would encourage everyone to take a walk through the valley and go through the cave tunnels and houses in which once a civilization thrived and flourished. The government is trying to restore the place since the erosion continues to take place.

Later we went to Pasabaglari also known as the Monks Valley to see the three headed fairy chimneys. From the beautiful fairy chimneys we went to Avanos where we saw pottery demonstration and I got to try my hands on the potter’s wheels. It was my first experience and I did manage to make a pot. After a hard day’s labour our tummies were rumbling and we were taken by our travel guide to a beautiful restaurant by the side of a lake where the ducks were swimming and we were relishing the view coupled with the scrumptious Turkish cuisine. 

Later we headed to Uchisar rock castle. This perforated rock castle has many interconnecting rooms and staircases, tunnels and passages. It is said that a 1000 people could stay in it at one time. One thing is certain that seeing these places makes you wonder if you are on another planet. Even whilst we were planning the trip I had already decided to stay in one of the original rock castles. A word of caution - there are many hotels which claim to be rock castles but are not originals and have been created only for the purpose of tourism. So after a lot of research and asking I finally found an authentic rock castle with fairy chimneys as well. I really wanted to stay in a fairy chimney but only a couple can stay there and not a family of 4 coz they are tiny rooms. Of course the rooms had been modified to help the tourists stay more comfortably but I was happy to see that our bedroom was one of the original rock caves where people lived. So after an overload of sightseeing and an early dinner we retired to our rooms for the night so that we could be fresh in the morning to unravel the strange land that we were in.

The morning welcomed us with breakfast under the open sky surrounded by the extra-terrestrial landscape. Gagan and Shweta had got up very early in the morning to go for the hot air balloon ride which I feel is compulsory; however we backed off due to our small lil kids. Our first stop for the day was the famous Kaymakli underground city which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the largest, organized and structured underground cities with 8 stories under the ground out of which only 4 are open to the tourists. In its hay days 5000 people could easily live there. The whole tour takes about 2 hours so put on your comfortable walking shoes and be ready to bend and crawl through the small corridors.

From there we made a short stop at an old Greek town called Mustafapsa which became part of Turkey after the Greco-Turkish war. After crossing the town we went to Taskinpasa Medresesi an Ottoman theological school. Later we headed to Keslik monastery which has beautiful frescos dating back to a 1000 years. It is a must visit place even if you are not an art lover. After the Keslik Monastery our guide took us to Cemil - a Greek orthodox church.

Later we went to another UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited tourist place - The Gerome Open Air Museum. The museum has rock cut 1000 year old churches, frescos and monasteries. After spending about 2 hours we headed to Esentepe for the magnificent panoramic view of the Gerome Valley. The beautiful trees covered with evil eye makes the place look even more splendid. With this we concluded our stay in Cappadocia and were ready to take our flight to Izmer the next day.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What a journey to Istanbul!

So we were really excited about our trip to Turkey since this was going to be our first trip with my brother in law Gagan and his wife Shweta. All the planning was done, internal flight tickets bought, dates set, VISA in place, hotel bookings and tours decided. Everything perfectly planned to a T and we were ready to rock. However, I have always seen that there is always something that will make us sweat and our heart race…

So we were supposed to board our flight on Saturday. Aakaash has this awful habit of never knowing what time the flight will take off even when we are travelling to the airport he won’t know the exact time till I ask or we reach the airport and he finally has to take out the tickets and he is always in charge of the flight tickets, other than that I take care of all the planning and bookings. So we were all set to fly on Saturday night.

Whenever leaving for a vacation a lot of things need to be planned beforehand about the house, the maid, packing etc. I still remember it was Thursday late night and suddenly a friend from Australia was online and we rarely talked due to the time difference and by being sucked into busy lives. Sometimes things work in mysterious ways and it just so happened that out of the blue she started chatting with me and asked me about our trip and that how many days we were leaving for and when were we flying out? Suddenly while telling her I started calculating our days and something did not seem right.

All of a sudden I got a jolt and realized when I asked Aakaash for the tickets that we were travelling at 1:30 am on Saturday which meant that we were supposed to leave the very next day, Friday night and not Saturday night. We were relaxed that we had another 2 days to pack so we hadn’t put things together. Suddenly we were in a rush and packed all our stuff as we were leaving the very next day. I am still grateful that I did speak with my friend else we would have left on Saturday night; only to realize that our flight had already left the previous night.

Oh you think our escapade was over… not even close. So the next morning I got up and informed my nanny and steward to help me wrap up the kitchen and put together the kids clothes for packing. We were ready to leave and in Lagos the problem is that irrespective of the flight we need to reach the airport during day light due to security reasons. So even though the flight was at 1:30am we had to leave by 4pm. We got into our bus with the police escort and reached the airport; excited we went straight to the check in counter only to find out that we weren’t allowed to travel. No one can imagine the shock on our face. Our only question to them was WHY? They said your VISA is applicable from tomorrow……

We begged them and asked them to call the Turkish authorities in Istanbul and tell them that our flight was reaching after 10 pm and that we would wait those 2 hours in the airport and leave only at 12am so that we could show them our valid VISA. Our hotel booking was confirmed and paid for. We were supposed to stay in Istanbul for 3 days and then take our flights together with Gagan and Shweta to Capadoccia. The immigration authorities from Istanbul declined our plea. (PS – We always check till when our VISA is valid, I would recommend checking from when it is stamped- very important). To add to our miseries there was no flight the next day. So we had to wait 2 days before taking our flight. So immediately we called up our hotel and informed them about our problem and got that sorted out. Called my maids and told them to be at work tomorrow and of course they were disappointed but not as much as we were.

So 2 nights later we were back in the airport hoping and praying that nothing else goes wrong - with crossed fingers we boarded our plane. Finally we landed in Istanbul the 3rd largest city in the world and if I am not wrong the only country which is in Europe as well as Asia. In the morning we reached Istanbul and checked into our hotel. I would say we still managed to save our holiday from getting ruined. Had we missed our internal flights we really would have been in a pickle. Later that day Gagan & Shweta were also arriving from London and our flight to Cappadocia was the next day early morning.

To my surprise the location of our hotel couldn't have been better. It was right in the heart of the city, a mere 2 minutes’ walk from the main attraction Hagia Sophia. We decided not to waste a moment and headed straight for the iconic Hagia Sophia which was originally a church subsequently turned into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire and now is a museum. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most unique part I found was that this place is shared by Christian and Muslims in harmony and is a secular building honouring both religions. There is Allah and Jesus in the same premises.

We met up with Gagan and Shweta and the reunion was amazing since I was meeting Shweta after her wedding for the first time. After our pleasantries we headed straight for Blue Mosque also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Barack Obama has also visited that mosque.. Lol.. Wonder why I said it but so be it!!! I don’t think I have seen a more beautiful mosque than that.

Later we decided to visit The Grand Bazaar - the largest covered market in the world with over 3000 shops. It is definitely a must visit place for all tourists. I bought a Turkish tea set for us and our families after the salesman demonstrated the durability of the fine cut glass by literally standing on it and nothing happened to the dainty looking glass; although I have never had the courage to try it on my tea cups. Later we decided to try the Turkish cuisine and retired early to bed since we had a 6 am flight to the splendid city of Cappadocia.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Amsterdam – Say Cheese

After coming back from Belgium we didn't have much to do so we soaked in the city and chilled in the evening at the City Centre. One thing I have to mention, we discovered this amazing chain of Chinese food called Walk to Wok and became permanent customers of it. So anyone travelling there must try their take away in the paper carton.

The next day we left for Alkmaar cheese market; although there are other cheese markets also but this is undoubtedly the mother of all. Even though Aakaash was just not interested in going and went just on my insistence, he came to like and enjoy the place more than me.  The market opens on every Friday at 10 am at the Waagplein also known as the weighing square and is a must see. The cheese has been traded in this square since 1365. People are all dressed in the traditional costumes of Holland wearing the traditional Dutch wooden shoes. The bell ringing at 10 am is the sign to start the market. There was a sea of people and we slowly crawled our way towards the front to have a better view and click pictures. The cheese carriers are the only ones allowed in the market. They carry cheese on wooden racks hung across their shoulder and a barricade separates the whole market from the tourist spectators. The kids were called in and traded their cheese.  Aan even managed to get a ride in the cheese selling cart. Aan had an amazing time being carried around in the hand carriages meant to carry the cheese. Later Aan and Aananya had a blast getting weighed on the huge cheese scales and got certificate of weight as souvenirs.

Aakaash was not far behind, although it was impossible for anyone to carry him around, he decided to do some weight lifting and carried  the block of cheese using the hand carriages.FYI each block of cheese is 9kgs so it is not an easy task to carry 8 blocks of cheese around. The market presents itself as a great spectacle with no active participation from the tourists; I think we were really lucky that we could play a small part in all the hustle and bustle that was going on. The medieval square is surrounded by loads of souvenir shops and local food stall. All in all I would say that Alkmaar is a must visit place and there are loads of other things that you can do there.

From there we took the train to see the famous traditional windmills of Amsterdam. Your trip will not be complete if you haven’t seen the iconic traditional windmills of Netherlands and indeed the view was spectacular. On our way back I realized we hadn't seen the famous 2 meter tall, red I AMSTERDAM sign, so we headed towards that and got our clicks in, around and on top of the slogan. We had a great time and although we were not ready to say bye we took our last stroll in the beautiful city with canals.

This was our last night in Amsterdam and the place is infamously famous for drugs and prostitution. Of course we weren't to do any of that but were inquisitive to see the so popularized red light district. So we decided to take a walk on the street. It was really odd to see the ladies in a box like cabin with red lights on and trying to entice customers. Felt bad but then life is not a bed of roses and people need to do what they need to do to survive. Anyway, we had an excellent trip and for the very first time we covered 4 countries at one go, gathered all the memories and were ready to head back home.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Belgium & Luxemburg - 2 countries in 2 days!!!

As soon as we reached Brussels by train, we just dumped our luggage in the hotel and headed straight to Atomium. The building is shaped like an atom and indeed has an amazing structure. From the top sphere you can see the panoramic view of Brussels.  

Later we headed towards the famous landmark of Brussels - The Manneken Pis. After stuffing ourselves with waffles buried in cream and strawberries we walked towards the Grand Place. It has been voted as the most beautiful central square of Brussels and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After taking our perfect shots we headed back to our hotel.

The next day we travelled to Luxemburg by train and in so many days for the first time we had a sunny day. The most unique thing about Luxemburg was the dramatic landscape wherein a valley runs through the center of the city. We saw the Pont Adolphe Bridge which was built in 1900 and is the largest stone arch in the world. Luxemburg is a very small country and there is not a lot to see, so we took a toy train which gave us a tour of the place. We made the most of the little time we were there and later that evening we went back to Belgium and were ready to take our train back to Amsterdam the next day.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amsterdam- The city that never sleeps

What comes to your mind when you think of Amsterdam? There is a hell lot more to it than what you are thinking!!!!

Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of Netherlands. By the time we reached Amsterdam, the day had already passed so we decided to stroll around a little and retire for the night. The next day we had planned our trip for Rotterdam which is a 45 minute train ride from Amsterdam. Rotterdam is the second largest city of Netherlands and once we reached Rotterdam, we straight went for the splash tour. The speciality about this tour is it takes you around Rotterdam on land as well as on water without you having to leave the vehicle. You can feel excitement fill the bus when it splashes into the water and becomes a boat. What is amazing about this vehicle is that it has a bus as well as a ship license so the bus driver is the Captain too. This amphibian tour takes you through entire Rotterdam. On our trip we also saw Euromast, the tallest building in Netherlands. The splash tour was a new experience and that’s what made our day!

Later we headed to the place for which I had dragged everyone to Rotterdam...... The Cubic House. These houses are made in the shape of a cube. The amazing architecture does make you think of the architect who designed this unique piece of work. To our surprise it is a residential complex and they have left a few apartments empty to showcase the bizarre houses and it was really fun seeing this place in real instead of the pictures that I had been carrying for 4 years.

The next day we were ready to leave for Madurodam. It has one of the largest miniature cities in the world and it was amazing. They have built the main attractions of Holland and put it all together in a large garden. It was a spectacular scene and kids had a blast running around with us being so much taller than the buildings, we felt as if we were in Lilliput land. The interactive exhibits and the minute details in models were amazing. We have always been ready for everything thing but what we didn't expect was for it to rain every single day of our vacation. From the day we set our foot in Paris it had been pouring every single day but it sure didn't dampen our spirits. The next day we were ready to leave via train for Brussels.