Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Celebrating 90 Years of Independence - Turkey - Istanbul

I have a little confession to make.  I have a new city crush, and I've fallen a little bit (madly) in love... with the awe inspiring Istanbul.

Today on the 29th October 2013, Turkey celebrates 90 years of independence, and this, is my little tribute :)

It all started when I turned up at Atatürk airport in late June with my 180 / 90 day visa and loved it so much I then returned in October to divulge some more (well, it would be rude to waste that visa!).

Few can deny it's buildings are majestic, it's history vast, it's culture diverse and it's people so friendly and welcoming. The atmosphere is almost magical. Istanbul is the only city in the world to be built on 2 continents and has close to 20 million inhabitants (growing by approximately 400,000 each year). If I'm going to be honest here, I am tempted to add to that number!

I didn't quite know what to expect when I arrived that day, least of all that I would fall helplessly in love with it. From the small cobbled streets, to the magnificent mosques, to the mighty Bosphorus river, it is utterly breathtaking. My favourite past time was sitting outside a cafe or restaurant, drinking wine or tea, and just looking around. Everything amazed me. And don't get me started on the food!

Mums and dads drinking tea with the kids, a can of coke in each hand, chatting away. A mother and daughter sat playing card games. Several friends chatting and catching up. From the lively cafes off Istiklal street to the more upmarket restaurants of Sultanahmet, every corner of Istanbul took my breath away. From the Blue Mosque to the Grand Bazaar, small colonial esque wooden houses in need of repair sat next to modern restored buildings.

Then at night you change again. Minarets, domes, spires and lamps, all glowing on the horizon, as far as the eye can see. It serves merely to add to your mysticism. I have seen so much yet I know I have barely scratched your surface. I need more.

Istanbul - You are amazing.  I can only count the days until we meet again. Perhaps this is a little love letter to you (shh, don't tell anyone. I'd hate to ruin this hard exterior I have put on for the last 30 years, showing affection generally isn't my thing ), but then again, you would know all about love letters wouldn't you? Your museum has housed the oldest one of all, the Sumerian letter.

So, until we meet again...

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A weekend in Prague

So, my mum came to visit me for a weekend in Prague. For most people this means taking them to see Prague Castle, Charles Bridge etc, but not for me! You see, my mum has been to Prague countless times so I needed to be a little more inventive. So, what did we do?


Troja is a beautiful part of Prague, nestled in the hills to the North West and easily accessible by taking the Metro to Nádraží Holešovice then a bus to Troja. So what's there? Firstly, Prague Zoo. It's a lovely day out, I recommend it to anyone of any age, I wouldn't say it's just for children. However we went there last year, so this year I decided we would go to Troja Palace (Trojsky Zamek). It is mostly the work of French architect Jean Baptiste, built for the Count of Sternberg in 1679, although rarely used as a residence and it now owned by the Czech State. The sculptures nestled in the grand staircase behind, the work of 2 
sculptors from Dresden, represent the fight between the Gods and the giants.
Next on the list was the botanical gardens (botanická zahrada), situated opposite the palace. There are many different collections of plants on display, including the popular Japanese, Mediterranean and Turkish collections. However, the centrepiece of the gardens is without doubt St. Claire's Vineyard. It features a small chapel built by Count Vaclav Vojtech Sternberk, who also built the Palace. The vineyard was most likely established during the reign of King Vaclav II, in the 13th century and is now protected as National Heritage. The vineyard contains a wide variety of vines coupled with a south facing slope that allows for a full days access to the sun producing an excellent quality of wine. This Southerly direction also allows for a beautiful view over Prague. It really is a place to while away the afternoon in the late summer sun. 

As the sun begins to set, its time to walk over the river and through Stromovka park to end a wonderful day.


Situated in the Beroun district, around 30 km from Prague lies a small village with a large castle (Hrad Karlštejn) at the top of the hill. Work on the castle began in 1348 by the order of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor-elect and King of Bohemia with an unknown architect but wasn't completed until 20 years later finishing with the consecration of the chapel situated in the great tower. The castle has house the Imperial Regalia as well as the crown jewels, holy relics and other royal treasures intermittently since this time. Interestingly, the well tower was  the first part of the castle to be built and was a vital function the castle could not do without. After miners from nearby Kutna Hora, no water was found even after excavating down to 70 metres, well below the level of the nearby Berounka river therefore an underground channel provided enough water for several months supply, after which the reservoir had to be manually refilled by opening a floodgate. Given it's weakness of having no independent water supply, the channel remained a secret known only to the emperor himself and the burgrave. The only other persons aware of it's existence were the miners, who were allegedly all murdered upon their completion of the castle. The village was founded around the same time and given the same name. The walk up to the top takes around 30 minutes and may not be for the faint of heart. If so, you can always take a horse and carriage up there! There are however lots of shops, cafes, restaurants and the like on the way up so be sure not have a look around.

One thing I would like to add at this point is when we were in Smichov train station back in Prague, this is what greeted us!!!!!: 

And finally, here is a picture of me and my mam sat in a cafe after a long weekend :)