Istanbul is always a good idea

I dedicated a post to the Hagia Sophia and Blue mosque and I still can’t do it justice.. However, I did spend a few more days in Istanbul. The constant beating of the wave of the East against the rock of the west. The Dolmabahçe Palace dominates around half a kilometre of the Bosphorus shorelines. With over 280 rooms and about 5-6 turkish baths, this beauty was constructed in 1843 and is an extravagant mystery. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take pictures inside the building but you are more than welcome to stroll through the gardens and check out the interior.

You need to also visit the Topkapi Palace which was home to the Ottoman Sultans for almost four decades. The Palace boasts high walls and four courtyards and now serves as a museum.

Visit the courtyards and the harem which was once the quarters of the Sultan’s family which shows you a mix of many architectural styles.

The street side shops and the grand bazaar is just great! One of the largest and oldest markets in the world, with bustling shops and happy hagglers. From coffee sets to evil eyes, to some of the finest turkish sweets, this colourful and chaotic bazaar adds poetic charm to the city of Istanbul.

Oooh and the best sweets? Hazer Baba’s Turkish Delights in the Bazaar. You can mix and match, they even vacuum pack it for you!

If you prefer a sit-down kind of sweet shop, then head to Hafiz Mustafa . They have been around since 1864 and it’s a quaint but VERY busy store with locals. You can opt for the turkish tea along with a platter of sweets and the Baklava is just out of this world!

So there you have it. A part of Istanbul. Next up :  The whirling Dervishes, dinner and lunch spots and cruises.

Exploring Istanbul – Hagia Sophia

Alphonse De Lamartine – The famous writer and poet once said that “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul”. How very true. Istanbul modestly boasts beauty everywhere. Istanbul boasts some of the best food in the world. Istanbul boasts majestic palaces overlooking the vast Bosphorus and Istanbul boasts mesmerising history, culture and heritage.    Needless to say, wandering in Istanbul was just amazing!

Almost there!

We started our morning by visiting the “Holy Wisdom” – Hagia Sophia. Previously a Church constructed in 537 , an Orthodox Basilica which was then a mosque somewhere in 1453.

Gorgeous mosaics

An architectural landmark in the heart of the city and now a museum, the Hagia Sophia is the perfect place to observe both the Byzantium and Ottoman effects all under one roof. The Christian mosaics and the black and gold calligraphy discs honours both religions in the most beautiful way.

Beautiful Hagia Sophia

During the period where this was a mosque, they not only ensured all the Christian paintings were in tact by plastering carefully over it, but when it was finally converted to a museum, the unearthing of these paintings resulted in both religions standing side by side – a depiction of harmony (something we sadly lack in this day and age).

Covered in multi coloured marble, the walls and ceiling are spectacular as you try to take this all in (while frantically clicking and capturing every single angle from your Phone or camera),  the 100+ columns that lead you to the first floor shares decorative creations of the Byzantine Empire.

The stunning Hagia Sophia

Listen to the stories unfolding around you as various tour guides share the mysteries and secrets housed within these walls. A peek over the wooden framed windows also give you a glimpse of the blue domes.

A peek from the first floor

Needless to say, if ever you are in Istanbul, you really must spend a solid hour or more at the Hagia Sophia.

  • A ticket is priced at 40 TL (10 USD)
  • Your attire doesn’t really matter since it’s a museum and not a religious place of worship
  • A guided tour gives you all the information you need to know. If you cannot afford a guided tour – eavesdropping on other tour groups also works well!
  • Once you reach the first floor, don’t forget to take a picture right towards the middle which gives you panoramic views.
  • A few repairs are currently underway but you are certainly not marred by this.
Hagia Sophia

Günaydın Istanbul and Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn!

Turkey has been on my bucket list for a few reasons and Istanbul has always been a “must visit” because of the Hagia Sophia and the beautiful blue mosque. So 2017 was about crossing something off my bucket list (since marriage and babies- well, clearly nowhere in sight!)

Stunning views

After a 9-10 hour flight all we needed was a good snooze. The taxi ride from the airport cost us around 130 TL (25-27 pounds ) and nearly our lives (and I thought Sri Lankan tuk tuk rides were bad!). It was quite exhausting since he didn’t speak English and the only Turkish word I was aware of was “chicken” – not really helpful. After a 45 minute drive of honking, arm waving and conversations we just didn’t comprehend, we arrived at the Hotel.

Personalised touch

On arrival we were greeted by the extremely friendly staff who were so genuinely helpful. Along with an upgrade, we checked into a lovely room on the fifth floor overlooking the picturesque city and stunning waterfront views. A personalised message from the General Manager, a bottle of Turkish wine (another must try by the way!) and some chocolates and Turkish delights hit the spot.

All day dining

The Mövenpick Istanbul Golden Horn is perfectly located with an amazing spa, an All day dining that serves up the finest Mövenpick breakfasts and the sky dome – all the way on the tenth floor with views, drinks and dinner.

Amazing food

The breakfast buffet offers a wide spread of both local and international cuisine. From Lentil soup, salads and olive stations to fresh pastries, yogurts, an egg station and plenty of Turkish cheeses and fresh juices. We were also offered some lovely banana and chocolate pancakes with Mövenpick ice cream – an absolute treat! (I clearly remember telling myself that I will be visiting the gym shortly after. I did visit the gym “area” also known as the Spa!)

Pancakes and ice cream

The Spa offers various treatments and we opted for the Swedish massages. The massage was not aggressive and very relaxing with a soothing oil, which lasted around 55 minutes. Thereafter the “package” offers a Turkish bath. This was a first time experience for both my friend and definitely something you must try when in Turkey! We walked into the “Hamam” and relaxed for around 10-15 minutes. At this point I was glad it was just the two of us since I wasn’t quite sure how fun and insanely awkward communal bathing can be and I wasn’t ready to find out as yet..

Spa room

Fifteen minutes later both our therapists walked in singing some Turkish tunes, and began bathing us. (It was also the first time someone not only bathed me but serenaded me at the same time!) With a vigorous bubble massage that leaves you feeling absolutely refreshed they then allow you to relax a little more.

Turkish bath

The food – We experienced both the all day dining and the sky dome for dinner on two occasions. The view from the tenth floor is stunning and the food splendid. Between the two of us, we tried the cheese platter, the pita and kebab, beef and Turkish sausage pizza and the red and white Turkish wines. Comfortable rooms, gorgeous views, good food and coffee – nothing quite like a hotel that ticks all your boxes especially when you get back after an exhausting tour or sightseeing in town.

Skydome wine and dinner

The overall experience was truly Mövenpick – we certainly made memories and I’m quite sure I’m well scrubbed for the next few days!

Outside the Mövenpick Golden Horn

 

 

Netherlands – Keukenhof

The most beautiful spring garden in the world – Damn right! When we planned our trip to the Netherlands, the Tulip fields were definitely on the bucket list. Given that it’s open just 8 weeks every year, we were lucky enough to spend an entire day at Keukenhof!

Tulip fields

I actually did not know that there were over 3000 varieties of tulips, and sure as hell did not know that it originated somewhere near Turkey..

Yet somehow the Netherlands rule hands down with a marvellous variety of tulips spanning over 30+ hectares ! I’m not even pollen your leg… (Geddit?)

A full day is ideal to enjoy the tulip fields. Known as the largest flower garden in the world, the place comes alive once every year for a few weeks with working windmills, stunning flower beds and Instagram worthy clicks every step of the way.

So.Many.Tulips

Bloomin’ heck!

You can even purchase the bulbs (which we did, but didn’t really work out in Sri Lanka where the temperature reaches 30* degrees ! It probably deep fried the bulb I planted…

During our visit, the Tulip fields were around 80% in bloom and even the indoor flower exhibitions were lively and crowded.

Don’t forget to book your ticket early, visit during the end of April if you want to see the Tulips in full bloom and carry a map of the gardens with you. It’s far too large and you are bound to get lost, (You wouldn’t mind it though since it’s such a breathtaking place to lose yourself), but if you want to cover some good ground, then a map is necessary. (Or if you are directionally challenged like I am!)

The Darwin Hybrid tulips were one of my favourites with its pyramid shaped blooms. You really can’t explain how magnificent these tulip fields are.. Just visit and make sure you bring home a souvenir and kudos if you actually grow it!

I would plan ahead and go along with a tour company to Keukenhof. It’s around 40-45 minutes from Amsterdam, they drop you right at the entrance and allow you ample time to stroll the tulip fields as well as drop you back in the City Centre. I found this to be rather convenient. We booked ours via www,getyourguide.com and it was very professional and well timed.

So get ready to spend an entire day or a good half day since it’s well worth it!

The Venice of Holland – Giethoorn

Netherlands surprised me in many ways. My perception of Holland has always been one of parties, craziness and of course parties. My favourite place however was the car-free (AND care free) village of Giethoorn. Somewhat a subdued topic of conversation with Amsterdam constantly stealing the limelight. With my fatigued liver needing a well deserved rest, Giethoorn was a healthy visit!

Cottage homes of Giethoorn

Imagine a place with no roads but with canals, canoes and beautiful flowers.. It really is a breathtaking city. With sunshine to boost our Sunday morning, this is the ideal place to immerse yourself in some peaceful thoughts, aimless wandering and relaxed boat rides. Boat hires are ample here and a 1.5 cruise gives you to time to absorb this gorgeous place and you sometimes wonder if it’s real..

Quaintest thatched roof cottages

With just 2500+ residents occupying Giethoorn, this beautiful village is located in the northwestern province Overijssel, in the central part of the Netherlands. A two hour drive from Amsterdam and spending an entire day here is absolutely worth it. The residents use canoes to get around or motor boats.

The narrow and peaceful canals

We opted for the 1.5 boat cruise that takes you along the quiet canals with an occasional chirp or quack. Many of the quaint yet beautiful houses cannot be reached by road and along the waters you catch a glimpse of the residents sun bathing or just relaxing with a beer.

Just couldn’t get enough of this view

Imagine a city with boats and punters to get around. A village free of pollution boasting four miles of canals. It’s something out of a story book and the opportunity to actually be there- worth it.

Once the boat ride reluctantly came to an end, we discovered a small cafe by the picturesque and tranquil waters that served up some lovely salads and fresh fish.

The people are laid back, polite and extremely hospitable. If ever you’re in the Netherlands, Giethoorn is a must visit and you will certainly not regret it!

From Amsterdam : Driving is a good option and we did drive via Schokland which was an interesting visit as well. You can also hop a train that will get you to Giethoorn in 1.5-1.45 minutes for around 20 Euros.

Rent a boat – Drink some beer – Enjoy some fresh fish and just chill out.