Wednesday, 30 May 2012

2nd birthday in sandland...

taking a break from travel blogging (ok, i know i've been lazy. will find the mood to continue with my turkey trip soon! hehe), i guess i need to record down this annual event of my life lar: my birthday. last year was nothing special, just an ordinary weekend in my ordinary life. this year, i'd LOVE to say that it was very special, but hehe... it's quite ordinary as well :P

the greetings started coming in at the stroke of midnight, or rather, at the stroke of midnight m'sian time! so touched that my buddies and friends remembered, especially since i've removed my birthday from facebook :")

anyway, had a mini meltdown for a while, right after i sent an sms to my mom to thank her for everything. another year away from my family and loved ones! but all is good, so pulled myself up, regrouped, and went about the rest of my day as per normal.

as it was a working day, my colleagues prepared a cake for me. it's actually quite standard lar, as we have a departmental budget for these kinda things... but it was quite sweet just the same.

cake pic with instagram...

with my departmental colleagues... 

haha... look at that long knife! and i didn't realize my colleague was posing behind me like that! :D

the cake was so chocolaty and thick (as in consistency) that it was so difficult to cut into!

stargal: boss, what is this? *showing the photo*
boss: omygad, who is that?
stargal: boss, u're the only one wearing blue today =_='''
boss: i dunno what u're talking about. so many people wearing blue today *pointing at my other colleagues whom none of them were wearing blue*

with our director. this other colleague's birthday is this coming weekend, so we sang her a song as well... :)

well, that's another year in the bag!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

day 1: airport drama and first glimpse of istanbul

the day before my trip, i received an sms from my travel companion, lovely lily, that her flight was delayed and she might have to meet me at the airport for our departure. she was on her yearly vacation back to fiji and was supposed to arrive back in dubai one day before we're to depart for turkey. but her flight from nz-hk-dubai (there're no direct flights from fiji, and she was in nz for a visit to her cousin) was delayed due to some technical problems, so she'll only be arriving in dubai on the morning of our departure date. the problem is, our departure time for turkey was also in the morning! so i was kinda stressed out the night before, as she did not communicate to me what time she'll be arriving in dubai. i stayed up till quite late coz she said she'll give me a call when she reaches dubai and i expected her to arrive in the wee morning hours. but when she's still not called (and her phone remained off when i tried calling her) by 2am, i decided that i need to get some sleep for our morning flight! i had a fitful sleep, waking up a few times to check my phone to see if there's a missed call or an sms or if my sms to her went through.

my sms finally got thru to her when i was on my way to the airport at 6.00am, so i called her immediately. she said she's just arrived and will go to the check-in counter directly after clearing immigration. i reminded her that our flight is at 8am and the counter closes one hour before.

sitting patiently (at least TRYING to be patient!) at the check-in hall... 15 more minutes before the counters close, where the hell is she lar???

one thing you need to know about dubai airport is, the lines at the immigration are always long regardless the time of the day. even if you arrive at 2am, you'd still be standing in line for up to 1 hour! so you can all guess correctly that lovely lily didn't make it to the check-in counter in time. she only called me when i was walking along the aisle of the plane looking for my seat, that she was refused from checking-in. it's no wonder, as it was already half an hour before departure.

actually i went to the counter people and explained my friend's predicament, begging them to wait a bit longer but they said lovely lily should've gone to the transit/transfer desk, instead of going thru the immigration, which would be wasting so much time! however, by the time i conveyed this to lovely lily, it's already 1 hour after her arrival and her luggage would've been out by then. in the end, i had to fly alone to istanbul and wait for her to arrange another flight to join me there. so the moral of the story is, don't plan your flights back-to-back as there's no guarantee that things would run as expected, especially flight schedules! so much airport drama...

checked-in at our hotel in istanbul, yusuf pasa konagi, a little hotel of only 24 rooms right smack in the touristy sultanahmet area. very clean and cosy hotel, with nice and friendly staff.

the room comes with a hamam-styled bathroom (hamam = turkish bath)! who needs to go to the bathhouses when you have one right in your room? but sitting on the marble slab to scrub yourself definitely took some getting used to...

they even provided several types of handmade soap that turkey is famous for, as well as a few other amenities for your hamam needs...

as it was still quite early in the evening, i decided to venture out to get my bearings and for some familiarization...

passed by a lot of stalls and shops...

it was quite safe walking on the streets here and the people were really friendly. i was even dragged by a few shoppers into their shops to be served apple tea, and i didn't feel threatened or afraid for my life or worried i'd get conned into buying their carpets/ceramic wares/knick-knacks etc. they just loved visitors and it's just their way of showing us the turkish hospitality, at the same time explaining to us about their trade. of course, it'll be nice if we bought something but if we didn't buy anything, that's ok too!

following the direction and map given to me by the hotel concierge, i made my way to the sultanahmet camii, or blue mosque. didn't go in tho', as i would be having my official tour with a guide the next day. anyway, as i found out from my guide the next day, when turkey was a monarchy previously, the sultan used to go to the mosque on horseback. but even tho' he's the sultan, he would still need to show humility when entering the house of god. hence these chains were placed at the entrance here and at another gate so that the sultan had to bend down (bow) when going in. now of course, turkey has no sultan anymore but these chains were left here to remind all visitors to enter with a humble heart, even tho' we don't need to bow coz we're entering on foot.

at a square next to the blue mosque, saw this candy seller. the candy is called "osmanli macunu" and the way the seller twirled it was quite interesting, tho' i didn't try coz it looked quite sweet!

met this uncle at the square too, who stood there everyday in the sun earning money from people who wanna take photos with him. luckily he didn't ask money from me for snapping this photo!

there were many street vendors at the square and as i was feeling slightly hungry, i decided to try this for 2 turkish lira (about RM4). not as tasty as it looked tho'. it's just bread sprinkled with cinnamon powder and peanuts. tasted quite bland and it's hard!

view of the blue mosque from the square...

next, i wanted to go to the hippodrome, but have no idea where it is. so i just walked about aimlessly, going up side streets, looking into shop windows, talking to friendly vendors and shop owners... basically just getting lost and whiling away the time. it's great coz i felt so safe and knew that however lost i get, i'd still be able to find my way back to the hotel.

this is their tram! very modern looking, like the metro in dubai. when i was doing my research on istanbul and read about this tram, i thought it's gonna be those old and antiquated trams, so can just imagine my surprise when i saw this! :D

there were lotsa such sidewalk cafes dotting the area... very european style!

the many sweets, desserts and food shops i passed by...

i even wandered into a little cemetery! lol...

freshly squeezed pomegranate + grape fruit juice seemed to be very popular here, as you can see a lot of vendors and shops selling them...

after awhile, walking along the street going nowhere in particular, i found myself in the fatih district, right in front of the famous grand bazaar! didn't take any photos, but basically it's just a big covered building with lotsa stalls inside (5,000 stalls according to their website!), selling stuff like spices, earthenware, ceramics, tea, turkish delight, baklava, soaps, jewelleries, carpets, souvenirs etc etc. after awhile, all the streets looked the same and selling the same stuff, that i just wanted to get out of there! also, my feet were beginning to ache, so since i've no desire to buy anything (as it's just my first day here and i'd be flying off to other parts of turkey for the rest of my vacation and didn't wish to lug so much shopping with me), i just looked for an exit and made my way slowly back to the hotel.

april is the tulip season in istanbul that they're dubbed as the 2nd holland. so many colourful tulips around, in the park, gardens, roadside etc.

it was already quite late when i got out from the grand bazaar but as they're on daylight saving, the sky was still bright. this pic was taken at around 8.15pm...

coming from the other side of the street, i finally found the hippodrome! it's actually just right at the back of the blue mosque! 

there's not much that remained from the hippodrome of the constantinople, only 2 obelisks and a half-broken serpent column. originally, this hippodrome was where the chariot race took place, and it's the only place and time where the common people get to see their (roman) emperor once a year.

photo of the ruins of hippodrome from the late 15th century, copied from wikipedia. today, the structures surrounding the racetrack and the many columns in the middle were gone.

on the way back to the hotel, i stopped at an outdoor restaurant for dinner. here's my chicken kebab and apple tea. quite yummy, tho' the chili was so charred! :D

the apple tea that i kept getting served. i must've drank half a gallon of these! but they were quite nice, tho' a bit too sweet for my palate. at the end of day 1, i learnt to ask them to hold the sugar and just place a lump on the saucer in case they come unsweetened.

the restaurant had a stage for the whirling dervish performance. i find that they whirled a bit slower compared to those "carpet dance" we have in dubai... they seemed almost like in a trance! and unlike those in dubai where the dancer wears layers upon layers of cloth on them (hence the "carpet" reference! :P) and will take them off, put them on again and also make them into various shapes and sizes, these whirling dervish dancers just go round and round and round...

it was about 10.30pm when i got back to the hotel, so after an awkward self-hamam bath and a short check-in on facebook (free wi-fi, woo-hoo!), i decided i better retire early for the next day's tour. stay tuned!

*more photos on my facebook, for those who're in my friends list :)