Saturday, June 26, 2010

Last night I was sitting at my work desk and it seemed like a full moon outside ( almost).....from my 22nd floor glass window could see was the moon spreading its warmth and the many twinkling lights of Gurgaon night the Millenium City looks beautiful. In the distance the last metro rolled in. Felt contented...had managed to salvage my pix and had uploaded all 500 of them!!

And soon after I went to sleep, I woke up the sound of falling rain. What could be more welcoming right now?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

My first visit to Istanbul

Not having heard from most of you I can safely presume that most of you did not venture into the mail I wrote last about my last days in Europe!! Only three people responded. I know I defy all logic of emails and short mails with my long epistles, but then that's me. My snail mail letters were as long. Now only the keyboard has replaced the pen. Otherwise, for me nothing has changed. Well, for those who are interested and even for those who are not, indulge me in my passion for travelling and desire to share my experiences with my friends.

So from where we left off, hobbling into Istanbul we arrived there on the evening of October 6th. The hotel had sent a taxi and we bundled our 72 kgs of luggage, two umbrellas and a walking stick into it before entering ourselves. Inside were two other travellers one of whom turned out to be the high school teacher of Steve Waugh. It was fun discussing cricket scene with him esp in the light of England recently winning the Ashes and Greg Chappel having lambasted Dada Saurav.

Our hotel turned out to be sweet room, which was small but not one of those ones which finishes even before you enter the room. We stayed in the HEART of the old city and a two minute walk from our hotel brought us to Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia and all the fun kebab joints. Great atmosphere folks. Istanbul, esp during Ramadan, is highly recommended. The skyline is awesome and you see minarets all around. The mosques are beautiful. The feel is not 'muslim' as a lot of us would like to think. Yes, there is tradition, there is an old heritage and indeed a conservative society exists but the atmosphere in the European side is very very cosmopolitan. Houses are small, there is traffic, there are loads of people, women almost always in a robe and with their heads covered but the city is ALIVE, full of young people and those who are not physically young, are young at heart.

We traversed the European side many times in great detail, at all times of day and night and each experience left me amazed - and that is an understatement. By day we did the touristy bits and believe you me, there is a lot to see. By night we did the studenty stuff which was rocking courtesy two fun and cool gentlemen, Aakash and Aditya (friends of my nephew, Siddharth who himself is really cool). With them we went to areas, restaurants, pubs which only the locals would have knowledge of. Tops on the list was Nargile (hookah or sheesha as it is otherwise called) with the local aloo parantha, stuffed jacket potatoes, stuffed mussels and great kebabs. I fell in love with the different flavours of tea and also the glasses in which it is served. The beer bars at Galatasarai and Taksim area were heady, to say the least, and in one case we were politely hinted at to leave at some 3am. The bar owners started switching off the lights!!

Lunch one day was at a Turkish restaurant overlooking the bay and the Golden Horn with a mosque looming large. We were floored by the smells at the Spice Bazaar. Man, what spices, what dry fruits, what colours, what tastes. For me that was one experience of 'jannat'. The Grand Bazaar though grand was difficult to spend too much time at. Too many good things, too much colour, too much light - tired me after a point. But the Bosphorus was ......I don't know.. I am running short of adjectives and superlatives. One whole night till about 3am again or was it later was spent near the water front in the area of Ortokoy. The new brige connecting Asia and Europe called for a drive so we boarded the local minibus called dolmus to go from Europe to Asia and then back to Europe. The suspension bridge could beat any bridge in the world hollow.

The Bosphorus cruise was the final scene of the amazing stay and we cruised through Europe and the chalet type wooden houses of the Asian side. Istanbul was one of the best cities I have seen and Aakash and Aditya made it even more memorable. We laughed nonstop for hours on end, often at probably nothing, rolling over cracking silly jokes, ribbing and pulling each others' legs. It was so so nice to laugh, feel really young and silly and completely carefree. Sorry for the abrupt end but the electricity has just gone and the inverter will switch off in five minutes.....that's reality.

Bye Italy, hello Greece

Finally I am back in India with my dearest daughter who says she is a Princess! By that logic, I can call myself a queen. And if Atul wants he can be a king!!

Our last ten days after leaving Perugia were simply fantastic and I mean fantastic. After the last mail sent to you all from the Perugia desk on September 30th, I with my other friends spent part of the morning packing and doing last minute shopping (that I cannot resist, now can I even if I was on a student scholarship ?). Post lunch began the series of farewell visits. We stayed put in our room and people dropped in to say bye and many bacis (that's kisses) were exchanged. All the men want to carry on that tradition of greeting even in India! From about 5pm till 5am there were five musketeers who stayed put in my room, chatting, laughing, cracking silly jokes and playing antakshari (singing Hindi songs) if you please. After Umbria Jazz Perugia had not seen/heard an evening like this. So many passersby stoppedby at our window to enquire what was happening and went away feeling very happy for us when we said "stiamo facendo una festa" i.e., we are having a party. Luckily, no one came to complain so we rightfully assumed that we were all in tune and continued singing full blast. 5am came the taxi to take us to Rome (don't we students travel in style?). One look at our luggage, he decided to go back to get another car but thanks to our only chivalrous male friend named Darryl, we and the luggage were fitted in and off we went. 8am saw us at the airport in Roma and three of us boarded our plane to Greece.
Athens was fun tho' as a city I did not care for it much. By the time we landed, figured our way around, it was 5.30pm when we hit the hotel. Booked ourselves for a night tour of Athens which was good to establish surroundings, have a taste of ouzou, a dinner at a Greek taverna in the hip area of Plaka under the floodlit Acropolis and dance to some Greek music. Home at 1am and the next thing we knew it was 2.30 pm when we woke up. Half the day gone and breakfast missed for which we had already paid in the room rent!!! The remaining half was spent in sightseeing, visiting the Archaelogical museum, climbing up the Acropolis only to discover that winter timings had set in, hence entry to the Parthenon was closed, visiting Constitution square, seeing changing of the guards and eating at a street food joint in a student area called Monesteraki. Before sleeping we set the alarm for 7am for the following morning determined to reach the dining hall at 8am.

We were very happy to have made it by 8.20am to the breakfast tables (which closed at 9am) only to see an empty hall and empty tables. Upon enquiring ,a surly worker merely pointed to the clock which showed 9.20am and then it dawned on us three monkeys that we had forgotten to change our watches to Greek time. Again, no breakfast. Fast becoming a habit!! Went back to the Acropolis, matha teka at the Parthenon (absolutely amazing - not the way we matha tekaoed but the Parthenon!!) and then back to Plaka, Syntagma, general wandering. In the late afternoon we took a bus which drove us along the coast to the Temple of Poseidon.

Day 3 we had booked ourselves on an island cruise. The cruise was fun, the water was enchanting but the islands were disappointing. Too commercialised, too many shops. One of them, Hydra, was traffic-free hence was a little better and was what one has heard of Greek islands - all the houses in blue and white - but nothing to write home about. My friend Savita, perhaps getting a little too bored and restless, decided to have herself almost run over by a motorcyclist on the island. Hence our next port of call was to buy cold water, ice, crepe bandage and a walking stick for her as we had a flight to catch back, a night to spend in Rome, another flight to Istanbul and almost five days to spend there!!! Well, that gave Megha, companion number 3, and I another job - of porters!!! But thanks to Savita, her walking stick and our insistence to use a wheelchair at airports, we could bypass all the queues at checkins, immigrations, customs, boarding etc. It saved us a lot of time! :) October 5 saw us back at a very sweet bed and breakfast in Rome (highly recommended by us) very near the airport with airport pickup and drop and October 6 saw us saying goodbye and arriverderci to Italy - for this year at least - and boarding our flight to Istanbul.

What happened in Istanbul is a long story and a very interesting one at that so you all will have to wait for Part 2 of this edition of travel mail from the desk of Jayanti.