Well, we have been able to add two more Unesco World Heritage Sites to our list. The Douro Valley and the City of Porto. We have now visited 121 Unesco World Heritage Sites in our… More
This February we decided to spend the month of February in Porto, Portugal.
Many of you know that I like to learn the history of the places we visit. Last year we spent the month of February in Lisbon and in that blog I wrote about the history of Portugal. So, this time, I will focus on the history of Porto and the Douro area of Portugal where we will be spending our time.
The following is mainly taken from “Wikipedia”.
“History books refer to a settlement in the Porto area dating back to 4th century and Roman times. The Roman period established Porto as a strong trading partner with Lisbon and Braga. This trade came to a halt when the Muslim Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the 700’s. In the late 800’s, the Moors were expelled by a Christian warlord who took over the land from the Minho river to the Douro river. The Minho river is north of Porto in Spain and the Douro river runs east into Spain. The county of Portugal was formed at that time. In 1093 the county was transferred to the rule of Spain through a royal marriage.
Wines from the Douro region were being transported down to Porto for local consumption and for trade with England in the 1700’s. When England was at war with France, this became very important, as the English access to French wines was blocked. This is when port became very popular in England.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto spurred on the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415, Henry the Navigator, sailed from Porto to invade the Muslim ports in Morocco. After this assault, further expeditions were made down the coast of Africa.” I wrote about Henry the Navigator in my Lisbon blog last year.
As an aside, the people from Porto are often referred to as “tripeiros”. This comes from the fact that better cuts of meat were given to the sailing ships for their crew on the long exploratory voyages and the “offcuts” such as tripe were left behind for the locals….thus the name “tripeiros”. Not sure if they are still referred to this today; almost sounds derogatory.
” During the 18th and 19th centuries the city became an important industrial centre and saw its size and population increase. In 1820 the Liberal revolution started in Porto. The people demanded the return of a constitutional monarchy. Miguel of Portugal took the throne in 1828 but ruled as an absolute monarch and a civil war took place. After the abdication of the King, a liberal constitution was re-established. In 1920, the Portuguese republic was formed.”
As of 2019 the city of Porto has a population of 237,559 and metropolitan area has 2.4 million people; making it the second-largest urban area in Portugal. ” Porto is also known as Oporto as a result of linguistic mis-interpretation, as apparently when the Portuguese referred to the city of Porto, they would precede it with an article “O” meaning “the”, and foreign traders therefore assumed the actual name of the city was Oporto.” Still referred to as both names. “
The historic centre of Porto is a Unesco World Heritage Site…..another one for my list. Porto is mainly known for two things – its location along the Douro River (which has become very popular for cruises) and port. The town of Vila Nova de Gaia, which is across the river from Porto, is where vast quantities of port wine are blended and stored in the port houses.
From the “Britannia Encyclopedia”
“Porto has mild humid winters and generally fertile soils which have helped with agriculture including winter and summer cereals, vegetables, and tree crops (cork, oak and olive). Timber and its associated industries and the production of vinho verde (an effervescent wine) are also important.
A sizable proportion of the population is engaged in manufacturing, and fisheries and tourism is also important. “
We arrived in Porto on January 31st and our plane had to circle for about 1/2 hour due to rain and misty/foggy conditions. We stayed in a hotel the first night as we took possession of our apartment on February 1st. Jet lag has to be the worse and one has to keep going and get on a local schedule.
Once checked in to our hotel, we ventured out and our first task was to go to Vodafone kiosk to get a Portuguese SIM card for our cell phone. This makes the most sense when in a different country for a period of time. Still mist in the air and the atmosphere is interesting…grey and overcast. This makes for great “moody” pictures. Our hotel and apartment are both located in the historic centre of Porto. We continue to wander along the streets and find our way around some of the famous landmarks…..the University, Carmo church, Livraria Lello (famous book store) and the Clerigos Tower. We will visit all these places at a later date during our stay.
It is late afternoon and we are feeling very tired and decide to find a wine shop and somewhere to stop for a glass of wine as well, before we head back to our hotel. As we are walking down one of the streets, Robin spots some wine bottles in a shop window….oh….its a religious store…..sacramental wine. My comment is, that if we can’t find a wine shop, we can always come back here!!!!
Next door, is an actual wine shop. A great selection of local wines. A conundrum….is there a wine opener at the hotel? All the wines here have corks. I ask the young gentleman if he can open the wine for us, thinking this may be a very odd request. He doesn’t bat an eye. He takes out a corkscrew, opens the wine, puts the cork back in just enough so that we can open it, puts it in a bag and wishes us a good day.
A few more steps and we come across a lovely little shop which serves snacks and wine. We decide on one glass of wine before we get back to the hotel. We sit down and next to us is a couple from Germany enjoying a weekend away in Porto. We are always so envious of people living in Europe who can just fly for a couple of hours and be in a different country; they have so many options. We find out that he is Greek and she is Slovenian, but now live in Germany. They both spoke three languages and they told us that their daughter spoke six languages and that she had a gift in learning new languages. We feel so inadequate when it comes to languages. Although I speak French and Robin speaks a bit of Spanish; we have a long way to go when it comes to other languages. We enjoy chatting with them for about one hour and decide its time to make it back to our hotel before we fall asleep.
We simply can’t even fathom going out for dinner. We have the hotel order us a pizza and we are in bed by 7:30 pm local time……think we have been up for about 30 hours or so. I wake up about 1:00 am, read for a while but able to go back to sleep.
Our landlord meets us at the hotel at noon on Saturday and takes our suitcases and we walk about 2 blocks to the apartment. I had chosen the hotel as it was close to the apartment. My brother would say “I’m smarter than I look”. Never can figure it if this is a complement…..I think not! Oh my, love the apartment. Nice and open with lovely large windows looking into an inner courtyard, so not too noisy. We are just a block from the Sao Bento train station. Fred (our landlord) explains everything we need to know about the apartment and even advised us where to go to buy groceries; nothing near by as we are in the historic area. The apartment still needs to be cleaned, so we leave our suitcases and head off for a couple of hours. It starts raining, so we decide to take the hop on/hop off bus to pass the time and to get a quick overview of the City of Porto. Although not necessarily our favourite way to visit a City, we are here for a month, and the tour gives us a general idea of where things are located. A great way to get ones’ bearings.
After our tour, we stop for a lunch at a little local restaurant. We enjoy a glass of local port with our lunch. The prices on the menu were 1 Euro more for each dish if you ate out on the terrace; we ate inside due to the weather.
We find our way back to the apartment and Fred has left us a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine and a bottle of port…..oh my gosh! We get unpacked and decide we need to get to the grocery store before it closes, as it is late Saturday afternoon by this time. Remember we are in Europe, shops close earlier and sometimes even mid day. Also, most shops close on Sundays. We get our grocery bags, call an Uber and make it to Pingo Doce. This is a local Portuguese grocery store and we used them when we spent the month in Lisbon last year. We find everything we need, including some prepared meals. You are probably wondering why I had to name the grocery store…I just like the way it sounds….Pingo Doce! I know that ” doce” means “sweet” and I looked up “pingo” which means “drop”. Nice name for a store…Sweet Drop. There you go!
On Sunday, February 2nd, I had arranged for a three hour private walking tour of the City. We meet our guide Diana at the University campus of science and engineering at the Praca Gomes Texeira. There are many other campuses around the City, but this is the main campus. The name of the square, Praca Gomes Texeira is in honour of one of the famous professors at the University. She tells us that locals refer to this square as the “Lion Square” because of the fountain which has statues of lions on the top. She says if you ask a local where Praca Gomes Texeira is, it might take them a while to make the connection. Locals normally refer to a square based on some type of sculpture or piece of art and not by its given name. She tells us that this area is the main meeting square of the historic district.
When the locals celebrate St. John’s day ( Festa de São João do Porto) on June 23rd, the Lion Square is where the action takes place. An interesting tradition among the people of Porto during the festival, is to hit each other with soft plastic hammers. This is the most important festival of the year in Porto and dates back to the 14th century when it was a pagan ritual. I forgot to ask Diana about the plastic hammers, so needless to say, I looked this up. One of the local web sites tells me that in the early 20th century, a gentleman who owned a plastic factory, came up with the idea of introducing plastic hammers to be used as a “fun” implement when University students graduated. It eventually found its way into the St. John’s festival……I think this is called “marketing”…..right Christine! (Our daughter works in marketing!).
Diana has a bachelor’s degree in tourism and is now working on her Masters degree in sustainable tourism. She speaks six languages fluently…..yes….six! She tells us that at times she comes home and starts speaking a different language to her husband as she has been conversing in another language all day.
First a little history of Portugal, Porto and area. She tells us that Porto is the 3rd oldest city in Portugal. After the “Carnation Revolution” of 1975, when the previous military dictator Salazar was overthrown, Porto underwent cultural, social and economic changes. The city made more of an effort to preserve its monuments and historic buildings. The historic centre of Porto became a “Unesco World Heritage Site” in 1996.
Diana tells us that Porto has two symbols. One being the “Azulejos” tiles. The decorative tile work dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. I did read however that the Moors brought this craft here in the 8th century. Whatever…..it’s an old craft! In the 19th century, locals started using the tiles on the facades of their homes here in Porto. At this time, only one small factory survives. To protect this art, there is a law in this area which prevents people from removing tile work from the facades of their homes.
The second symbol of Porto is the “Calcada Portuguesa” (Portuguese pavement). Portuguese pavement is a traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal. It consists of small flat pieces of stones arranged in a pattern or image. We were familiar with this as we saw some beautiful patterns in Lisbon last year. Here are a few we came across today.
Across the “Lion Square” we stop to view the Carmo (on the right below) and Carmelitas churches. These are two separate churches but connected.
The Carmo church belong to the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Brothers (that’s a mouthful) and was built from 1756-1768. The front of the church is in a Baroque and Rococo styles. Beautiful tiles on the side of the church. We did not enter this church but may visit at a later date.
The Carmelites church (left on picture above) belongs to the Convent of the Carmelitas Descalcos built between 1619 to 1650. A much simpler church from the outside, but lovely interior.
We then walk through the Jardim da Cordoaria. There are come wonderful works of art on the far side of the garden which I want to see, but we are headed in a different direction. Diana tells us that outdoor works of art abound in Porto. This is why it is known as the “culture” capital of Portugal. Huge plane trees throughout the garden and two of the three tram lines start/stop next to the park. I must come back to take pictures of the sculptures.
She tells us that the several of the streets near the University are full of bars and restaurants and this is where a lot of the locals come for drinks and petiscos (small bites). They usually come here most weekdays except on Wednesdays when they frequent bars along the Douro river. She didn’t really know why…just because! She recommends that on a sunny day we try a “Porto Tonic”. Just like it sounds, a cocktail made with white port and tonic water. Add a slice of lemon of a garnish of mint and there you have it. Hope to try one before we leave, we always love trying local food and drinks.
Diana points out a building which is today the Photography Museum. She asks Robin what he thinks the buildings was previously used for. He answers “a jail”….yes….he is right; but no prize this time!. She goes on to tell us that the famous 19th century Portuguese book called ” Amor de Perdição“ was written here. The story is based on a true episode of the author’s life. The author tells the love story of a young couple, Simão and Teresa. Although they belong to enemy families, the lovers find themselves drowning in a passion that knows only the limits of tragedy and fate. They are sent to prison where she is housed in a cell for the poor and she eventually dies there and he stays in a cell for the upper class and gets out of prison in a couple of years. Apparently this book is mandatory reading in school. The book is part of the “Lucky 13” list of books by the Livraria Lello. I will refer to this later.
A bit further on our walk, Diana points out the Torre dos Clerigos. The tower was built in 1763 by the Italian architect Nicolau Nasoni. He is the individual who brought the Baroque style of architecture to Portugal. The tower is 75 meters above the city streets and when it was built it was the tallest structure in Portugal. It is said that this is the best place to get sweeping views of the city. Unfortunately you have to walk up 200+ stairs to get to the top viewing point. With Robin’s sore knees, I don’t think we will be doing the climb.
In ancient times, women who were waiting for their husband’s to come back from fishing in Norway, would climb the stairs to look for their return. Their husband’s fished for cod and would salt it to preserve it for the long way home. Diana tells us that “salting cod” goes back to the days of the Vikings. In every grocery store and market in Portugal one sees “salted cod”.
Our next stop is to see the “Livraria Lello”. People are waiting in line to get into the shop. One needs a ticket at a cost of 5 Euro. If you buy a book, the 5 Euro is put against the price. We will come back to visit on a weekday afternoon when not too busy. The bookstore was established in 1906 by the Lello brothers with a Neo-Gothic exterior and an Art Nouveau interior. It is said that J.K. Rowling (author of the Harry Potter series) spent lots of time here when she lived in Porto and even worked at the bookstore for a few months. Apparently her inspiration for many things”Harry Potter” came from the bookstore and surrounding area. As an example, Diana tells us that students of the University wear capes with crests of what faculty they attend….sounds like “Hogwarts” different houses and the crests they used.
I will write more about the store once we have visited later during our time here in Porto.
We visit the Fernandes and Mattos store which is housed in the old post office. It has a Neo-Gothic exterior and an interesting interior as they have kept the old post office wickets. The store, Fernandes and Mattos, has been in existence since 1886 and sells all sorts of different items….trendy socks, large model cars, purses, t-shirts, etc. All very different and not a tourist shop. The kind of shop you would buy something for yourself as a gift. So interesting to browse but I did not buy anything….this time!
Several jewellery stores in the area and one sees beautiful filagree work (rings, necklaces, etc.) This area of Portugal is known for its filagree work.
Diana also points out that the architects of buildings place their names somewhere on the exterior, interesting!
Our next stop is a “sweet” stop. We go to the famous Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata, This shop is known as the best maker of Pasteis de Nata here in Porto. The shop is very small and you can see them making the tarts. You order the tarts at the counter along with a drink. They offer tea, coffee, Ginjinha liqueur (tasted this in Lisbon last year) and of course Port. Too early for liquor this early in the morning. The tarts here are a little different than those of Lisbon. Here they add lemon juice, cinnamon and more butter in the pastry. Very, very good!
Manteigaria – Fabrica de Pasteis de Nata
We continue our walk and enter the Mundo Fantastico da Sardinha Portuguesa shop. We had seen a few of these type of canned fish shops last year in Lisbon. The interiors are always quite decorative; but the items I like the best of the various decorative sardine tins that are for purchase. Now they also sell other types of tinned fish.
I quickly spotted some tins that depicted the Festival of St. John which depicts dancing and plastic hammers….love it!
We make our way to Praca da Liberdade and looking up Avenida dos Aliados one looks onto the Camara Municipal do Porto (City Hall). Diana tells us that as a young girl she would meet her cousins here and they would play on the grassy areas along the boulevard. Unfortunately years ago the green spaces were ripped up for the metro construction. She tells us that there is a move towards refurbishing this area back to “what it was”.
Along Avenida Dos Aliados one sees many beautiful Neo-Classical buildings. Diana tells us that these were once the residences of the very wealthy. A lot of them left when Salazar took power. This was not a good period in Portugal’s history. Salazar closed the borders and many people starved. (Refer my Portugal blog from last year if you want to read more about Salazar) Some of the buildings are still empty but most are now owned by large multinational companies.
The statue in the middle of the square is that of Dom Pedro 1V, who is a hero of the Liberal wars (royal succession wars). The statue dates back to 1866. At the base is a replica of a heart. This is said to represent Dom Pedro giving his heart to the people of Porto for their loyalty. Diana tells us that his heart is said to lie in the Lapa Church in Porto. Every four years it is brought out of safekeeping and on display for the people to see. Not sure I would run right out and see that!
At the end of this avenue we come across the O Ardina statue depicting an old newspaper seller which were commonly seen in this area.
Diana tells us that we are about to see a building with beautiful art deco designs. We turn around and we are looking at a McDonald’s burgers.
She tells us that before McDonald’s took over the building it has been abandoned for many years. Not sure the last time that Robin and I would have crossed the threshold of a McDonald’s, but I can assure you it was not to eat, just took pictures.
We talk a little about the port industry. Diana touched on the fact that the port is one of the oldest “controlled” wines in the world. We will visit some of the port houses while we are here.
We see many churches during our walk and Diana says that there are 76 churches in Porto. Some like Church of Congregados, pictured below, only open on very special occasions.
We then cross the street and enter the Sao Bento train station. We had come here on our first day in Porto as I had read about the beautiful tile work and it is located very near to the hotel we stayed at. It is only about two blocks from our apartment. Looking out our windows, we can see the clock towers. The train station was completed in 1916, although the first train arrived in 1896. It is named Sao Bento as it was built on the land where once stood the Monastery of Sao Bento de Ave Maria. It was demolished to make way for the train station. The completion of the railway system in the valley allowed for easier transportation of the port from the Douro valley.
The interior of the railway station is decorated with some 20,000 azulejos tiles by the painter Jorge Colaco. These show various scenes from Portuguese history, the history of transport and every day life such as harvesting, the transportation of wine and holy events. This place is simply stunning considering it is a train station.
During our time with Diana, she tells us about local dishes that we must try while we are in Porto. The most famous, which I had read about, it called a Francesinha “little French thing”. This is a sandwich which is made with a big piece of steak, sausage and ham between toasted bread. It is covered with melted cheese and a peppery tomato and beer sauce. It was invented by a Portuguese cafe owner who had lived in France. He got this inspiration from the Croque Monsieur. We told Diana that we have seen this advertised in most restaurants but that we simply can’t fathom eating this. She insists that we must try, but warns us to share one and only eat it at mid day as you will need to walk a lot to get rid of the calories. She said she made her first Francesinha at home for herself and her husband. She even shows us a picture of her masterpiece. Her husband told her it was the best Francesinha that he had ever tasted. Did I say they have only been married for one year!
The other dish she tells us to try is “Tripas a moda Porto”. This is one of the most typical dishes of Porto which dates back to the 15th century. Earlier in this blog entry, I referred to the people of Porto being called Tripeiros (tripe eaters). Well yes, this stew has tripe, various types of meat, sausage and white beans. There is even a fraternity “Confraria das Tripas a Moda do Porto” and they meet once a year to celebrate this dish. It is classified as on the seven wonders of Portuguese gastronomy. We might actually give this one a try. Diana gave us recommendations on where to find the best Francesinha and the best Tripas a Moda Porto.
The other famous dishes are of course grilled sardines. Diana tells us that the best sardines are seasonal and to wait till June. The other is Bacalhau (cod fish). We ate a lot of cod fish in Lisbon last year and always so good. The Bacalhau specialty here in Porto is called “Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa. The codfish is cooked in the oven with olive oil, garlic, onion and is served with olives, parsley and hard boiled eggs. This is definitely on the list to try.
We cross the road and look onto the Se (Cathedral). It really looks like more of a fortress that a church. We had seen it on our first day in Porto. One guidebook referred to the Se as “a great hulk of a building” and I can certainly understand why. It sits on the eastern high point of the city above the Douro river. Construction started in the 12th century not long after the Moors left and just a few years after Portugal had become an independent country. It has been expanded over the years incorporating Gothic, Romanesque and Portuguese styles. On a walking tour you often just see the exteriors of buildings; but this is fine as we will come back to visit the interior later.
Nice views of the city of Porto from the Se.
We continue our walk through one of the Santa Ana area of Porto one of the poorer areas. Diana tells us that the City of Porto has a program to help people in need to refurbish their houses in this area. That way, they don’t have to move and can stay in the city centre. We wind our way down towards the Douro river through these narrow streets. We see the “seashell” symbol of the route of the Camino de Santiago which passes through Porto.
I love coming across interesting signs… I especially like the one that refer to “wine”!
We finally make our way down to the Douro river along the Cais da Ribeira (meaning riverside). This area is full of restaurants and is probably the most people we have seen. It is of course Sunday, so lots of tourists abound and one of the most popular tourist spots is along the river. Many boat tours along the river and the port houses are just across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. The Praca de Ribeira is also known as the “cube square” as one of the fountains has a modern cube sculpture. Once again Diana reminds us that locals do not refer to squares by their proper names….they call them by a landmark such a Lion square or Cube square.
Diana points out the Ponte de Dom Luis 1 bridge which stands just beside us. This is Porto’s iconic bridge which was designed by a colleague of Gustav Eiffel. Many pictures are taken of the bridge and from the bridge as it give great views of both Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. One can walk across the lower level of the bridge over to the port houses. Traffic also runs along this lower level. The metro travels across the top level.
I love the picture below….the tourists eating and drinking in the restaurants along the Douro and people’s laundry hanging from the windows just above! Great juxtaposition!
It is the end of our tour with Diana and we have learnt so much about the history and the sites of Porto. Lots more for us to see in the month ahead. So nice to get such a good overview from a knowledgeable local.
Robin and I decide to stop for lunch. Diana warned us that the restaurants along the river have high prices…..pay for the view! We walked back up one of the alleys and shared cod fish cakes and a salad for lunch accompanied of course by a glass of wine and a cold beer for Robin. The temperature reached 18 C today and we were blessed with beautiful blue skies. When we first arrived, we had met two women staying at our hotel who had spent the last week in Porto and they told us it had rained every day. Looking forward we have a pretty good forecast coming up.
On Tuesday we walk over to that Sao Bento train station to buy our metro cards for the month that we are here. Once this is accomplished we decide to visit Fundacao Serralves, the “Museu de Arte Contemporanea”….Contemporary art museum. To get there we must take the 2 separate metro lines, then transfer to a bus. The instructions tell us to catch the bus on the corner of the roundabout once we get out of the metro station. The stop is just as we get out of the metro and we have to wait about 10 minutes. As we get on the bus, I realize that we are going in the wrong direction. Robin asks the bus driver and the good news is that we caught the right bus number…..but in the wrong direction! We get off and cross the road and get back on the right path. I think this happens to us at least once if not more during our travels…..all part of the adventure.
I will say that in our modern world it is certainly nice to be able to buy tickets on line and simply show the electronic version once you arrive. Fewer line ups and quicker to get in to your attraction. We did this to enter the Serralves Museum and for tomorrow at the book store.
In 1986 the State acquired the Serralves estate with the aim of creating this contemporary art museum and park. It is run by a foundation made up of the state and several large corporations and private donors. The estate is made up of 8.6 acres of land and several buildings. The main museum building was built by a Porto architect, Alvaro Vieira and is in the minimalist style. White facades and rounded edges with protruding balconies; very impressive. Oops, forgot to take a picture of the outside of the building.
There are no permanent art exhibits here, rather the exhibitions are changed on a regular basis. I think that Robin and I are pretty open minded when it comes to art, but I have to tell you that this really wasn’t to our taste…..but hey that’s art. Like music different types of art appeal to different audiences. Below is a montage of some of the art from the main exhibition.
By the way, three floors of this artist’s work! Oh well, one has to keep an open mind.
One of the guide books I was reading said “If the exhibitions aren’t to your taste, you miss nothing by just visiting the expansive, surrounding park”. I think that pretty much sums it up for us!
We make our way onto the grounds. Beautiful sculptures in the gardens. Winding gravel paths and beautiful rose bushes and camellia trees that are still somewhat in bloom.
The original Serralves Villa was refurbished and is also used for art installations.
We then venture into one of the outer buildings which features films as works of art. The guard lets us into a dark theatre; a little disconcerting at first to get your way around. There are several rooms featuring different short films. We watch a few of them but the funniest one had to be about two men and a priest who are trying to exorcise the evils spirits from a bottle of Coca Louca. Hilarious!
A recent addition to the Serralves estate is a “tree walk”; a boardwalk that is above the trees, looks down onto a small lake and their farm in the distance. Very serene and quiet.
Back home by bus and metro……and took the right one….and yes, going in the right direction!
Late afternoon and we decided to enjoy a glass of wine at a small nearby cafe before heading to our apartment for the evening. Listened to a musician playing the guitar, people watched and thankful that we can enjoy life. By the way, 2 glasses of wine cost us 5 Euro. More expensive in other places, but this was a nearby cafe in a small alleyway. We will be back!
Another day arrives and no need to be in a hurry as we have a full month here. We brought along our exercise bands, so our daily routine includes exercising a little each morning before we head out to explore more of Porto.
I had bought tickets on line to visit the Livraria Lello this morning. One of the must see locations when one is in Porto. We had walked by the bookstore on our tour with Diana. It is recognized as one of the world’s most beautiful bookstores. Oh my, what a delight when one first walks in.
The Lello brothers had a publishing house dating back to 1881 and in 1894 they bought the assets of the Livraria Chardon bookshop and on January 13th, 1906 the new Neo-Gothic style Livraria Lello building opened. The opening of the bookstore had a major impact on the city’s cultural scene. For over a century they have showcased Portuguese literature in Portugal as well as in the world at large. I love one of the dedications in their visitor’s book on the opening day back in 1906. “In a country of so many illiterate people, building such a beautiful temple to the divine worship of Emotion and Idea is a great act of merit”.
On the facade of the building there are two painted figures representing Art and Science. As you walk in you see the magnificent wooden spiral staircase. An ornamental ceiling, carved wood everywhere you look and a beautiful stained glass skylight. Carved pillars with busts of great writers. Along the carved bookshelves you can see small plaster bust of writers. They carry books in all languages.
On their 114th anniversary this year, the bookstore displayed 13 rare first editions.
– Pride and Prejudice, Le Petit Prince, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, Madame Bovary, Amor de Perdicao, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Le Avventure di Pinocchio, Os Maias, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Jungle Book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Mensagem and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
They are selling these books (of course not the originals) and I could not resist and bought the english version of Amor de Perdicao after hearing our guide Diana tell us the story. Robin, an avid reader, bought two books. He also wanted to buy a third, which was a tome (very large book) and I reminded him we only had carry on luggage and it certainly would not fit and would be very heavy!
Robin in his “happy place”
The famous staircase in Livraria Lello
After our visit to the bookstore, we stop for a coffee/tea in the Parada de Leitao and sit outside at the Cafe D’Ouro. We chose this coffee shop as they had glass barriers to stop the wind, a little cool this morning, but later it is going to be 18C. Well, I realize that this coffee shop was one that I wanted to visit based on some reading I had done. It was the first coffee shop in Porto to acquire the famous Italian coffee machine La Cimbali. The coffee shop is also know as “Piolho” which means “lice”. Although the origin of the name is not really known, it is said that it might relate to the large number of students crowded in a space that they say is never big enough. Lucky for us, no students here today! The coffee shop is right across the Parada from the University Campus.
We see that a tram stop is on the Parada. Two of the three trams have a stop here. We decide to catch the tram to the Batalha area. We walk to the Se (Cathedral) and decide to visit. As mentioned earlier, I felt that the exterior of the church looks more like a fortress than a church. The building of the church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and is Romanesque in style. Later additions were built in a Baroque style. A beautiful interior with flying buttresses and a beautiful rose window.
All of the cloister walls are filled with azulejo tiles, simply beautiful.
We wind our way down some small alleyways and are looking for a cafe/restaurant for lunch. We try to find out of the way places that are reasonable priced. We come across a very tiny and cute restaurant, Portuguesa de Gema. We shared a chorizo sausage and Bachalau a Bras (cod fish, onions, potatoes and scrambled eggs). We had a lot of this cod dish in Lisbon last year and loved it. This restaurant did not let us down, very tasty. Loved the atmosphere as well.
We must be getting into the Porto way of life. We have usually eaten lunch about 2 in the afternoon, so needless to say, eating a late supper as well. Mainly cooking in for dinner.
More to come!
We catch the high speed train from Innsbruck to Vienna. I have booked us first class, just more comfortable when on the train for three hours. Our steward comes along and introduces himself; Mike or Magic Mike he says….without the six pack!
Beautiful countryside once again; Denis loves travelling by train so I had arranged a few legs of our trip via trains. Must say it is easy to do in these countries that have so many train routes. We left the mountain area and found ourselves in rolling countryside. We arrived in Vienna in three hours and grab a taxi to our apartment. We are met by our host who is Viennese. His AirBnB profile indicates that he speaks five languages, including Dutch as his mother was from the Netherlands. Always amazes me as to the multiple languages that Europeans’ speak, a real gift.
I believe I mentioned before that I did not write about the history of Austria on this trip, as I had covered it in my blog from two years ago. Thought I would mention though, that there is a national election on September 29th. The people will elect the 27th National Council. This snap election was called in the wake of the collapse of the ruling ÖVP–FPÖ coalition and the announcement of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache’s resignation on 18 May 2019, following the Ibiza affair. The Ibiza affair was a recording of a secret meeting held in Ibiza between a Russian who indicated they would ensure positive press coverage for Strache’s party, the FPO, in return for government contracts. The election was called the day after Strache resigned. We keep hearing that the Russians don’t meddle in other countries politics and elections…yeah, right!
We get settled in, find the local grocery store and relax on the upper floor deck; still some sunshine for us to enjoy a glass of wine. None of us feel like walking too far to find a place for dinner. Debbie finds a Spanish restaurant that is a two minute walk from the apartment. Perfect….nice change from the heavy German/Austrian menu.
Saturday arrives and we are off to the Naschmarkt. A tourist website tells me “Vienna’s best-known market has around 120 market stands and restaurants for a colorful culinary offering ranging from Viennese to Indian, from Vietnamese to Italian. The Naschmarkt has developed into a meeting point for young and old. The Flea Market on Saturday is already a cult event.” I wasn’t aware that there was a flea market on Saturday’s. The market is about a ten minute walk from our apartment. Robin and I visited here two years ago when we were here. Walk along the market and it is already quite busy. Stop for a coffee at a small outdoor cafe at the market and enjoy the sun. A little cool this morning…..just 7 degrees. We are layered for the cool weather and it is supposed to reach 19C this afternoon.
We then make our way to the centre of Vienna. We had booked tickets to go see the famous Lipizzaner Horse Show before we left Canada. Good thing as I do believe that it was sold out. We enjoyed the program….not so sure Denis did…..thinks he likes the bucking horses at the Calgary Stampede a bit better. Took one picture of the arena before the performance started, but one could not take pictures once the horses came into the arena.
The Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) is a Viennese institution. The horses perform a “horse ballet” to classical music.
From my guide book – “The Lipizzaner stallion breed dates back to 1520, when Ferdinand 1 imported the first horses from Spain for the Imperial Palace. His son imported new stock in the late 1500’s and Archduke Charles 11 established the imperial stud in Lipizza (in Slovenia today). Italian horses were added to the stock around the mid 1700’s and by the 18th century the Lipizzaner horses were well established and had a reputation for being Europe’s finest horses.”
During this trip we have heard a lot about the Nazi regime. Well, here we go again. When the second world war broke out, Hitler’s army wanted the Lippizaner stud so that they could breed military horses. In 1945 the American army seized the Lipizzaner and other horses and transferred them back to Austria. We weren’t sure why Hitler’s army wanted to breed military horses during WW11 as this was a mechanized war.
Love the beautiful buildings, monuments and statues in Vienna.
We then stop for lunch at an outdoor cafe where they have blankets on the chairs and they have the heaters going. We then go our own way. Debbie and Denis go off and take a Hop on Hop off bus. Robin and I went to the Albertina Museum. We missed going on our last trip here. Enjoyed the works of Monet, Picasso, Renoir, Miro, Durer and others. The building that houses the art was once used as Habsburg’s imperial apartments for guests. It is always amazing to us at how proficient these artists must have been as we have seen their art work throughout our travels at many museums and art galleries.
On the way back to the apartment, Robin and I stop at Cafe Mozart which is just across the street from the museum. This is one of the coffee shops that was recommended by our landlord. We shared a piece of the famous Viennese “Sacha Torte”. Very good…..as Robin would say “of course, it’s chocolate”!
On Saturday night we attended a Mozart concert at the Musikverein concert hall. I had bought tickets for this concert when we started planning this trip back in April. This concert hall is so beautiful and said to have the best acoustics of any concert hall in Austria. We were able to take pictures of the concert hall prior to the concert beginning, but not during the concert itself.
When we go to find our seats, we are escorted to the Orchestra platform; we all look at each other. We are basically seated just to the side and a little back from the orchestra. This gave us a perfect view of the Conductor of the orchestra. All of the orchestra members are dressed in period costumes and wigs which added to the performance. In addition to the orchestra, we were entertained by a Soprano and a Tenor opera singer for a few songs. We all thought that seated where we were, was absolutely wonderful. The best part; as I mentioned before was watching the conductor. You can tell this man loves his job. He would point to the violin, cello, horn or drum section and he would give a little shrug, give a little wink, raise his eyebrows, point his baton and give a little twirl. Not sure one would see this if you were seated in the main auditorium.
Just before the intermission, the conductor starts to conduct the audience by clapping. He would clap slowly, speed up, clap slower then stop. He would expect the audience to follow. If someone kept clapping when he stopped, he would simply shake his finger. He would then point at his eyes and then the audience, as if to say….”I am watching you and you better listen to what I am telling you to do”. This was so entertaining; he did it again at the end of the evening. The concert lasted almost two hours and we all enjoyed it.
On our way back to the apartment after the concert, we walk past the Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) is lit up, beautiful at night. This Baroque church was built between 1716-1739. A huge copper dome on the top and two tall twin towers anchor the church.
On Sunday, we head off to Schonbrunn Palace. Although Robin and I had visited here two years ago, we decided to return so Debbie and Denis could see it. We take the subway to get there. Once again, cannot believe the crowds. We arrive at 9:30am and there must already be 10 – 12 tour buses in the parking lot.
OK, I don’t want to offend anyone, but following is a rant about rude tourists who travel in large groups. These people, often Asian, are pushy, take over the whole sidewalk or take over a whole room in a gallery or museum, making it very difficult for other’s to get by. Often during this trip, in major tourists areas, all of us have had to elbow our way through, stop them from running us over. Last night at the concert, as I was about to ask an usher a question, this Asian man tries to but in. I put my had out and stopped him and told him it was not his turn! My favourite saying when something like this happens….”Shame on you”. I was thinking it, just used my inside voice! I really think the tour guides for these large groups need to have some “tourist etiquette” lessons with these people. For example, when we toured Hitler’s Aerie, our guide would tell us to stand to one side so other people could get through and she was also respectful in keeping her voice low, but loud enough for our group to hear. Ok, that is the end of my rant.
Tickets for Schonbrunn Palace are for a specific entry time and ours was 10 to 10:15 am. If you are later than this, you forfeit your entry. We have seen this in several places we have visited.
Schonbrunn (means beautiful spring) was the summer palace of the Habsburg’s and is now a Unesco World Heritage site. The land was purchased in 1569 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian 11. The land was used for hunting and a recreation ground of the ruling class of the day. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa (spoke about her in length in my blog from 2 yrs. ago) who received the estate as a wedding gift.
In November 1918, the palace became the property of the newly founded Austrian Republic and was preserved as a museum. After WW11, the palace was made into an administrative centre for the British army. With the reestablishment of the Austrian republic in 1955, the palace once again became a museum. It is still sometimes used for important events such as the meeting between U.S. president John F. Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1961. It is also used for concerts. In 2017, some 3.8 million people visited the palace, Vienna’s most popular tourist site. The palace and grounds cover 186 hectares (about 460 acres).
Unfortunately one cannot take pictures when touring the interior of the palace.
The palace itself is a huge building and is built in the neoclassical style and decorated in the Rococo style. It has 1441 rooms of which 40 are open to the public; we did the “Grand Tour” and visited all 40 rooms. All very opulent with the finest of materials used in the furnishings, beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings, wonderful art work and the finest of wooden finishings. The grounds of the Schonbrunn are immense and the formal gardens, in a French style, are meticulously tended.
Subway back to the apartment and our final dinner out tonight to a traditional Viennese restaurant. Monday morning we catch an early flight to Amsterdam, overnight there and then back home to Calgary on Tuesday.
We have been very fortunate with the weather on our trip.
We have enjoyed sharing this trip with my brother Denis and our sister in law Debbie. A wonderful three weeks in Germany and Austria both of which have much history and much beauty. Thanks again to Robin for sharing these trips with me….wouldn’t have it any other way.
My final chapter on this trip. I do enjoy writing my blog and hopefully provides the readers with some insight to the places we visit.
Left Mosern on Monday, September 16th and arrived in our latest AirBnB in Bischofswiesen, Germany about 3 p.m. When we left the apartment we decided to make a stop at the small lake just below the village and took about a 20 minute walk before heading off. We also see someone paragliding and watched them land on the golf course across the street from the park.
We decided to take the smaller country roads to get from Mosern, Austria to Bischofswiesen, Germany as we were in no hurry. A wise decision as we travelled through some beautiful mountain valleys. Trip took us about five hours with stops along the way. Stopped in the town of Wattens, Austria for coffee. This town is the heart of the Swarovski crystal empire.
As I have mentioned before, always a bit of a challenge finding a new place. Our GPS takes us close to the apartment, but we are not paying close enough attention and we pass right by it. A couple of U-turns and we finally arrive. Not sure where to park, so we just leave the car in the parking lot. Find the lock box and finally find our apartment, located on the first floor of a very Alpine looking apartment block. Need to park the car in the right location.
We chose this town as is some 40 minutes from Salzburg and we wanted to be in the countryside to explore some of the alpine towns surrounding this area and Salzburg. So, we will be crossing back and forth from Germany to Austria several times in the next three days.
We get settled and find a local grocery store in the nearby town of Berchtesgaden. We decide to eat in, so we come back to the apartment and enjoy a glass of wine out on the deck.
Tuesday, September 17th, we head out to Salzburg for a walking tour that we have arranged. We meet our guide Peter, an Austrian gentleman in his ’70’s, who is dressed in traditional Alpine clothing. He tells us that he has been leading the “Salzburg Historical Walking Tour” for fourteen years. During his lifetime he also lived in the U.S. and in Australia. He also mentions that he visited Toronto. We are ten people on the tour (U.S citizens, Australians and we four Canadians). A nice size group so you can keep close to Peter and hear everything he is telling us.
A little history of Salzburg. The name Salzburg means “salt fortress”. Ancient settlements have been dated going back to 15 BC when the Celts were in this region. They were looking for copper but also found salt. We know that salt was used as a currency in ancient times. St. Rupert established the first Christian kingdom and founded St. Peter’s church and monastery around 700 AD. Gradually successive bishops increased their power and eventually were given the titles of Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.
Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau, Salzburg’s most influential archbishop, spearheaded the total baroque makeover of the city. He fell from power after losing a fierce battle over the salt trade against the rulers of Bavaria.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Salzburg came under the rule of France and Bavaria. In 1816 it became part of the Austrian Empire. Salzburg historic Altstadt (old town) became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997…another one for my list. Robin and I had visited here some 30 years ago.
Salzburg is the fourth largest city in Austria and is know for its Baroque architecture. My guide book says the joke in Salzburg is ” If it’s Baroque, don’t fix it”. The two biggest money makers for this city are anything related to “Mozart” or “The Sound of Music”. The city is built along the Salzach River which appears a milky green in colour. Our guide tells us that the colour comes from the limestone mountains. Salt was transported via the river. Today only one salt mine is still in production in Austria and it is located in Hallstatt which we hope to visit later this week. Peter says that Austria still wants to produce its own salt as they do not want to become to dependent on other countries. The mine is probably running at a deficit but that is not the issue.
Peter tells us that the population of Salzburg is 150,000 and they have ten million tourists a year……yikes!
We start our tour in the newer part of Salzburg near the Schloss Mirabell. Peter tells us that this part of Salzburg was badly damaged during a big fire in 1818, so many of the building here were rebuilt. The train station is also on this side of the river. During WWll the allies bombed the train station. They would get their bearings from the Hohensalzburg cliff top fortress which was in direct line to the train station. About 40% of the city was damaged during this war.
We cross the street to visit the gardens of Schloss Mirabell. These gardens were the location of many of the scenes from “The Sound of Music”…..no, we do not break into singing! Peter tells us that the flowers in the garden are changed three times a year. Some of the marble statues in the garden are already turning black due to pollution. Peter tells us that they were cleaned only three years ago and they are already turning black. A side note….The four of us had a discussion about this when we got back to our apartment that evening. I asked, why would these marble statues be turning black only after three years. Robin commented on the number of tourists buses and D & D talked about the amount of houses still being heated by wood. Guess this is the reason why. We all wonder what the air quality would be like during the winter when everyone is heating their homes with wood fireplaces.
The Palace itself was built in 1606 in a Baroque style then rebuilt in a classic style by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich to impress his mistress Salome Alt. He went on to have 15 children with her. One must remember that in those days, Austria was ruled by the church and it was not frowned upon by the church for the clergy to have relations. We go into the palace to view one of the famous rooms where many couples get married. In high season Peter tells us that weddings take place in this room every 20 minutes. We take a quick peek into the room as a wedding just finished and we get told we must leave as another wedding is about to take place. This building now houses the City Hall.
Next to the palace is the modern building of the Mozarteum Universitat, the music faculty of Salzburg. Peter tells us that graduates from this music school are able to join a major orchestra anywhere in the world. They teach all aspects of music including voice. On the other side of the gardens is the Marionette Theatre who put on a Sound of Music performance. Peter tells us that it is very popular and well attended….not our thing! There is something creepy about puppets and marionettes!
We then walk by the Mozart residence where Amadeus composed some 150 pieces of music. From Salzburg, Mozart moved to Vienna where he died. Peter tells us that he was basically destitute when he died and was buried in a paupers grave with 5 other souls…..no one knows for sure which is his burial site.
The next house that we view from the exterior is Christian Doppler’s home. He studied mathematics and physics in Salzburg. Definition of Doppler effect as per internet. “Doppler effect, the apparent difference between the frequency at which sound or light waves leave a source and that at which they reach an observer, caused by relative motion of the observer and the wave source. ” Today it is used in astronomical studies and medical tests.
We then cross the Makartsteg pedestrian bridge, also known as the “Love Locks Bridge” to get from the new town to the old town. As in other cities the metal on the side of the bridge has been filled with locks with peoples initials. Very similar to what is happening in cities throughout the world. The last time we were in Paris, they were cutting locks off the Pont Neuf bridge. Here in Salzburg, Peter tells us that they have come up with quite a simple solution. Instead of having steel fencing on the side of the bridge they use mesh. When the locks fill the mesh they simply remove the mesh from the side of the railings and all the locks come off with the mesh. They then sell the metal to a metal recycler and get money back.
Peter goes on to tell us that during the rule of the Prince Archbishops, they set up various monasteries so that they could attract monks that could read and write. Various sects of monks were tasked with different duties. The Benedictine monks taught, The Capuchins’s looked after the ill and poor and the Augustine built a brewery.
When Robin and I heard about the Augustine Brewery, we remembered that our son Rich had told us about the brewery…..more to come!
We walk a little further through the old town and come across a mural on one of the ancient walls. The mural depicts a man washing a cow. Peter tells us the legend of the “Salzburger Stierwascher”. In the middle ages, the castle was under siege and the ruler wanted to show that they had lots of food supplies. So a few times a day they would parade the one cow they had around the fortress walls; but every time they would parade the cow they would have painted it a different colour. They the “Stierwascher” would wash the cow and paint it a different colour. This would give the pretence that they had lots of cows. How ingenious!
Peter also told us that one of the co-founders of “Red Bull”, an Austrian, has a home in Salzburg and that he has been very generous to the city of Salzburg. Not only does he support racing apparently he has donated millions of dollars to the Universities and to other philanthropic causes. Apparently he donated 75 million Euro to the University last year.
As we are walking around the old town, we walk through arcades/alleys that lead to other streets. Peter tells us that these thoroughfares are called “through streets”. An easy way to get around without having to go around full blocks…..makes sense. Another interesting fact that he points out is dates that we see painted under the roofs of buildings. For example the earliest date shown would be the original date of construction and subsequent dates would be those of updates/remodelling. He also points out all of the shop signs. We have seen these in most small towns in Europe. The signs will depict what business is being run in that specific location. So a hairdresser would have a depiction of someones hair being cut and a bookshop would have a sign shaped as a book. This was done so that illiterate people could tell what type of business was located in that shop. OK…..I just misspelt “illiterate”….funny!
Then we come across Mozart’s birthplace. This house is in a Rococo style on the back and much simpler style on the front of the house; not sure why. One can see an old system of bells on the front of the house with wires leading to various floors. These served as doorbells. Peter tells us that they were disconnected years ago as everyone was ringing the bells….oh..tourists!
Enter another square where we see yet another Baroque church. Peter tells us that there are 72 parishes in Salzburg, all catholic. Each parish has at least one service per week. Then to the Festival Hall which is used for operas and concerts. Salzburg is famous for its summer musical festival.
We then see St. Peter’s Abbey in another square. Also in this square is a restaurant which has operated since 803 AD, the Stiftskeller St. Peter. It was originally run by the monks. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in Europe. Peter tells us that if patrons drank too much, they could always confess their sins.
Most of the churches we have seen on this tour have been built in the Baroque style. Peter refers to these as having “curvy steeples” while the few Gothic style churches have steeples that “reach to the skies”. We see the outside of the Salzburg Dom (cathedral). The first inauguration of the cathedral was in the year 774. It then burnt as it had a wooden roof and the second inauguration was in 1628. The dome caved in at one point and was rebuilt in 1959.
Our last stop is Mozart square where one sees the famous Mozart statue. Today they are setting up the square with stalls and rides for the St. Rupert festival which will be happening this weekend.
Our tour with Peter has been great. We loved his little anecdotes, he made this historic tour of Salzburg so worth while.
During our tour today we saw lots of Belgium football (soccer) fans as their team was playing against Salzburg. We find out that the game isn’t starting until 8 pm and the fans are already drinking beer at 11:30 in the morning. As we were leaving town, we saw lots of police vehicles getting “ready for action”.
After the tour we decide to make our way to the Augustine Brewery (Augustiner Braustubl). It is about a 20 minute walk from where we are and we have already walked for 2 hours on our tour. We stop along the river for a rest. The monks at this brewery have been making beer since 1621. Finally get to the Brewery only to find out that it is not opening till 3 pm….how disappointing.
We head back into the old town and just across the street from the brewery we see a little pub. Guess what? They only sell the Augustiner beer, which has no preservatives. We all have a beer and for lunch another bratwurst and sauerkraut for Denis and I and Debbie and Robin have potatoes with theirs. Denis says its the best beer he has had on this trip….so far!
We comment that sometimes the most unplanned things are the most wonderful experiences. Had a wonderful lunch and good beer in a wonderful small pub with an intimate small balcony. Denis and I start to tell stories of when we grew up and we are laughing. At one point (our family will appreciate this) Denis and I are laughing so hard that we can hardly talk!
After lunch we make our way back to the parkade, but I insist on a coffee before heading out as I am driving back to our apartment, about 40 minutes from Salzburg and I had a small beer for lunch….good decision. Debbie navigates back home while the two guys have naps in the back seat!
Another full day….weather is great….life is good!
It is now Wednesday, September 18th and it is Debbie’s birthday. What have I planned for today….a tour of Hitler’s Aerie in Berchtesgaden….aren’t I thoughtful.
Prior to heading off on the tour we stop in the small town of Berchtesgaden only five minutes down the hill from our apartment. Stroll through the old town and must say that the shops in this small town are incredible. The shoe stores have such different styles, absolutely lovely. We travel with carry-on; so the shoes are staying in the store.
We stop in a small “backerei” for coffee and a pastry. We buy sandwiches for our lunch and head off to meet our tour.
We drive down into the town and our meeting place is just across the train station. We had booked our tickets for this tour prior to leaving Canada; good thing, the tour bus is full. As we are leaving the town, the guide tells us that the train station was built for Hitler and at the time was the largest train station in the area. No redeeming features in this train station. She points out an arch on one of the sides of the station, which was Hitler’s private entrance. When the US forces arrived in this area, apparently they found 3 rail cars in a tunnel full of artwork that had been taken by Goering.
Following is an excerpt from the company’s website.
” Starting with a brief account of Hitler’s life, the bus takes you up steep mountain roads to Obersalzberg, a tiny community above Berchtesgaden. Here the history of Obersalzberg’s takeover by the Nazi Party and Martin Bormann’s transformation of the mountain into Hitler’s Southern Headquarters will be told. During the driving tour you will view some original Third Reich buildings dating back to when the area was Hitler’s second seat of government. Within the former compound, you’ll catch glimpses of buildings that were used as Albert Speer’s home, Speer’s architectural studio, Martin Bormann’s model farm, Nazi Party headquarters, the Platterhof’s theater, SS-Officers’ housing, Göring’s adjutancy, State Security Service headquarters and the location of Hitler’s home, the Berghof, (no longer standing today). The description of Obersalzberg and the historic importance of Hitler’s Berghof in world history will be made easy to understand with the use of original photographs and a model of the compound’s main buildings.”
Our guide relays a glimpse of Hitler’s life. He was interested in art and as a young man had applied to the Vienna School of Fine Art, but was turned down as his paintings were “dead”. It is said that he sold painted postcards to make a living and that he lived in apartments for single men. It is in one of these homes that he developed his political thoughts. He moved to Munich to escape having to serve his military time in the Austrian army, he was Austrian. Hitler said he did not like the politics of Austria. He was brought back to Austria, but he was exempted having to serve as he wasn’t physically fit.
Hitler volunteered for the German military during WW1 and worked as a messenger. He then joined the German Labour party and he continued to rise up the echelons of the party. At one point, Hitler was tried for treason for trying to overthrow the government and was to serve five years in prison; but apparently only spent nine months in prison. While in prison he wrote part of Mein Kampf. The rest is history!
Our guide goes on to tell us that Hitler spent about 75% of his time at these southern headquarter’s making many major decisions here. When the war started he spent most of his time in Berlin. Any traffic up the mountain was strictly controlled. The road up the mountain is certainly an engineering feat. The road is very narrow, very steep and rises quickly. But must say, the views of the valley below were quite spectacular…..not enjoyed by everyone though!
We are in a “tourist bus” until we reach mid way up the mountain where we visit the bunkers and the museum. We walk into the bunkers that are built in the mountain. The bunkers had offices, filing rooms, ventilation shafts, quarters where people could live, if need be, toilet facilities, storage rooms and tunnels throughout the mountain that led to various outer buildings. Very cool in these bunkers, but during the Nazi presence, these bunkers were heated. The electricity in the tunnels were generated by a submarine engine which was located in one of the bunkers.
Many buildings on the mountain; barracks for 2,000 soldiers, homes for Hitler and other high ranking officials. There was also a large hotel built for officials and their families to take vacations. The mountain even had a school, a theatre that could sear 2,000 people, a post office and a grocery store. They had everything to be self sufficient on this mountain. We are told that there was even an underground shooting range where the SS would practice. This was so that people would not know what was on the mountain. We are also told that when the rock was removed to make the tunnels/bunkers, it would be shipped further away, so the extent of this complex was not readily apparent.
The picture above (bottom right) shows the tunnel that one enters to reach the very top of the mountain, where the workers built a tea house for Hitler. Once you go through the tunnel, you arrive at an elevator, which takes you up the rest of the way to the teahouse. The inside of the elevator is all polished brass and was beautiful, but you are not allowed to take pictures of it. Cloud cover at the very top, so the views were better fro the central point.
At one time there was 6,000 workers on the mountain. Mainly workers from Italy, Poland, Austria and other countries where tradespeople had special skills. They apparently even had a brothel for the foreign workers.
The museum covers a lot of the same material we saw in Berlin, but a good reminder. A section on “The Führer”, the importance to the Nazi party of a “National Community”, the Nazi party’s “Racial Policy” and finally a section of the Nazi “Terror Apparatus”.
We then get on a local bus which takes us to the top of the mountain. From Wikipedia – “At the top of the mountain is the “Kehlsteinhaus “(known as the Eagle’s Nest in English-speaking countries) is a Third Reich-era building erected atop the summit of the Kehlstein, a rocky outcrop that rises above the Obersalzberg near the town of Berchtesgaden. It was used exclusively by members of the Nazi Party for government and social meetings. This tea house was visited on 14 documented instances by Adolf Hitler, who disliked the location due to his fear of heights, the risk of bad weather, and the thin mountain air.” He did however spend time in his house lower down on the mountain.
The local buses that go from the mid point to the top of the mountain have been specially built to go up the steep and curvy road. They are lower to the ground, have four brake systems and are overall smaller than a regular bus. We ran into an older American couple who told us that they had been up to the Eagle’s nest some 40 years ago. At the time they were very concerned with getting back down the hill on the bus and they walked around and took the bus where they felt the bus driver looked for the oldest bus driver!
Our guide told us that Hitler’s house, which was still standing at the end of the war, was totally demolished. They say this was done to stop “Brown Tourism”; stop the site from becoming a shrine.
Another very interesting tour which we really enjoyed. We head back to the apartment and later on go out for dinner at a local restaurant Gasthof zum Neuhaus which was established in 1576. We celebrated Debbie’s birthday on this wonderful evening. Great food and great company. The waiter brought us each a glass of Schnapps’ to celebrate Debbie’s birthday; a nice touch.
Have to say that European appliances always amaze me. In the apartment that we are now renting they have an appliance that is a coffee maker, a kettle and a toaster all in one. Simply amazing!
On Thursday, the 19th we head off to Hallstatt. Robin and I had been here a couple of years ago, but really wanted Debbie and Denis to see this wonderful little village built along a lake and against the mountainside, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
On the way to Hallstatt we took the back roads……some very narrow where you have to pull over to let another car by. Having said this, absolutely beautiful countryside. Villages dot the mountainside, cows grazing in the fields and beautiful blue skies to look at.
The region is a World Unesco Heritage Site since 1997.
The number of tourists here in the town is overwhelming and this is classified as the shoulder season. My travel book says that the population of Hallstatt is only 790 people. The town is set on the Hallstatter See (lake). Would hate to see this place in the summer. Dozens of large tourist buses sit in the various parking lots. We stop at a small cafe for a pastry and coffee.
We then drive back toward our apartment and make a stop at the small town of St.Gilgen which is only some 29 kms from Salzburg. This town is much quieter than St. Wolfgang on the other side of the lake which is much more touristy.
A lovely day out in the country, mountain and lake district; absolutely beautiful. We eat in tonight.
On Friday morning we catch the train to Vienna. We head off from our apartment, return the rental car and walk to the train station..all went very smoothly. Onto our next chapter……Vienna for 3 days.
We leave Munich on Thursday, September 12th and walk to Hauptbahnhof, the main train station. As the track finally shows on the main information board, we head off to Track 27 to catch our train to Innsbruck. We have opted to take the slower scenic train (3 hours) vs a high speed train (1 1/2 hrs). We enter the 1st class section, however only a few seats and they are already taken. We find one of the stewards from the train company and ask him about the first class and he simply shrugs his shoulders. Seats are not assigned on these local trains. He takes us into the 2nd class and asks a gentleman to move so that the four of us could sit together. Thought this was very good of him. We have also brought our own sandwiches on board as no dining car on these local trains.
Beautiful rolling countryside along the way. Many school kids getting on and off the train. We are in rural areas so imagine that they must have to go to larger centres for school. Many stops along the way, a nice relaxing way to travel.
We will be spending time in the Tyrol regions of Austria and Germany so thought I should write a little of the history of this region. I have written about Austrian history in a previous blog from a few years ago.
Some of the following is excerpts from one of my guide books:
” Despite its difficult Alpine terrain, the Tyrol area has been settled since the neolithic age.”
Some of you might remember reading about about a 5400 year old body of a man that was found preserved in ice in the Alps. This substantiates the claim.
Tyrol fell to the Habsburg’s in 1363, but it wasn’t until the rule of Emperor Maximillian (1490-1519) (we will visit one of his castles later in our travels) that the province made progress. He transformed Innsbruck into the administrative and cultural capital. An interesting fact is that Maximillian drew up the Landibell legislation allowing Tyrolleans to defend their own borders, thus creating the Schutzen (marksmen and militia) who apparently still exist today. In the mid 1600’s the rule of the Tyrol area was taken over directly by Vienna. This is the fact that I find interesting…in 1703 the Bavarians attempted to capture Tyrol in the War of the Spanish Succession in alliance with the French. My research tells me that when they reached the Brenner pass, they were beaten back the the Schutzen….yeah!
“In 1919 a treaty divided the Tyrol region. The south Tyrol area was eded to Italy and East Tyrol became isolated…..wait…..this isn’t as bad as it seems. A staunch ally of Mussolini, Hitler did not claim back the Tyrol region. In the aftermath of WWll, Tyrol was divided into zones occupied by Allied forces until Austria claimed neutrality in 1955. Since then, the country has enjoyed peace and prosperity. “In this part of the Tyrol region, the main income source is from tourism.
We arrive in Innsbruck and walk across a plaza and find the car rental agency. The vehicle is very comfortable for the four of us. Robin and I will be sharing the driving. The young lady from the car rental asks us where we are going and she says she will set up the GPS for us; changing language and entering the address of our apartment. While she is doing this I am watching her and she keys in the address; “Broch Weg 9” and nothing comes up for her. I tell her I was able to get that address on my maps program on my phone. She uses her phone to find the address and she keys in “Hermann Broch Weg 9”. I question her, but she assures me this is correct.
We head off. Robin is driving and I am navigating with help of the GPS. We are on the Autobahn heading out of Innsbruck and we arrive at the address. We park in the parking pad in front of the apartment, Hermann Broch Weg 9, but something just doesn’t seem right. There is no lock box and I remember that the outside doesn’t look anything like the pictures on the website. I run back to the main road to check the address. In the interim, the neighbour next door asks what we are doing. Robin is trying to explain that we are looking for the apartment we have rented. I arrive and ask her if there is a difference between Broch Weg and Hermann Broch Weg. Her english isn’t that good, but she smiles and says yes…..we are on the wrong side of the mountain. Tels West vs Tels East (Mosern).
We get back in the car, I get my phone and key in the right address. We head off and have to go over the mountain using a very windy road with many switchbacks. We finally arrive at the right place. We get parked and we are looking for a lock box that should be on the main door of the building. Finally dawns on me that it is a key pad and not a lock box. Get in the building and we go down the hall to the apartment with the symbol I had seen on the website and there is a lock mechanism on the door handle. The landlords instructions had mentioned this. I try keying in the code twice and it doesn’t work….ok, what is wrong. Oh! We are in front of door number 1, we need door number 7. OK, not the best day of finding places, but we finally get in.
A beautiful alpine apartment overlooking a valley and we are only 30 minutes northwest from Innsbruck; but feels like a world away. The altitude here is 1,237 metres. We are surrounded by the Wetterstein and Karwendel Alps. We are in a very small town called Mosern, Austria and the next town which is 5 kms away by car is Seefeld with a population of 3300. This area is known for cross country skiing over downhill; although a ski resort does exist in Seefeld. In the winter there is some 270 kms of groomed cross country ski trails. Seefeld also co-hosted the Olympic Games in 1964 and 1976.
We get settled in our apartment and then drive to Seefeld to get groceries for the next few days. Seefeld is such a beautiful little town. We are in the Tyrol area of Austria; and as my guide book says…”being in the Alps with a big blue sky overhead makes you glad to be alive”.
The next morning we head off back to Seefeld and make our way to Rosshutte Bergbahnen the ski and hiking area of this area. We take a funicular which starts from the bottom of the hill at 1,230 meters and goes to the mid station at 1,760 meters. Here we stop for a coffee/tea.
Robin and I take a gondola to Seefelder Joch at the top station on the mountain at 2,064 meters. One can take a hike up the ridge of the mountain, but we are really not properly equipped to do so. We take in the views then start our descent by foot back to the mid station. Quite a narrow gravel path, so encounter some slipping. We finally make it down. We then proceed to the bottom of the hill by taking the funicular.
We stop in Seefeld for lunch and a stroll around the town. Mostly German and Austrian tourists around; all hiking. Lovely dinner out at a small local restaurant in Mosern.
The next morning we head out early to visit the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles in Fussen, Germany some 2 hours away. Denis had booked tickets before we left on this trip. Drive through a mountain pass, very picturesque. We need to pick up our tickets by 10:55 am and they say if you don’t pick them up in time, you forfeit your visit. We stand in the reservations line and get our tickets within five minutes. Our tickets indicate we visit one castle at 11:30 am and the other at 2:45. Glad we reserved our tickets ahead of time. The line up to get tickets for those who had not reserved was very long, and the information boards indicated that next visits to castles were late in the afternoon. Would hate to see what this place is like in the summer.
We have time to stop for coffee, then walk up to the Hohenschwangau castle. We arrive a little early so we visit the gardens and then sit in the courtyard till our tour number is called. It is an electronic system with a display board that shows when your tour can enter. Your ticket has a tour number and a bar code. Once your number is called you scan your ticket and are allowed through the turnstile. We are met by our English speaking guide and there are about twenty five people. A tour takes place every five minutes; a well oiled machine at work. The castle was built by Maximillian 11 atop a 12th century ruin and was his hunting and summer castle. It is built above a small lake. It took only four years to build this castle. Unfortunately one is not allowed to take pictures in either castle. Our guide is very informative and relays some interesting stories of the family. We tour the various furnished rooms (original furniture) and the guide points out interesting paintings and pieces of furniture….an antique wheelchair and the first elevator (built by Siemens of course, a German company). Richard Wagner, the famous composer spent a lot of time at Hohenschwangau and apparently it is here where he composed the famous “Wedding March”.
As this was a summer castle there was little need of heat, but if it was required there were ceramic stoves for heating. In the walls there were hidden corridors that led to these stoves. Servants would crawl through these small corridors with wood to feed the ceramic ovens. The royalty did not want to be bothered by servants coming into the rooms. The guide tells us that the servants could probably hear everything that was happening in the rooms as they were preparing the stoves….she tells us that the saying “The Walls have ears” comes from this practice. Interesting, I had never heard this. Another interesting story is that the beds were shorter than they are today. The people of the time did not want to lay flat in a bed as they may mistaken as being “dead”. So they would lay in bed in an upright position, therefore the beds did not have to be as long.
Our tour last about 35 minutes, then we have time for lunch and we opt to take a bus up the road for our tour of the Neuschwanstein castle.
They say that Neuschwanstein Castle was the model for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The castle was the dream of King Ludwig 11, the son of Maximillian. The two castles we visited are in the same vicinity and apparently King Ludwig watched the building of Neuschwanstein from his rooms in Hohenschwangau. He started having the castle built in 1869. Neuschwanstein took seventeen years to build and was never really finished. Ludwig only resided in the castle for 170 days before his death. Although the palace was made to look like a medieval palace, there were many modern facilites. Hot air heating, internal phones and running water. The various rooms in the castle that we toured were meant to showcase art, historical scenes and Ludwig’s love of art. A “Tristan and Isolde” themed bedroom, an artificial grotto and a Throne room with a beautiful mosaic floor. A large room that looks like a ballroom that depicts yet another opera scene of Wagner’s; a frequent visitor.
The day prior to coming to visit the castles, Debbie and I had read about a parade that would be happening in the area on the day we were visiting. This parade is called the “Almabtrieb”. It is a parade of people moving cattle from the high alpine regions to the lower valleys for the fall and winter. Quite something to see. Actually, we heard them coming long before we saw them. A lot of the larger cattle had huge cow bells hanging from their necks.
We walk down the path back to the parking lot which takes us about 20 minutes. We drive back to Mosern and a nice dinner out.
The next day, we decide to drive to the medieval town of Hall in Tyrol, about a 30 minute drive from Mosern and 9 kms east of Innsbruck. This town made its fortune in the salt trade during the 13th century. It is Sunday and of course, all the shops are closed; so needless to say, it is very quiet in this small town. We stop for coffee in the main “old town square” and then amble through the various narrow streets.
Then head back to our apartment in Mosern, stopping in Seefeld for a cold beer and a sandwich. As we are sitting on the outdoor patio of a pub, we start talking to an English couple who have holidayed in this area for over twenty years. They tell us that last Sunday, the day of the annual fall festival, that it snowed in Seefeld. The gentleman told us that it was twenty degrees warmer on this Sunday than the previous one. We have been so fortunate with our weather. We head back to our apartment and eat in. Enjoy a glass of wine out on our deck, overlooking the beautiful valley below.
A picture from our deck on our last evening in Mosern.
We have so enjoyed our time in this area, so beautiful and peaceful. Tomorrow morning, Monday, September 16th, we are headed off to our next destination. We will be staying in the small town of Bischofswiesen in Germany, some 40 minutes north of Salzburg.
Arrived in Munich by train from Berlin about 4 pm on Monday September 9th. We get our bearings and we walk about 10 minutes from the main train station to our apartment. Pays off to have carry on!
Areas around train stations are usually not the best places to rent, but we decided to rent here as we need to catch the train to Innsbruck on Thursday morning and we are taking a tour out to Dachau on Tuesday morning. The tour is also leaving from the main train station. The area we are in is full of hotels, ranging anywhere from 2 to 4 stars. A very Arab neighbourhood and seems that a lot of unemployed men standing around every shop entrance and every corner. We also see lot of Arab women begging in the area.
Having said this, our apartment once again is very modern and very comfortable. We are met by the owners son and he tells us everything we need to know about the apartment and surrounding areas. We do a grocery run and have some down time at the apartment.
In early evening, we make our way to the Marienplatz, the epicentre of Munich. They say that this is the busiest site in Munich with lots of tourists from sun up to sun down. It is quite late already, so we decide to find a place to have dinner. Happenstance finds us at the famous Ratskeller restaurant which is in the basement of the Neues Rathaus, the Town Hall. The Ratskeller was built from 1867 to 1874. My research tells me that many German towns in earlier times had a traditional Ratskeller restaurant or inn, housed in the cellar of the their town hall. The restaurant seats 1,100 people indoors and another 200 in an outside courtyard. From a website “When entering the Ratskeller you will find the Bavarian hand painted murals, lighting, furniture design and dishware fascinating. Numerous rooms in the Ratskeller, provide everything from traditional elegant Bavarian to cozy and down-to-earth interiors that are artistic and inviting.”
Debbie and I had looked into going to the famous Hofbrauhaus. This beer hall/restaurant serves up to 6,000 people. The reviews we read were all horrible, so we decided to give that a pass.
On Tuesday morning we decide to head back to the Marienplatz and take in the local market, the Viktualienmarkt. This is just off the main square. The market is open every day and is made up of food stalls, coffee shops, beer vendors and various other kiosks. It is described as a “feast of flavours and one of Europe’s finest gourmet markets”. We decide to stop for a coffee and pastry and sit in one of the open garden areas. There are several locals enjoying their first beer of the day…..it is 10:30 in the morning!
We take the underground to the Main train station (Hauptbahnhof) where we are meeting for the tour to Dachau. We are amazed at the transportation system in Munich. This city has a population of 1.4 million, so just a little larger than Calgary, and they have a suburban train system, a substantial underground and a tram and bus system and very reasonably priced. We also noted that their system is much greater than that of Berlin. Kind of makes sense considering East Berlin would not have seen any infrastructure building during the Communist era.
We take the train and then a local bus to get to the site of the Dachau concentration camp. Our guide Jeff is English and has lived in Germany for over 30 years. He told us that he came to the area as a youngster, ran out of money and just stayed on. There are twenty seven people on the tour. We found Jeff to be very knowledgeable and factual, not emotional. Our tour lasted about 3 hours; once again very powerful.
Dachau – In 1933 just after a few weeks after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, a concentration camp for political prisoners was set up in Dachau; a site of a disused ammunitions factory. It was built by orders of Heinrich Himler. It served as a prototype for all subsequent concentration camps and as a “school of violence” for the S.S under whose commanded this camp. The one fact that we were all surprised to learn were the multiple “satellite camps” that existed throughout Europe. There were some 100 sub camps attached to Dachau alone; mainly work camps supporting the Nazi machine. The camp is said to have “processed” more that 200,000 inmates, killing at least 43,000.
On the road leading to the camp, we notice some beautiful old apartments. We are told that these homes were for the S.S. Senior Officers. Low barracks behind these were for the young Hitler youth who had been chosen to be taught the SS means of torture and interrogation. Basically a school of violence meant to teach those the dehumanization of man
One crosses into the camp through the iron gates. A chilling slogan at the top of the gate says “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Sets You Free). A very powerful symbol. We are told that the original gates were stolen years ago and subsequently found in a field in Norway. The original gates now sit in one of the buildings under security.
It was the longest operating concentration camp. There were a total of 34 barracks. Eventually the camp also housed Jews, Romas, Homosexuals, religious men and repeat criminals. Each specific group had its own symbol. A red triangle indicated a political prisoner, green – criminals, blue – immigrants, black – social outcasts, purple – Jehovah Witnesses (conscientious objectors), etc.
One of the displays shows pictures and stories of some of the various prisoners as they entered the camp. All their clothing and any private belongings they had would be confiscated. They were then de-liced, fumigated and heads shaven…..once again….the dehumanization. We see a story of the Mayor of Vienna. When the Nazi’s arrived in Vienna, he refused to hand over the keys to the City. He was imprisoned in Dachau as a political prisoner. He survived the camp and eventually made his way back to Vienna and once again became Mayor. Love that story!
There was a roll call done twice a day to ensure no one had escaped from the camp. If one of the prisoners was to weak to attend the roll call, other prisoners would carry them so the numbers of prisoners counted was correct. If someone was missing, it is said that roll call would last till that person showed up. The prisoners had to stand upright with their hands at their sides and looking downward. Again, the dehumanization. We were told that one roll call lasted 1 1/2 days. In each barrack, a Kapo was in charge of the barracks. Jeff tells us that this person was chosen amongst the prisoners, usually one with a criminal background, and were often even more cruel than the guards. They maltreated the prisoners for the slightest thing and by keeping order in the barracks, they were often given more food and/or privileges.
Our guide tells us that one prisoner did indeed escape. We are also told the story of a political prisoner, Georg Elser. He had been imprisoned as he had tried to assassinate Hitler in Munich. He had a bomb which was to detonate at a certain time during a speech being made by Hitler. Unfortunately, Hitler left the meeting abruptly; and survived this assassination attempt. Georg Elser was executed days before the liberation.
One of the buildings was used to interrogate and torture the prisoners. They used to hang the prisoners by their wrists and eventually the prisoners arms would dislocate. If they survived, other prisoners would help put their arms back into the sockets.
Prisoners suffered from malnutrition and many diseases, including typhoid.
This building was also used for medical experiments on some of the prisoners. Some were injected with “malaria” to see how long they would survive. BIo chemicals experiments also conducted. We are also told of an aeronautical experiment where a prisoner is subjected to high pressure. This was to help the Nazi’s understand what could happen to some of their pilots. Another experiment was to plunge a prisoner in ice cold water to see how long one could survive. Many prisoners died during these experiments.
We walk outside down a ramp which serves as a memorial for the camp. The ramp goes down to reflect the “hell” that the prisoners are entering. At the bottom there is a glass sculpture which depicts the cloth coloured triangles that identified the various prisoner groups. We look above the walkway to an iron sculpture which is erected above the barracks. The statue depicts emaciated figures (being reconditioned) throwing themselves into the barb wire electrified fences. Jeff tells us that some prisoners did indeed do this to liberate themselves from the torture and horrible living conditions.
There was crematorium (Krematorium) here which was used to dispose of dead bodies. A new crematorium “gas chamber” was built and we visited it. We are told that it was never used, and no one is sure why not. There was a disrobing chamber a “shower room”. This is where the gas would have come through the shower heads. The next room was where the furnaces would have been used to cremate the bodies after they died in the “shower room”. The final room would have been used to remove gold teeth and anything else of value that would have been taken from the prisoners. Anything of value taken from the prisoners when they arrived or upon their death would have been shared amongst the SS elite.
When the camp was liberated, the US army also found several train cars loaded with dead and decaying corpses. In the museum, we see a short film of the liberation of the camp; and must say that the images were disturbing. Our guide tells us that even with the liberation, the prisoners could not eat very much as their stomachs had shrunk so much during the previous years. Large numbers of prisoners also died after liberation due to disease and malnutrition.
The camp was liberated by the US Army in April of 1945. We viewed a film that showed the liberation. It is said that one army officer said that the first seven barracks were basically morgues.
Eventually all the barracks were torn down. Today a replica of one of the barracks has been built as a memorial. Rooms in this barrack proceed to show wooden bunks where 52 prisoners would sleep with 4 bunks in each room for a total of 208. When the camp was liberated, it is said that some 2,000 men habited these rooms.
Another very emotionally disturbing day, but I would encourage anyone to visit a concentration camp….we must not forget!
We go out to an Italian restaurant for dinner in the Marienplatz area. Need a change from the heavy “Geman” food.
On Wednesday, we take the SBahn to the Englischer Garten. A short walk after we leave the train, passing the Residenz on our way to the garden. A beautiful building and grounds, once home to Bavaria’s rulers. Today, it is a museum, but we do not have the time to visit.
We walk through the north part of the garden. It is said to be one of the biggest city parks in Europe. There is a little lake and some people are using paddle boats. We continue on our walk and find the main area where there is a food area and a beer garden. Denis had said that one thing he wanted while we were in Munich was to have bratwurst and sauerkraut. We all opt for the bratwurst. Denis and I have sauerkraut and are not disappointed. Debbie and Robin have theirs with friend potatoes. All very good with a cold beer and cold wine. In 1790 the Chinese Tower (Chinesischer Turm) was built; kind of odd looking, considering we are in a beer garden.
Debbie and I make our way back to Marienplatz and Denis and Robin head off to the BMW museum. Debbie and I did some browsing through some of the shops. Beautiful shoe and clothing stores. We stop at a small cafe for coffee and do some people watching. A nice “chill out” afternoon.
We stop into one of the churches, believe it is the cathedral. Beautiful interior. A striking sculpture, which I have since found out is the cenotaph of Louis 1V the Holy Roman Emperor who ruled from 1249 – 1347.
We stop in a large Munich department store and eventually make our way back to the apartment. We arrive about 4:15 pm and the guys shortly after us.
They were quite impressed by the vintage BMW’s they saw at the museum. Across the road from the museum was a BMW dealership….no they did not order any vehicles.
Octoberfest – This is happening about one week after we leave. Two separate cab drivers told us that the locals “hate” Octoberfest. The main reason is that is has become just one big “drunk” not only by tourists but some locals as well. They tell us that when they grew up in Munich, Octoberfest was a family festival to celebrate the harvest. They do not like what it has become with drunks urinating and throwing up everywhere. Good time for us to leave!
Tomorrow morning, Thursday the 12th, we will be catching the “slow scenic” train from Munich to Innsbruck. We will pick up a car in Innsbruck for the next 8 days while we visit the Innsbruck and Salzburg areas.
Apologies for any typos/errors!
Another adventure begins! We are spending three weeks in Germany and Austria with my favourite brother – he says (who lives in Calgary), Denis and our sister in law, Debbie. We flew to Amsterdam with a two hour layover prior to proceeding to Berlin. We will be spending time in Berlin, Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Vienna.
As many of you know, I love to investigate the history of the country I am visiting. I also like to know the current political situation, what drives the economy and the general feel of the country. So a little history first.
The early inhabitants of present day Germany were Celts and later nomadic Germanic Tribes. In 732 AD the Franks stop the progress of the Muslims into Western Europe and preserve Christianity. Robin and I saw the influence of the Muslims when we were in Southern Spain and in Portugal in the last few years. In the 900’s the Saxons rule Germany and create the Holy Roman Empire. In the 1500’s Martin Luther challenges some of the ideas of the Catholic Church. In the late 1700’s the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars occurs and Napoleon takes Berlin in 1806 and creates the 16 member Confederation of the Rhine. In 1848 “The Communist Manifesto” is published by Karl Marx and Engels. In 1870 Otto Von Bismarck is appointed as the Prussian Prime Minister by King Wilhelm and Bismarck creates a unified Germany.
The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 initiated WW1 and Germany surrenders. A new democratic government is formed to abide by the Treaty of Versailles. Germany is in ruins, the economy is in trouble and the victors of WW1 demand heavy payments for damage caused. This causes unrest and riots and then the worldwide depression hits. The nation is looking for a strong leader to get them out of this depression. Adolf Hitler and other dissatisfied Germans form the Nazi Party in Munich and by 1930 it has become a strong political party. They blame the country’s problems on communists, foreigners and Jews. In 1932 the Nazi party gains many seats in the Reichstag and in 1933 Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany and the federal states become powerless.
For the next decade, Hitler proceeds to revive the economy, building the autobahns and rebuilding the military. Opposition parties and trade unions are banned. In 1935 the Nuremberg Laws are enacted which deprives Jews and other non Aryans of German citizenship. In 1939 Hitler invades Poland and France and Britain declare war on Germany. 1939 – 1945 millions of Jews are murdered during the Holocaust and 62 million civilians and soldiers die. In 1945 Hitler commits suicide. After the war, Germany was divided into four zones of occupation under the control of the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Berlin, although located within the Soviet zone, was also split amongst the four powers. The American, British and French sectors would form West Berlin and the Soviet sector became East Berlin.
The West German economy grows an average of 8% between 1951-1961.
In 1961 the GDR government (East Germany) begins building the 155 km long Berlin Wall. The Eastern half became a socialist state, part of the Iron Curtain that was heavily influenced by Soviet policy. Part of the building of the wall was also due to the tremendous “brain drain” that was taking place. Those that did not want to live in a socialist state.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall comes down and the reunified city of Berlin becomes the capital. Communist regimes across Eastern Europe start to fall.
In 2005 Angela Merkel becomes Germany’s first female chancellor and is still in power. She is said to retire next year. There is a rise of a right-wing populism movement in Germany itself, as the Alternative für Deutschland party establishes itself in all the land and now scores about 15 per cent in votes and polls. It embraces a renewed German nationalism alongside a global trading ambition and hostility to immigration, and wants Germany to leave the euro or refound it on a smaller northern core. This is pretty scary considering the previous history of this country.
It is said that Germany had the third-biggest economy in the world, trailing only Japan and the United States in GDP.
When we landed in Berlin, the ground crew was not ready so we had to sit on the plane for an additional ten minutes. Hey….where is that German efficiency we hear so much about! Hopefully I haven’t offended any of my German friends.
When we arrived in Berlin, we had arranged a transfer from the Tegel airport to the apartment. We were amazed at the small size of the Tegel airport. The city of Berlin is building a new airport Berlin/Brandenburg which was originally to open in October 2011 and is now reported to open in October 2020. They say cost overruns and corruption are factors of the late opening.
We arrive at our apartment and after figuring out exactly which entrance we needed, we follow the instructions we were sent.
– First open the lock box on the gate which is located between the mailbox and the main fence post. Open the lock box and the key will open the gate. Turn the key twice and reach through the fence and turn the knob and open the gate. The gate is very heavy.
Go down the stairs and open the next lock box and get the key for the main door to the apartment.
Yikes, we finally enter the apartment and couldn’t be more pleased. A very comfortable and modern apartment in a very old building, typical of Europe. The apartment is still being cleaned but we can drop off our bags and we go off to find the local grocery stores to get some food for the next few days. We go to two different stores to get our goods. The suggestions in the apartment tell us that the local organic store has the best wines.
Find both stores within walking distance and we decide to stop at a local bar to have a drink. Most welcomed after a long day of travelling. OK, maybe two drinks…after all we are waiting for the apartment to be cleaned.
Robin and Denis go into the bar to order beer for the guys and white wine for the girls. The owner of the bar does not speak any English, but they are understood and we get our drinks. The owner comes out to bring our drinks and we understand that he wants to know where we are from. We tell him Canada. He smiles……he goes to one of his regulars who is sitting behind us, who speaks english. He talks to him and asks him to translate. The short story is that the owner of the bar has relatives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. My gosh…..Robin and I just start laughing. Our son in law, Gav, is from Winnipeg and we always say that no matter where one visits in the world, there is always someone from Winnipeg or someone who knows someone from Winnipeg.
We decided to buy frozen pizza for supper as we are all very tired and jet lagged. We go back to the apartment, cook the pizza and have some wine (after a couple of beers and wine at the bar) and all fall fast asleep at 5 pm local time. Needless to say, we are all very jet lagged.
At one in the morning we are all wide awake. We make tea and catch up on reading books and figuring out what we are going to do the next day. At 4 am, I announce that we only have another four hours until the alarm goes off, so we can go downtown to catch our bike tour, Off to bed once again. Up again in time to catch the Ubahn (underground) to go downtown. We figure out where the bike shop is located and we have enough time for a coffee before heading out on our bike tour.
We had arranged a private historic e-bike (electric bikes) tour some months ago. We get accustomed to the bikes in the parking lot and head out with our guide, Christof. This man is so knowledgeable about the history of Germany, somewhat overwhelming at times.
Our first stop is along Unter den Linden, the main avenue of Berlin. The large main avenue of Berlin with trees on either side. It is referred to as the “Living Room of Berlin” or “The Royal Aisle”. We stop to see the Royal Palace which is in the midst of being cleaned. Christof points out the outer buildings that were for the princes and a smaller building for the princesses!
We also see the Armoury from 1700. Christof tells us that a Mennonite was hired to decorate the outside of the building. Rather amusing considering the Mennonites are pacifists! The building is undergoing some work, so is covered with netting. Can see some of the beautiful statues on the top of the building. This is the oldest building along Unter den Linden
We continue down the main thoroughfare and come to the Brandenburg gate (Brandenburger Tor). This monument was completed in 1791 and was said to be based on the Athens Acropolis. It was the entrance to the grand avenue Unter den Linden which led to the Royal Palace. It became a symbol of division during the cold war; but is now a symbol of reunification. It survived the Red Army onslaught of 1945; although we did see pictures of damage to the monument. Both East and West Berlin contributed to fixing it. The Wall was along the gate. It is on this site that Ronald Reagan addressed his most famous words during the Cold War to the Soviets…”Mr. Gorbachov, tear down this wall!”.
The Brandenburger Tor is also the site where East and West Berliners partied when the wall came down.
The square around the Gate is Pariser Platz which is surrounded by banks, the U.S, British and French embassies. The famous Adlon hotel is here as well. On a subsequent day, we walked into the lobby of the Adlon, lovely and very high end; not somewhere we will be staying any time soon.
The original Hotel Adlon was one of the most famous hotels in Europe. It opened in 1907 and was largely destroyed in 1945 in the closing days of World War II, though a small wing continued operating until 1984. The current hotel, which opened on August 23, 1997, is a new building with a design inspired by the original. I read that the hotel built a “luxurious” bomb shelter during WW11.
We really don’t find that their are many tourists around.
We cross over to the Tiergarten and make a stop to see where part of the Berlin wall once existed. They have put a line of cobblestones in the road to depict where the wall stood.
The Tiergarten – a garden where the Berlin rulers used to hunt boar and pheasants. It was planed in the 19th century. It is one of the world’s largest urban gardens.
We then ride to the Reichstag, the home of the German parliament since 1999. This neo-baroque building was originally built in 1894 and served as the government seat until 1933. In 1933 it was badly damaged by a fire which was set by a Dutch communist. This served Hitler’s purpose to tighten his grip on the German state. During the Cold War, the West German government seat was in Bonn. Some thought the building should be demolished, however the building was restored by Norman Foster in the 90’s. He added the famous glittering glass copula. We looked into visiting, but you need to request a visit, provide passport details and wait at least 48 hours for approval to visit. Not enough time to accomplish this….oh well, next time.
Onward to the Federal Chancellery where we find the offices of Angela Merkel. Both the Reichstag and the Chancellery sit along the river Spree, the main river that runs through Berlin. One sees many tourists boats along the Spree, not something we had time to take in. It is said that looking at a city from the river, gives one a total different perspective.
We then continue to bike to the Congress Hall which was built in 1956 ; also know as the Haus der Kulturen.
Back through the Tiergarten, and a brief stop at the Soviet Monument built by the Soviet Union to commemorate its war dead, particularly the 80,000 soldiers of the Soviet Armed Forces who died during the Battle of Berlin in April and May 1945. Our guide tells us that this monument was built of stones from Hitler’s chancellery.
Cycle through part of the Tiergarten to get to the Holocaust Memorial or its official name The Memorial of the Murdered Jews of Europe, which was built in 2005 by an American architect to commemorate Europe’s Jews who were murdered by the Nazis. My guide book tells me that the memorial has no designated entrance and one can enter at any point. The site consists of 2711 sarcophagi-like concrete columns rising from 19,000 square metres of undulating ground. The design is purposely disorientating, the columns at slightly different heights than those around and the walkways create a claustrophobic effect. We will return in the next few days to visit the museum which is below ground.
The next stop is Potsdamer Platz and is where the former “no man’s land or the death strip” of the wall existed. We see parts of the wall in this location. In 1961 the construction of the wall started and it was 155 kms in length and 3.6 meters high. There were 300 watchtowers around the perimeter.
When one reads about the building of the wall; we are told that it was to try to stop the brain drain from East Berlin to the West. The 3.5 million East Germans who had left by 1961 totalled approximately 20% of the entire East German population.
One of the many Berlin train stations is also on this square.
I must say that I really like the various architecture styles in Berlin. You see ancient buildings to modern architecture with curved lines. The Soviet era building certainly stand out in their “no style” concrete buildings.
We come across the Ministry of Defense, one of the largest buildings in Berlin. It was Herman Goering’s headquarters.
Right across the road we have the Topographie des Terrors. This is the spot where the most feared institutions of the Nazi government existed; the SS and the Gestapo. There is an exhibit on the outside near the wall, which we will visit at a later date.
We ride by Checkpoint Charlie, a small reproduction shack exists as a tourist attraction.
Checkpoint Charlie was used by foreigners and Government officials to cross between East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
We then proceed to Gendarmenmarkt which is said to be Berlin’s most beautiful square. The Konzerthaus is in the middle and one side is a Catholic Church and on the other the domed German Cathedral. Our guide tells us that Catholic Churches and Synagogues in Germany are always hidden behind a major building.
Our last stop of the day is another square which houses the Opera House, a former palace (now part of the University) and the Pantheon (seat of the Catholic Archbishop). A book burning took place in this square during the Nazi era and to commemorate this, there is an opening in the concrete where one can see empty book shelves a level below the ground….a very powerful display!
We spent a good 4 1/2 hours with our guide and the e-bikes were a great way to see the City and get a feel where everything lies. We stop at a small cafe for lunch then make our way back to the apartment via the UBahn.
On Saturday, we decide to take in some of the museums at Museumsinsel. This island, in the Spree River, is a Unesco site, and is home to five museums. During the day, we manage to visit three of the museums. The Pergamonmuseum holds artifacts of the ancient world. The Neues Museum, the residence of Queen Nefertiti (not allowed to take pictures the bust of the Queen) and other sculptures of the same time period and finally the Alte Nationalgalerie which showcases 19th century European art. A very long day and must say we all had sore legs and backs from all the standing on concrete and marble floors. Well worth seeing!
The museum buildings were lovely; they were in their own right works of art.
We stopped for coffee at one of the museum cafes and enjoyed our first apple strudel. I must say, one of the best strudel’s I have tasted. It was served with a vanilla cream and whipping cream.
As we enter the subway station in the late afternoon, Debbie and I spot a young man with his pants pulled down around his knees and he is in the process of wrapping his legs in tin foil. I grab her by the arm and we enter the first subway car. Not sure what that was all about, but quite a sight.
After visiting the three museums, we walk across the river and stop for tea. Debbie had a fresh mint tea; I think she is hooked. The waitress told her to grow her own mint at home to make the tea.
In Berlin, it seems that a dish called “curry wurst” is quite popular. I decided to try it one night….that was enough. Description – “Currywurst is a fast food dish of German origin consisting of steamed, then fried pork sausage typically cut into bite-sized chunks and seasoned with curry ketchup”. I don’t even eat ketchup at home….what was I thinking.
Update to the note above. On the train from Berlin to Munich, they had problems with food delivery and they were in short of food, wine and milk. By the time we wanted to eat there was only one sandwich left (Debbie had ordered it), Robin had chili and Denis and I ordered the curryworst! Ok……never again. Never..never!
On our last day in Berlin, we decide to visit some of the sights we had seen briefly, but wanted to go back and visit in a more thorough manner. We head off once again on the UBahn and our first stop was to walk once again through the Brandenburg gate.
We continue our walk and make our way to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. We all weave our own way through the various concrete blocks. A quiet time to reflect as one walks through the blocks. You feel almost “off kilter” as the ground heaves up and down, the blocks of different sizes seem to fall inwards.
Then make our way to the information centre which is located below the site – underground. The following is taken from their pamphlet. “The exhibition begins with an overview of the national socialist terror policies from 1933 to 1945. The persecution and murder of Jews in Europe is presented via rows of images . Six large portraits represent the approximately 6 million victims.” Overwhelming when you think of these numbers.
The second room is called the “Room of Dimensions”. “Diary entries, letters and final notes written during the period of execution.
Continue to the third room, the “Room of Families”. It highlights 15 families showing their life before the persecutions. Notes show who survived in these families and who didn’t….very chilling!
The next is the “Room of Names”. Here people sit on benches in silence and you can hear the names and short biographies of murdered and missing Jews in Europe. It is said that it would take approximately 6 years, 7 months and 27 days to read the life stories of all the victims.
The “Room of Sites” – The focus in this room is the representation of the geographical location of crimes in Central and Eastern Europe. 220 locations are shown. There is historical footage and photographs.
The four of us went through this on our own. Again a time to reflect. At times it was hard to look at the pictures. Man’s inhumanity to Man. How did this happen? So many questions? Not many answers……
WARNING…YOU MAY NOT WANT TO LOOK AT THE FOLLOWING PHOTOGRAPHS. Having said this, I felt it important to put into my blog. This is a minuscule example of the pictures and videos that we saw.
We continue our walk and find ourselves at Potsdamer Platz, where we stop for lunch at an Italian Deli. An interesting concept. You are given an electronic card to track your purchases. We go to the “pizza” station, order a pizza and place the card on an electronic reader. You are given a “beeper” which will buzz when your order is ready. Then you go to the bar to order your drinks and same procedure. As you leave the restaurant you give the desk your card and pay the amount registered on the card. Very efficient and cuts down on wait staff and waiting times……ok, I guess not so good for prospective wait staff looking for a job.
We then make our way to the “Topography of Terrors. On the way there we pass the a mural which depicts “happy workers” in a soviet state. This mural was in the previous part of East Berlin.
The Topography of Terror is the present day name of the site on which the most important institutions of the Nazi apparatus stood between 1933 and 1945. The Headquarters of the Secret State Police (Gestapo), the Reich SS Leadership and Security Service (SD) of the SS and from 1939 onward to the end of the Nazi regime the Reich Security Main Office.
Below the wall, we visited a temporary display of the bombing and atrocities of Warsaw. So massive were the bombings of Warsaw, some of the pictures show a city “razed” to the ground. First by the Germans, then the Russians.
We then visit the museum which was established in 2010. Robin found it fitting that all the previous buildings on this site were demolished. Going back to 1987 a documentation centre existed on this site and its mandate was to inform visitors about the site’s history and the crimes that were planned and initiated here. The present mandate of this information centre is to “convey historical information on Nazi terror and inspire visitors to engage actively with this history and its consequences after 1945”
Once again, we go through the various exhibits on our own. At times, very disturbing. Debbie commented on how respectful visitors have been at the various WW11 museums and exhibits…..silence rules. I did not take any pictures here…..just can’t anymore!
We make our way back to the apartment. A very emotionally draining day. We go out for a lovely meal and are thankful for the country we live in and the peace that we have enjoyed in our lifetime.
It is Monday morning and we are headed off to Munich by train for 3 days. Call up an Uber and application says “no Uber’s available”. Try to phone a taxi….the line is busy. Try Uber again….nothing. Finally decide to call our landlord. He tells me that the SBahn has some problems and is not working. In addition to this it is raining, so there is an extremely high demand for taxis and other forms of transportation. He tells us to keep trying for taxi or Uber. We look at metro system, but one of those cases that we would need to transfer from UBahn to SBahn to get to the train station; so can’t get there from here. I finally try a “smaller” Uber car and luck is shining on us. Uber arrives, and luckily we all have carry on, so the car can accommodate the four of us. Traffic is also crazy because of the problems with the SBahn. You can tell that our driver is trying different routes to get us to the train station. We finally arrive. The line up of people at the taxi stand at train station is incredible. These are people that have just arrived and trying to get somewhere in Berlin…..good luck!
One other thing that has surprised us is the lack of English understood and spoken by people in Berlin. Totally different than other parts of Europe. We get understood and try our basic words….”Danka- thank you” goes a long way.
We breathe a heavy sigh of relief and stop to have a coffee. Once our train is announced, we go to the appropriate platform. Debbie and I read the graphic which explains where once should stand depending on which car you have been assigned. Easy, right. Well, when the train arrives we realize that we are standing next to car 2 when we should be in front of car 11. If anyone has taken trains in Western Europe, you would understand that the trains only stay in a station for a few minutes. Once must embark the train as quickly as possible. So we enter car 2 and have to make our way to car 11. Looks like we are not the only ones who are in the wrong area. I think it took us at least 15 to 10 minutes to reach our car. Finally, we can relax. At one point the train was travelling at 249 kms per hour; but very smooth. You simply don’t feel that you are going that fast.
Well that is it for Berlin…..onto our next destination…..Munich.
Flew to Chania ( pronounced “Hania”) on the island of Crete, from Istanbul, on Thursday, June 13th and arrived in the late afternoon. The flight was only 45 minutes and they actually served a snack and drink on the plane. The airport is about 30 minutes from Chania. We arrive at our hotel and get settled in and go for a nice dinner of local food at a nearby restaurant which was recommended by our driver, excellent local food. Our hotel is overlooking the marina and inner harbour.
Crete is the birthplace of the first European civilization, the Minoans, which flourished between 3000 BC and 1200 BC mainly in Central and Eastern Crete. Once again, I find these dates “mind blowing”…that is BC! We will learn more about the history of Crete when we visit Heraklion, the capital, in a few days.
Crete holds a very strategic position in the Mediterranean. It is located between mainland Europe, Africa and Asia. There is still a NATO base located in Crete.
We have arranged for a tour of the old town of Chania and we are met by Olga on Friday, June 14th. We head out nice and early to try to avoid the heat. Supposed to be 30 degrees today. Olga tells us about Chania, the Venice of Greece and it is the second largest city on the island of Crete. It is located on the west side of the island.
When we arrived yesterday we were surprised to see a range of mountains, some still covered with snow. Olga says these are known as the “White Mountains” with the highest peak at 3,453 meters. They are made of limestone, so the quality of water on the island is excellent. By the way, since arriving in Greece, we have been drinking tap water, unlike our time in Turkey where we drank bottled water the whole time.
There are many gorges and caves in the mountains and many people come to Crete to hike, including the famous Samaria gorge which is 16 kms long. The land on Crete is also very fertile and the island is basically self sufficient when it comes to produce. Olga tells us that the locals eat what is in season.
A lot of earthquakes take place in Crete, but mainly in the south. Their energy comes from coal or diesel ; although they do heat their water with solar panels.
A little history first. The Venetians occupied Chania between 1204 and 1645. The boat yards that grace the harbour, were built by the Venetians, along with the breakwater. They controlled the salt trade; which we know from previous travels was used as currency. They also built the beautiful Venetian style palaces along the harbour.
After the Venetians, the Ottomans/Turks arrived and they added wooden closed balconies to the beautiful Venetian style palaces. This would allow women to look out, but still maintain their privacy. They also built a mosque in 1647. It is now an exhibition hall. As we now know, the Turks that still resided here went back to Turkey in the great population exchange of 1913.
The Cretan revolt against the Ottoman empire lasted for three years 1866-1869 and Crete became an independent state in 1898. On December 1st, 1913, Crete officially united with Greece, fulfilling the century-long dream of Cretans. The people that we have talked to here in Crete, have all told us that the people from Crete always wanted to join Greece.
During WW11, Crete was occupied by the Germans and parts of the old town were destroyed.
We walk through the winding streets of the old town and Olga points out that certain streets were traditionally for leather makers, others for knife makers, etc. We visit the Jewish Synagogue. There is no Rabbi here in Crete, but a small Jewish community does exist. There is a very small Synagogue which was in very poor condition due to bombing in WW11 and had been abandoned. In 1995 a wealthy Jewish American was instrumental in getting this building rebuilt. History shows that Jewish, Christians and Islamic people all lived here in peace.
We visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral which was built in the 1860’s. Only icons are evident, no statues and they do not use any musical instruments. Olga tells us that 97% of the population is Orthodox; although many do not practice on a regular basis. She did say that Easter is very important and at that time of year, everyone attends church, but many have to stay outdoors as too many for the church to accommodate. It is mainly a time to spend with families. She also told us that it was a tradition for the first girl of a family to be named after the grandmother and yes, her grandmother’s name was Olga.
We visit the covered market, which now mainly houses many tourist shops, but still some fish mongers and some vegetable stalls. I mention that the Mediterranean diet is deemed to be one of the best in the world. She tells us that it is really not the Mediterranean diet but the Cretan diet that has proved to be the healthiest. This diet, of course, includes lots of cold pressed virgin olive oil. She tells us that Greeks are the number one in consumption of olive oil; 20 kilos per person per year. They eat lots of cheese and herbs are a very important part of their diet. She even showed us an herb which is used to make a tea called “mountain tea” which most Cretans have every morning. This tea is supposed to help with all types of ailments. Robin and I did try some one night and a very different taste, helps to put honey in it.
Fish also a very important part of their diet. She tells us that they eat the whole fish, including the head and some even eat the eyes. Needless to say, this kind of grossed us out. Crete is also famous for its vegetables. They consume a lot of vegetables, lots of greens and pulses.
After we leave Olga, it is so hot we decide to stop for a snack and cold beer. I cannot believe how much beer I have imbibed on this holiday. Very hot everywhere and the beer certainly goes down easily!
We wander through the lovely lanes of the old town and Faye and I buy some clothes. The owner of one shop is French so I take the opportunity to speak to her. Along come another French couple, so a lively conversation takes place. The French couple tell us that the island of Crete is very popular with the French and that they themselves have visited on numerous occasions.
On our final day in Chania, we go for a few walkabouts. To find good beaches one must go a little out of the town. We did not venture out there. The water here in the town is very clear, but no real place to dip in the sea.
We have had some wonderful meals here. Went to restaurants recommended by locals and that certainly pays off.
A final picture of our time in Chania.
We have arranged for transport to Heraklion, the capital of Crete, which is about two hours away. We leave early and meet our guide Lina, who takes us to the Archeological Museum.
Lina is certainly passionate about the history of Crete and in all honesty, I can now understand why. The history is so interesting; some based in mythology which I find so interesting.
An exert from Wikipedia follows:
” The history of Crete goes back to the 7th millennium BC, preceding the ancient Minoan civilization by more than four millennia. The Minoan civilization was the first civilization in Europe and the first, in Europe, to build a palace.”
Lina did say that after the Minoans came the Mycenaean in the last phase of the Bronze Age from 1600 to 1100 B.C. They were followed by the Dorians from 1100 to 950 BC. The Dorians were warriors and brought horses to the island. The Minoans used oxen.
The art work of the Minoan people is absolutely beautiful. To think that they existed such a long time ago, their art has intricate patterns and beautiful colours. The pieces of art in the museum were mainly taken from the excavations of the Knossos Palace. In addition to pottery, jewellery and we also see several partial frescoes. There were no weapons found; so it is felt that they were a peaceful society. The archeologists also found two separate writing systems, but they have not been able to decipher them. They also feel that they travelled off the island to trade, as they used gold and tin which were not available of the island.
There are also other palaces which were discovered in addition to Knossos and perhaps we can visit at some future date. They are Phaistos, Malia and Zakros.
We see very large pots and Lina tells us that they would have kept liquids in these large vessels; such as olive oil and wine, and these could have been used for trading.
We see small figurines and ritual vessels that would have been used in religious type ceremonies. Large tablets represent currency and clay tablets depicting their script, which is referred to as Greek Linear B script.
We make our way to the Palace of Knossos, known as “The Labyrinth”. It covers about 14,000 square meters and was surrounded by an ancient city. The site came to prominence in the early 20th century when it was excavated and restored by a team led by British archaeologist Arthur Evans. Lina tells us that Arthur Evans was very instrumental in ensuring that all of the artifacts and frescoes were removed from the site and stored to be placed in the museum, which they were. What you see at the site are simply representations of what would have existed at the time. Having said this, you do see, the actual rooms and underground areas.
We walk through the site and Lina explains the various areas such as the throne room, the four entrances, the underground storage areas, how their construction allowed for ventilation and sewer systems and overall sturdy construction.
I simply love all the history and mythology surrounding the history of Crete and Greece. I keep thinking I want to learn more about it and this may very well be my next project when I get home.
Another great day with another great guide. We have been so impressed with our guides throughout this trip.
We are taken to a resort just outside of Heraklion, about 15 minutes from the airport. Nice to finish off our holiday enjoying the sun, the sea and the swimming pool.
It was great that we were able to enjoy this holiday with our good friend Faye and thank her for taking this time with us.
Once again, many thanks to my wonderful travelling partner Robin, who always makes any trip so enjoyable and memorable.
Overnight in Amsterdam and back home to Calgary on Tuesday. This is it, till the next time!
We arrived in Athens, Greece around 9:30 pm on Tuesday, June 11th. A very long day of travelling from Bodrum, Turkey via Istanbul.
A little history and background of Greece. The country has a population of some 11 million and greater Athens 5 million. The history of Greece is very lengthy and diverse. From Wikipedia….
” • Neolithic Greece covering a period beginning with the establishment of agricultural societies in 7000 BC and ending in 3200/3100 BC,
• Helladic (Minoan or Bronze Age) chronology covering a period beginning with the transition to a metal-based economy in 3200/3100 BC to the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Greek palaces spanning roughly five centuries (1600–1100 BC),
• Ancient Greece covering a period from the fall of the Mycenaean civilization in 1100 BC to 146 BC spanning multiple sub-periods including the Greek Dark Ages (or Iron Age, Homeric Age), Archaic period, the Classical period and the Hellenistic period,
• Roman Greece covering a period from the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC to 324 AD,
• Byzantine Greece covering a period from the establishment of the capital city of Byzantium, Constantinople, in 324 AD until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD,
• Ottoman Greece covering a period from 1453 up until the Greek Revolution of 1821,
• Modern Greece covering a period from 1821 to the present.”
We are always amazed at time lines of other countries/civilizations when you think that Canada is so young, only 151 since we became a nation. My ancestors came to Canada in the late 1700’s.
During the Second World War the Germans occupied Athens from 1941-44. When they left they destroyed a lot of the infrastructure, including the railroads. It is said that while occupying they even slaughtered whole villages as revenge for resistance fighters.
The economy of Greece is still in crisis after its recession in 2008. By the end of 2009, the Greek economy faced the highest budget deficit and government debt in the EU. It was threatening to default on its foreign debt, which would put the Eurozone in jeopardy. Various European countries loaned more money and insisted on austerity measures on the Government’s part including its pension system, cutting spending an increasing taxes. Just think about it…..Mrs. Logan, we are immediately cutting your pension in half, you need to pay more taxes and all of the government services you use are increasing in price. As you can imagine the Greek people were not too happy about this and still aren’t. I know that this issue is much more complex than what I have written, but hopefully one gets the gist. Additionally he told us that the economic elite of Greece have supported the Government….so needless to say, the Government works in their favour!
The main economy of Greece is driven by agriculture, shipping and tourism.
On Wednesday, June 12th, we are met by our guide Niko. When we spoke about the economy he indicated that it is still very bad. He also mentioned that the government never should have opted to host the Olympic games in 2004. He said the country really couldn’t afford it. They spent millions of dollars in building new games infrastructure and even additional metro lines. They were so far behind in their schedules that they had to spend even additional money to hire additional tradespeople to finish everything on time. Yes, the Olympic Games did happen, but apparently all the infrastructure such as swimming pools, new arenas, etc have not been maintained and have been allowed to fall into disrepair.
He says it was hard to build the Metro for the games, as whenever they were digging, the companies had to be aware of any antiquities; although a lot of pottery was destroyed during the process to expedite the building of the metro. As Niko says, anywhere you dig you will find antiquities.
He also mentioned that the austerity measures have been very difficult. He gave us an example of his aunt receiving a pension for many years and all of a sudden that pension was cut in half. Unemployment rate of 18%; mainly among young men similar to other countries around the world. Niko mentions that a lot of the younger well educated people left Greece during the economic crises and went to other countries such as Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.
He tells us that back in time, Athens was made up of several towns and each town had its own calendar. But one thing they had in common was their measurement systems. Distance was always measured from the city of Marathon.
I asked the question about pollution. At one time Athens was known as being so polluted that a haze hung over the city. He indicated that with new technology in cars and better metro system, that the pollution is not as bad as it used to be. Having said this, both Faye and Robin coughed a lot while we were in Athens; and they both believe this was due to pollution.
We are headed toward the Acropolis, but along the way Niko points to various interesting sights. We pass by the main market, the Parliament buildings and two wonderful buildings; one housing the Prime Minister and the other for the President. The beautiful National Library, the University, the beautiful National Gardens and the Stadium of the first modern Olympic Games. This site was used for archery during the 2004 Olympics. Then we drive by the Academy of Athens which has statues of Athena and Apollo. This is now a research centre.
We are told that education is free in Greece for nationals, even free University.
We also passed a monument dedicated to the Unknown Soldier. Niko tells us that it is compulsory for all Greek men of 18 yrs of age, to serve in the armed forces. Today they must serve for 9 mths. It is not mandated for women.
We see lots of graffiti on all the buildings, doesn’t seem to matter what area of the city. Niko said that the graffiti bearing anti government messages got worse after the economic crisis. He calls is “aesthetic pollution”. I like that term.
We also pass some 12th century Byzantine churches. Niko tells us there used to be over one hundred, but now only 12 remain. The remainder were demolished by the Ottomans.
We finally make it to the foot of the Acropolis and start ascending the Acropolis Hill. It was built on this particular rocky outcropping site as three sides are very steep and access is only available on one side, therefore a strategic location and easy to defend. It was also 9 kms from the sea, therefore providing some safety. It was also self sufficient as they had plenty of water and good soil to grow their own agricultural products.
Wow…..talk about crowds! We were told it was best to visit early in the morning before the crowds from the cruise boats arrived. Think we waited too long to get here. Very hot in Athens. Whenever Niko stops to talk about a certain ruin/architectural site, we try to find some shade. Security personnel keep telling people to keep moving, especially in restricted areas as the “gate”.
There has been a reconstruction project of the Acropolis which began in 1975 but we are told that due to the current economic climate, the project has stalled. Having said this, we see a crane on the site and the grounds seems to have its own small quarry where marble/stone is stored. Most of the treasured artifacts are held at the Acropolis Museum which we will visit later in the day.
From Wikipedia: “The goal of the restoration was to reverse the decay of centuries of attrition, pollution, destruction stemming from military use, and misguided past restorations. The project included collection and identification of all stone fragments, even small ones, from the Acropolis and its slopes and the attempt was made to restore as much as possible using reassembled original materials, and new marble from Mount Penteli used sparingly. All restoration was made using titanium dowels and is designed to be completely reversible, in case future experts decide to change things. A combination of cutting-edge modern technology and extensive research and reinvention of ancient techniques were used.”
Never quite sure what really made up the Acropolis, but following is a description of the various buildings and partial ruins. Wikipedia once again:
“The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway termed the Propylaea. To the south of the entrance is the tiny Temple of Athena Nike. At the centre of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. East of the entrance and north of the Parthenon is the temple known as the Erechtheum. South of the platform that forms the top of the Acropolis there are also the remains of the ancient, though often remodelled, Theatre of Dionysus. A few hundred metres away, there is the now partially reconstructed Odeon of Herodes Atticus.”
Niko tells us that the Parthenon was just for priests and VIP’s. The altar was outside of the building itself. The main gate of the Parthenon faced East toward the sunrise. The Roman Odeon used to be covered. Odeon means “a place for singing”. All the monuments are made from local marble. It contains iron and therefore turns yellow. Niko says that Athens has low humidity so that is why these monuments look so clean. The white sections that you can see on the columns are new marble and have not yet weathered, but eventually they will turn yellow as well. Niko tells us that in the past, local people would come to the ruins and take pieces of the marble and other materials and repurpose them to build what they needed, that is why there are many missing pieces which have been filled with the newer marble as you can see in the picture below.
The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC. He points out that there is a slight curvature in the pillars, which are doric, as well as being tapered. Horizontal pieces are also not straight. These features create an optical illusion and show off the elegance of the structure.
The Ancient Temple is built in the ionic style.
Niko tells us of a myth surrounding the control of Athens by the Gods.
” Athena and Poseidon vied for control of Athens and its surrounding territory, Attica. The contest took place on the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and produced a salt spring or a horse. Athena brought forth an olive tree from the ground by the touch of her spear and she was proclaimed the victor. The olive was fundamental to Athenian economy and life. It provided oil, fuel, food and wood for construction. Angry at losing, Poseidon was appeased and continued to be worshiped in Athens. On the Acropolis, just across from the Parthenon, their is a hole in the roof of the building which marks the blow of his trident and a well below containing water and nearby is the olive tree that Athena had produced and continues to grow.”
Over its many centuries, the Acropolis was used for many purposes. A garrison, a sanctuary, a religious site and once held the treasury of Athens.
I love those stories and myth. Niko also tells us that Athenian pottery can be found throughout the world, so this confirms that the Greeks were a trading nation. The pottery would have contained olive oil and/or wine.
We make our way back down and our driver is waiting to take us to the Acropolis Museum. We make a stop for coffee at one of Niko favourite coffee shops near the Museum. He tells us that Greece has a very strong coffee culture and that you can order any type of coffee you want…..expresso, latte, cappuccino, cold coffee drinks and anything else you can think of. We have certainly noticed this, as there are coffee shops everywhere and usually many in a short distance.
Motorcycles also abound in Athens; this is of course due to the overabundance of vehicles on the streets, simply easier to get around on motorcycles. I asked Niko about helmets as you see some people without them. He says that by law you are supposed to wear a helmet when on a motorcycle, but the police simply do not have the time or will to enforce this law.
We visit the Acropolis museum, a must see if one visits here. Definitely world class. This is our last stop with Niko and once again we are grateful for such an informative guide.
What one sees at the Museum are the originals from the Acropolis site.
Only having one day in Athens just isn’t right, but for this time, that is all we had. An opportunity to come back and enjoy more of the City.
Robin and I do a bit of a walk around the neighbourhood before we left on Thursday, June 15th for our flight to Crete.
Bodrum was once a cozy fishing village of only a few thousand people. It is where the Mediterranean and the Aegean sea meet. It has experienced a growth spurt over the last half century that has transformed this once-sleepy community into one of Turkey’s most popular vacation areas. Population is now 136,000. Matt told us that the population basically doubles during the summer months.
One we arrived in Bodrum from Selcuk, Matt took us to see the Bodrum castle. The castle like many other places we have visited is presently being restored, so we were only able to see a small portion of it. The castle overlooks the harbor and the international marina. It was constructed by the Knights of Rhodes in the 15th century during the crusades of the middle ages.
Matt brings us to the “Azra Can”, our goulet for the next three days. We say goodbye to Matt; another great guide. He will be remembered for his funniest expression…”I just love this”, especially when it came to food.!
A goulet (also spelled gulet) is a traditional design of a two-masted or three-masted wooden sailing vessel from the southwestern coast of Turkey, particularly built in the coastal towns of Bodrum and Marmaris. They sail along the coast and are now mainly used for tourists.
We have spoiled ourselves and hired a private goulet, just two staterooms. Our captain, Farouk has been sailing goulets for over five years and our young cook, Mehmet, told us that he learnt how to cook working in a restaurant for one year, then cooking on goulets.
As we start to head out, the anchor gets stuck…oh oh!. With some help, they finally get the anchor up, and we head out in late afternoon. Pretty calm seas, but I have put on a motion sickness patch just in case. Robin has an iron stomach, and does not seem to be bothered by motion. We enjoy looking over all of the beautiful goulets and mega yachts in the harbour. We even see a large steel grey yacht which is called “007” and has a gun emblem…..now…..that is tacky…..wouldn’t want to be seen on that one!
We get to a small cove and Faye and I jump in to get cooled off. Mehmet serves our first meal. Way too much food, so delicious and beautiful presentation. Can’t get over the fact that he prepares this wonderful meal in such a small kitchen. Our first dinner was comprised of a green salad, seaweed (kind of a stringy bean), deep fried calamari, mashed potatoes, fried squid, cooked cucumber with carrots in the middle. We have tasted the seaweed before served with yogurt and very good indeed. He also want to serve fish, but we told him that this was simply too much food.
This is a very relaxing way to travel and a welcome change from our hectic touring of the past week. Allows us to chill out a little.
So for the next three days we take things easy. No rush to do anything. Our crew is more than happy to work on our schedule. Breakfast around 9 am, then a dip in the ocean to cool off, then off to the next inlet. So much fresh fruit, local cheese and olives for breakfast and whatever kinds of eggs we would like.
We keep telling Mahmet that he is such a good cook. His presentation is also marvellous, worth pictures. Faye asked him if he wanted to come back to Canada and cook for her…he just smiles. He hardly speaks or understands english so Farouk usually translates. Mahmet is also very good at re-purposing food. For example if we don’t eat the fruit for breakfast, it becomes a snack. Tomatoes and cucumbers become a salad. Fish becomes an appetizer; nothing goes to waste.
Our overnight stops have been near villages and just love to see the lights coming on, so beautiful.
We take a shore excursion one afternoon to a very small village. The ride to shore is in the small zodiac. All local Turkish people here enjoying a holiday. Enjoy another cold beer with beautiful ocean views.
It is quite something to watch Farouk and Mahmet work together to get the boat moored in a cove for an afternoon stop or overnight. They work in harmony. The boat stops a ways off a shore then Mahmet hops in a zodiac boat and takes a rope to the shore and he wraps the rope around a large rock and this holds the stern of the boat. In the interim Mahmet has let out the anchor at the front of the boat. Between the anchor and the rope, the boat is well secured.
Technology these days is incredible. The boat is equipped with televisions, although we did not have them on, why would you! Also, we have internet capability; unbelievable. Many different areas to relax on the boat. Comfortable couch and table at the front, sun mattresses in different locations on the front as well. You can choose to lie in the sun or under the shade awning; all very comfortable.
On our final night on the boast we are moored in a town next to Bodrum. We arrive back in Bodrum about 11 am the next morning. Farouk moors the boat in a very tiny spot between other goulets, masterful piece of maneuvering. He tells us that normally most of these boats would be at sea, but tourism here has taken a real hit after the problems in Istanbul a couple of years ago and the low Turkish Lira when it relates to local Turks.
Robin and I take the opportunity to do a walkabout in the old town of Bodrum. Reminiscent of many small tourist seaside towns we have visited over the years. Winding lanes with shops selling tourist trinkets, bathing suits, clothes, jewellery and anything else one could spend their money. Also many restaurants along the marina.
We are picked up by a driver around 11 am and taken to the Bodrum airport. We are catching a flight back to Istanbul and then on to Athens. A long day of travelling. Finally arrive at our hotel in Athens around 9:30 pm. LOVED TURKEY!
We landed in Izmir and met our guide, Matt. Took abut 1 1/2 hours to get Selcuk. The main reason to make a stop here is to see the ancient ruins of Ephesus.
This is a very fertile area and they grow and export figs, apricots and grapes. Many peach, cherry, pomegranate and olive orchards. It is also a very important wine growing region. On our drive, we also passed a couple of tobacco factories; Turkey grows its own tobacco.
The town of Selcuk has a population of 36,000. Matt tells us that many educated people are moving to smaller centres like Selcuk to get away from the large cities like Istanbul, as things move at a slower pace and housing/food is less expensive. This is the reverse of the population migration from farms to big cities! Matt reinforces the concept that it is the well educated that are moving to places like Selcuk. He said the unfortunate part was that the prices of housing is rising quickly in these centres.
Our first stop in the afternoon is to go to the ancient city of Ephesus. He tells us that visiting in late afternoon would be better due to the breeze. The temperature tomorrow is to be quite a bit warmer. These ruins are only some five minutes from Selcuk; so easy to get to. We enter the ancient city of Ephesus from the top gate and takes us about 2 hours to walk down to the lower gate. Matt has a quirky sense of humour and laughs at tourists that enter from the lower gate as they have to walk up!
Ephesus dates back to 10BC. Over the centuries there were four separate cities of Ephesus in and around the same location. The one we are visiting was the third such city. It was built by the Greeks, then came under Roman rule; so it is referred to as a Greco/Roman city. The archeologists say that this is based on the construction of the buildings. The Greeks used grey stone, the Roman’s used white marble and later in the Roman Byzantine times they used a red marble which is found in this area.
The excavation of this site stated in the 1930’s with the help of the Austrian government. To date only 20% to 25% of the current site has been excavated. Matt tells us that the city of Ephesus was a very rich port city. The Aegean sea was right at their doorstep so trade took place. Over the years silt and earthquakes caused the sea to recede and now the city is some 20kms from the sea.
We first see the small theatre which could hold 1,200 people and the large theatre held some 24,000.
The civilization of this City eventually died off, due to the ocean receding (trade ceased) the earthquakes, mosquitoes in the marshes and malaria.
There is a church where six Priestesses lived and their duty was to keep the flame alive It was felt that if the flame went out, their people would lose their power.
Matt told us that archeologists were able to calculate the population based on how many people could sit in the largest stadium, then multiply that figure by ten. Not sure why, but that seems to be the way they did it.
Water for the city came from the aqueduct and was used for drinking water as well as for heating the Roman baths which ran twenty four hours a day. The unfortunate part of the baths was that they burnt wood to keep the waters warm and therefore a lot of deforestation took place.
Some of the rediscovered ruins, mainly the terraced houses are now covered by a large structure to preserve them from further damage. Some beautiful frescoes can be seen.
Make our way to the Library which was reconstructed from 1970 to 1977. The library would have housed the scrolls, but none of these were found during excavations. A Hadrian church is nearby.
Matt tells us that in ancient times there were three cities that were lit at night by linseed oil lamps. These were Rome, Antioch and Ephesus. Some statues remain amongst the ruins, including one of Artemis, the sister of Appolo. Artemis was very important to Ephesus, as a goddess. The statue we saw was quite large and they would transport the statue across the hill to the church whenever there was a special rite.
Very hot today, but Matt says it will be even hotter tomorrow. It was his call to visit Ephesus and we are glad he made the decision to go this afternoon. As we are leaving Ephesus and walking towards our van, Matt tells us that he will meet us further down the lane. He says to watch out for the “sticky salesman”. We must go through a bazaar with all kinds of “tourist crap” for sale and the salespeople get mad at him if he is guiding a tour; as they feel that he is deterring tourist from buying their merchandise. He is not wrong; they are all calling out to us to buy something.
Matt tells us that there are three important sites in and around Selcuk. One is the ruins of Ephesus and its museum, the Basilica of St. John and the House of Mary. Tomorrow we will visit the museum as well as the Basilica. The House of Mary is located quite high in the mountains. We have opted out of going; as Matt tells us just a little house with nothing to see.
The visit to the House of Mary becomes quite a joke between all of us. Every time we are driving somewhere, Matt points to the the Mountain and says….”look, there is the House of Mary”. He tells us that we have to give him a good rating……even though we didn’t see “the House of Mary”.
After visiting Ephesus, we are driven to Sirince, a small town up in the mountains to get to our hotel Nisanyan Houses Hotel. Our van can only go up to a certain point on the road and we are met at an intersection by a small van from the hotel. Holy Moly! I think the young driver thought he was the race car driver, Mario Andretti. We find out later that this young man was also acting as a waiter in the restaurant, so that is why he was driving so fast; he had to get back to work.
Our hotel is perched on the side of the hill overlooking the town of Sirince. It is made up of several stone buildings. The furnishings in our apartment are very eclectic. We have to walk down a very steep road about five minutes to the main dining room. This hotel is very busy as is the holiday for locals, after Ramadan. A great meal with wonderful views down the valley. Wild hollyhocks growing everywhere here, even along side the road; beautiful.
The next morning we are once again driven down the road to the meeting point. Faye and I tell Matt that we need a cappuccino. He stops in the town of Selcuk, some twenty minutes down the road from where we are staying. The coffee shop is just across the Ephesus museum, so visit there next. The museum houses many of the artifacts from the ancient city of Ephesus and is well worth seeing.
We then visit the Basilica of St. John which is on the hill overlooking Ephesus. It was built from 527AD to 565AD. It is said that John the Evangilist came to this region of Turkey to spread the word of Jesus. From the remains of the church one can see that it was built in the shape of a cross. Apparently some years ago Pope Paul Vl visited here and held a mass.
Across the fields we see the Temple of Artemis. We visited it, but really is uninspiring. Only 1 column still exists and storks have their nest built on the one remaining column. Have seen lots of storks in this area and they are all nesting.
Matt told us that a lot of the collapsed columns and other building materials that were in the ruins were used for construction in other parts of the city of Selcuk and surrounding areas.
We stop at one of Matt’s favourite restaurants for our lunchtime meal. Can’t believe how much the Turks eat…..Matt says “of course we do”. The two lunches we have had with him have been in a buffet style which is quite popular here. You do not help yourself as you would in a North American buffet. You tell the waiter what you want and they bring it family style.
Today our lunch was made up of meat skewers, beef/lamb meatballs, stuffed zucchini flowers, zucchini fritters, black and green olives, broccoli and tomato salad, cooked vegetable mixture of eggplant, mushrooms and tomatoes, green bean salad, chick pea salad, fried potato slices, fava bean salad and seaweed with yogurt. The locals generally put cumin and hot dried peppers over top of their meat and other dishes. Matt polishes off everything that we didn’t have. All very flavourful.
Matt tells us that he has a sister living in Oakville, Ontario and that he has visited a few times. He says he loves shopping at Costco and Target. He uses the phrase “I just love this” when he likes something. He has always used it after lunch or stopping for coffee. Cannot believe how much this guy can eat! He tells us that all Turks eat like him. Must admit that this is probably true. What we have been served for breakfast at various hotels has been overwhelming.
For my “cat friends”. There are hundreds of stray cats everywhere. The Turks love cats and put out water and food for the strays.
Our next stop is “Firca Pottery” so we can observe the traditional pottery making and see some of the pieces. In Selcuk, they use local clay from the river and then grind quartz and glass into the clay to make it stronger. Also, because of the quartz they use, once the various pieces are fired, the colours do not fade.
They use all natural colours and each piece goes through many stages.
1) Once an item has been shaped it goes into a dry room
2) First firing is at 1,600 degrees for 1 hours
3) The design is painted on
4) Then colour and glazing
5) Final firing where the glazing melts on the item.
The most interesting item we saw is a wine jug that is shaped into a circle. Unfortunately I did not take a picture of these; have seen them everywhere. The lady who was leading us around said that one puts your arm into the centre of the piece (Hittite wine jug) and that helps pour the wine……needless to say, the servants did this chore.
Robin commented on the traditional designs of some of the pottery. We were told that anyone using the ancient designs on pottery they are selling need to have special permission to use them. All of us came away with some purchases; couldn’t resist, they are all so beautiful. Thank heavens they ship home free of charge, otherwise I would have to start carrying larger suitcases.
I must comment on Turkish tea and coffee. I always thought that most Turks drank very strong coffee. In reality, most Turks drink strong black tea, and if too strong, they simply add hot water. The tea pots come in two sections, as do modern day kettles, here in Turkey. The bottom part or electric kettle keep the water hot. The pot on top is where the tea is brewed. Below is a picture of an ancient and a modern tea pot.
The next morning we are picked up by our driver and Matt. They are taking us to Bodrum, about a 2 1/2 hour drive. The Soke valley, on the way to Bodrum has the largest production of cotton. Bodrum is where we will be catching our “goulet”. We make a lunch stop and again trying new food. We shared “Manti” a dumpling with meat inside which is covered with garlic and tomato sauce. The other dish is “Sarma” which is stuffed grape leaved covered in yogurt and tomato sauce. Matt is so funny; every time he eats he says…”I just love this”. We have enjoyed his company and his wealth of knowledge of Turkey and its’ people.
On to our next chapter…..Bodrum.
Flew to Kayseri on Monday, June 3rd which was about 1 1/2 hours from Istanbul. Picked up by our guide Omer and driver and it took us about 1 hour to get to Urgup. We are staying at a beautiful cave hotel “Yunak Evleri”.
“Cappadocia, a semi-arid region in central Turkey, is known for its distinctive “fairy chimneys,” tall, cone-shaped rock formations clustered in Monks Valley, Göreme and elsewhere. Other notables sites include Bronze Age homes carved into valley walls by troglodytes (cave dwellers) and later used as refuges by
This is an area of Turkey that we have always wanted to come to, to see the cave dwellings, underground city and the rock formations. We made our way down to the centre of the small town of Urgup and walked around to get our bearings. Back to the hotel to get settled in, but opted for a cold beer on one of the numerous decks before a rest and then late dinner outside.
This hotel and grounds simply take your breath away. I mentioned beer…..a very good very popular Turkish beer is Efes. I think I might have 5 or 6 beer throughout the summer in Calgary after a hot day of gardening. I have now way surpassed my quota of beer. Hey…..it’s warm and thirst quenching. On another note, have been enjoying the fresh fruit drinks here.
Lovely dinner out on one of the numerous decks. Have really enjoyed the Turkish food. Lots of lamb, which the three of really enjoy.
I talked about beer which is very good, but oh my gosh, the wine, what a surprise. The Turkish wines we have tasted have been absolutely wonderful. Among the three of us, we have laughed about this. The first night we arrived in Istanbul, I had a glass of wine and Faye and Robin had a beer. I told them the wine wasn’t bad and they both had a taste and said it wasn’t very good. So since then, every time we comment on how good the wine has been, they both say….yes, except for our first night in Istanbul…..alright already. I was tired and had jet lag. It was red and I was thirsty!
The subject of the Muslim faith comes up often, especially now since it is Ramadan. It finishes tonight, Monday. Our guide told us that in 1924 there was a population exchange between Turkey and Greece. This agreement was reached just after Turkey won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. “Treaty of Lausanne involved an agreement between Greece and Turkey to forcibly exchange around 1.5 million Greek Orthodox Christians and a lower number of Muslims in the largest population displacement of modern times.” In other words, the Turkish government wanted Turkish people back in their own country.
Tuesday morning arrives and we are up and 4 am for our 4:30 am pickup. We are going on a hot air balloon ride. None of us have ever been, so a real experience. The company we are with is called Royal Hot Air Balloons and our guide told us that they are very reputable.
We stop in the small town of Goreme, which is where the hot air balloons take off. We are given the option of breakfast, but we pass and simply have tea/water. All the companies are waiting to hear from the Turkish Air Ministry whether or not the conditions are acceptable for flying. We were told that no balloons were allowed to fly yesterday as the winds were too high. The Air Ministry took over this function a few years ago as there were many accidents in prior years with unreputable unlicensed companies. This is a good thing. We get the all clear and everyone is very happy. We are driven to a field and cannot believe the amount of balloon. We are told that a maximum of 150 balloon are allowed to fly each day and they only fly once in the very early morning hours. To watch them inflate the balloons is half of the experience. There are hot fiery flames going up into the balloon to inflate them. Are we actually going to get in a basket and rise up above the earth while the pilot blows more hot flames up to keep us flying?
Oh well, our wills are up to date, so what the heck!
We are told that everything is ready. A maximum of 12 people plus the pilot in each balloon. Four sections to the basket, so three people in each quadrant, actually perfect. We start to rise, what a sensation as one sees the earth fall beneath you and to look around and see another 150 balloons rising at various intervals. They are very safety conscious these days around this whole experience. The sun is rising, the landscape below is ever changing….took way too many pictures, but one can’t help it.
After our 1 1/2 hours up in the air, our pilot lands the balloon right on the trailer being pulled by the truck…unbelievable. They communicate while we are still in the air and depending on where the wind is blowing the truck/trailer head where they think they will land. At the end of the balloon ride, we have some champagne, cookies and chocolate covered strawberries and we each get a gold medal! Not sure why, but accepted it graciously.
Back to the hotel and we all go back to our room for a snooze. Meet for breakfast and Faye and I head down to the town, about a 15 minute walk, to go to the coffee shop that Omer told us had good coffee. The town is very quiet, and the coffee shop is closed. We find a small coffee shop a few doors down and there is a family of women having their Turkish tea and breakfast. We ask for a cappuccino from one of the young ladies who speaks a little english. We ask why the town is so quiet and are told that it is the day after Ramadan and Eid begins for the week. The custom is for families to get together. I believe that the reason for no men here is that there was just a call for prayer and every thing simply opening later.
We are told that the Government has declared that there will be 9 days off after Ramadan. I asked our guide if this was normal, he said “no”. The skeptic I am, I asked if this extended holiday had anything to do with the fact that the government party lost elections in three major cities and another round of elections is happening on June 23rd. The guide just smiled.
We spend the day by our hotel pool, lovely setting.
Omer picks us up the next day and takes us to the Goreme Open Air Museum; which is a Unesco World Heritage Site. These caves were originally a Monastery and Church dating back to the late 4th century. These caves are a result of volcanic ash and were occupied until the 13th century.
We decide to visit this morning as is a very hot day…..good call.
There are well preserved paintings on the walls of the church. The pictures of various saints tell stories and teach religion at the same time for those that were illiterate. The archeologists have been able to date the three various styles of paintings from the various colours that were used. Iconoclastic period (Byzantine) shows a muddy red and the 11th and 12th century show icons with faces. There are two types of paintings on the walls. One referred to a “seco” which means that the paintings were applied directly to the walls (these don’t last as long) and “fresco” where a plaster was applied and paint put on overtop. Unfortunately photos cannot be taken inside; which is of course to preserve the paintings for future generations to see.
Omer tells us that some people lived in caves till the 1980’s. After viewing a few of the churches (really small rooms in individual caves) we see a convent for nuns and a monastery for men. These individual caves are joined by hallways to various rooms including dining rooms, food storage, bedrooms and their own church.
Each of the small churches have names..The apple church, the sandal church and the church with snakes; normally based on paintings inside the individual churches
We note that the government has applied plaster to the outside of the caves in order to prevent further erosion.
We often wondered what the small holes in the rock surfaces were as we had seen them in the walls near our hotel. Omer explains that these were called “pigeon holes”. Pigeons would live in these holes and the local farmers would cultivate the “pigeon poop” for fertilizer for the fields. As these holes are very high up, the farmers would get to the top by using the cave below the holes and climb up some inner steps.
When we were picked up at the airport in Kayseri, we noticed that the airfield was surrounded by military planes. Omer tells us that one of the government airfields is just behind the main airport. Every young man in Turkey must complete compulsory military service. In the 1930’s that time was 4 yrs, reduced to 2 1/2 yrs in the 50’s, then 21 months, down to 18 months and they are now talking 12 months. There are now 1 million people serving in the military in Turkey; including women.
What I haven’t mentioned before is the Turkish alphabet. Previously an arabic script was used by the Ottomans and we are told that this language did not have all of the phonetic sounds that were used by the Turkish people. Only 5% of the existing population could read this alphabet. In 1927, Ataturk (the leader of the independence in 1923) introduced the now “Turkish alphabet”. It has 21 consonants , 8 vowels and there are no W,X or Y’s. There are also many “umlaut’s” used over vowels; which indicate a different pronunciation. Robin said I should simply write…”It’s complicated”. I have tried to learn a few words; but have almost given up as when I use the phrases I have learnt; I get a quizzical look!
Our next stop is the Underground City of Kayakli. I am a bit claustrophobic, but Omer tells me just a couple of sections where we will have to bend down. I decide to try it as once never knows if you will return. This underground city was used in times of invasion to hide the women, children, older people and the sick. There is no sunshine down here, but a system of air shafts were built.
The tunnels could accommodate up to 4,000 people at one time and they had enough food preserves that they could stay up to 10 months. When there was no war, the various rooms were used for food storage. We note a dug out in the kitchen floor with a half cylindrical shape coming from it. This is the cooking fire site and the cylindrical shape helped provide air for a continuous fire. A constant temperature of 15 degrees celsius was maintained with the help of carpets on the floors and walls. Niches in the walls for linseed oil lamps, storage areas for food, squares in the floor where they would stomp grapes with a channel for the juice to go into a container, black ceilings due to the cooking and long tables and benches carved into the floor for seating and eating. We are told that the people cooking would also put small stones on the cooking fires to keep down the flames and mainly cook on the remaining heat of the fire. We also see a basalt stone, which they surmise was used as a mortar and pestle to grind spices.
The archeologist surmise that different rooms used for various storage depending on the size and temperature of that specific room.
The tunnels leading from room to room are very narrow and very low, but once you get into a room, once can stand up. The low, narrow tunnels would slow down any enemies, if they were able to enter, and give the people time to escape.
These caves were dug down vertically, then horizontally for a floor; and this continues down to 6 floors. We visit three floors and apparently we only see 6% of the city. Apparently a lot of the tunnels have filled with dust over the years. The top floors were used as stables and holes in the floors for their feed.
They also had emergency exits and means of blocking exits if they had to. Big rocks to block the entrances would have had to be carved down here, no way for the people to bring them down as the rocks are bigger than the tunnels. One big rock that could be rolled to block a tunnel, reminded me of “Raider’s of the Lost Ark” where Harrison Ford is running down a tunnel with a large boulder bearring down on him. Glad we saw these, but sure wouldn’t want to live down there! I think Robin hit his head a couple of times as we were walking through the tunnels.
We stop for lunch in the small town of Avanos and try “Barek”, filo pastry filled with either spinach/cheese, eggplant and minced meat. We also try the drink called “Hosaf” which is made with apricots, raisins, plums with cloves boiled in water and left to “plump up”. Very good and thirst quenching. I love the places that the tour guides take us to….their local knowledge really helps with this; as you visit restaurants you would not normally have a chance to frequent.
The town of Avanos is known for its pottery and rugs. The Red River flows through this area. It is 125kms long and goes into the Black Sea. A natural spot for making of pottery due to the clay found along the river.
Although we visited a rug store and bought rugs in Istanbul, we opted to visit this rug manufacturer as they have their own silk worms and weave their own silk. We learn that the double knot system is classified as a Turkish rug and a single know is referred to as a Moroccan or Persian. For the wool rugs, different types of wool are used. In the east of Turkey, where it is colder, the wool produced is longer and stronger, so this wool is usually used for floor carpets. In the west where it is warmer, the wool is thinner and softer; so these rugs are used for walls to help keep the temperature moderate in homes. We had watched one of the Master Weavers work and she was amazing to watch; again a very intricate design.
The owner who has explained the rug making art to us, also mentions that the “front side of the carpet is what you fall in love with” and the back side is “what you pay for”. The more knots per square inch, the more expensive. All the various patterns of the rugs tell of story and usually relate to a specific area of the country.
Once again, Faye is honing her mastery of “rug knotting”. A woman waves Faye over and tells her to sit down and she will show her what to do. This time the rug is cotton. I tell the owner that Faye has done one knot on a rug in Istanbul. He says that the women that is showing Faye is not one of his employees, but she is simply visiting. He does know her and says that she is indeed a master weaver. He tells me that their shop teaches women to become weavers. They get government subsidies to teach women (usually widows) to become self sufficient.
We are then taken to a side room where the silk is taken from the cocoons and spun into the size of thread they will need for specific carpets. This may take up to 375 single filaments to make one thread. A very interesting process. They receive large bags of cocoons and they only use the male cocoons. You ask how does one know the difference between a male and female? We asked that specific question and are told that the male cocoon is oval and the female is shaped like a peanut. They put the cocoons in water and with a whisk brush, they are able to grab a piece of thread from each cocoon and join them together and put them together to weave on thread. Very interesting process to watch.
We then drive to Monk Valley, the area known for its “Fairy Chimneys”. This place looks like a lunar landscape. These chimneys were formed when many centuries ago lava spewed, went into the sea and cooled down. With erosion and earthquakes affecting these large blocks of lava, they were spilt and the end result is the single chimneys. The caps were formed as the harder material was at the top of the rock formation and a softer material in lower layers.
A final stop to view the Imagination fields and again a type of chimney and these forms leave more to the imagination.
Omer also tells us a little more about Turkey. He tells us that Turkey produces 75% of the world’s hazelnuts. These are grown in the Black Sea area along wth cherries and tea. The south-east of the country produces cotton, cork, pistachio’s, oranges, melons, pomegranate and tomatoes. West of the country is known for figs and olives. He tells us that the best Baclava is in the South-east as this is where the pistachios’ are grown. In the south east of Turkey, the farmer’s will normally be able to harvest two crops of corn and wheat. We see vendors in all the towns/cities we have visited selling roasted corn on the cob and/or selling corn kernels in cups.
Another great day of touring with our wonderful guide, Omer.
The next morning, we are picked up and driven to the airport for our 1 1/2 hour flight to Izmir, then a 1 hour drive to our hotel near Sirince.
We are off again on another adventure, this time to Turkey and Greece for three weeks. These are two countries that we have not yet visited so we are looking forward to this trip. We are also travelling with our good friend Faye J. This trip was organized by a travel agent that Faye uses for her many travels. This is different for us, as normally, I do all the organizing and a lot of what we decide to do happens when we arrive in a country. We will have some free time as well as many organized tours.
We left Calgary on May 29th and flew to Istanbul via Amsterdam. The first part of the trip is in Turkey for twelve days and continues on to Greece for the remainder of our trip. Itinerary for Turkey is Istanbul, Cappadocia area, Izmir/Sirince/Ephesus, Bodrum, a cruise on a goulet and back to Istanbul for a flight to Athens.
In Greece, we will spend time in Athens, then onto the island of Crete where we will be in Chania and Heraklion. Would have liked to see more of the Greek Islands, but you never know, there may be another Greece trip in the future.
First of all a little history of Turkey. It has the oldest known human settlement (7500 BC) and is said to be the “cradle” of the world’s oldest civilizations. It presently has a population of some 80 million people.
Turkey is a peninsula, surrounded by three seas: the Black Sea on the north side, the Aegean Sea on the west side and the Mediterranean Sea on the south side. As of 2019 the U.N.estimates the population of Turkey to be 82.8 million. The capital of Turkey is Ankara.
The following information was taken from the CIA Worldbook site, which I refer to when doing research on countries that we are visiting.
“The Turkish Government conducted a referendum in April 2017 in which voters approved constitutional amendments changing Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The amendments went into effect fully following the presidential and parliamentary elections in June 2018.
Turkey is a land rich in natural resources some of which are coal, iron ore, copper, chromium, antimony, mercury, gold, barite, borate, celestite (strontium), emery, feldspar, limestone, magnesite, marble, perlite, pumice, pyrites (sulfur), clay, arable land, hydropower.
The country is among the world’s leading producers of agricultural products (50% of the land is agricultural) ; textiles; motor vehicles, transportation equipment; construction materials; consumer electronics and home appliances.”
Turkey is divided into seven geographical regions and each has particular foods, accents and folklore.
Since 2018 the country has suffered a decline in its economy due to some of the political views/turmoil, some terrorist attacks and actions on interest rates.
Found these little known facts of Turkey on a postcard that our travel agent gave us.
– Turks gave the Dutch their famous tulips
– Selcuk near Ephesus is the city where the Virgin Mary spent her last days. I know we will see Ephesus, so not sure if Selcuk is on the itinerary.
– The first church built by man (St. Peter’s Church) is in Antioch.
– The Temple of Artemis and the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus are two of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
We flew from Calgary via Amsterdam to Istanbul and arrived about 4:30 pm, a long day. We were met at the airport by our guide Yasemin, who will be with us during the next 3 days. Istanbul built a new airport about 3 years ago and it is very large and modern and about a 40 minute drive to our hotel; which is located in the old part of the city.
Driving to the hotel we cross the Bosphorus Strait which separates the Asian and European sides of the City. Our hotel is located on the European side. There are 3 suspension bridges crossing the strait.
The city of Istanbul is the only city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia. It sits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It was the capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Some 20% of Turkey’s population lives in Istanbul and it’s present population is 16 million. 65% live on the European side and 35% reside on the Asian side of the City. The average age of the population is 32 years of age, so very young when compared to other major cities in the world. Due to the huge population and the growth of Istanbul over the centuries, most of the green areas and trees in the city have been cut down for development sake. Jasmine tells us that the locals say that if they see a green area in the city, it is either military or cemetery!
On our way to the hotel, Yasemin also mentioned that Istanbul is the 5th most crowded city in the world. 99% of the population in the city are Muslim and it is presently Ramadan and will end on Monday evening. There are also Armenian Christians, Greek Orthodox and about 20,000 of the Jewish faith. She also told us that the city has 3,000 mosques, 300 churches and 22 synagogues. Driving in we saw many, many minarets and mosques. The country is a secular society where state and religious institutions are separate. When a couple gets married, there must first be a civil wedding and if they wish, a religious celebration may follow.
The city has one overall mayor and 39 district mayors with counsels. You may have followed the news regarding the mayoralty election here in Istanbul over a month ago. The election was deemed to have had some issues and the outcome was declared invalid by the present Turkish government. It was reported that the government did not like the outcome (the winner was not of the existing ruling government, but someone more liberal), so has called a subsequent election for June 23rd. This also happened in the capital, Ankara and in Izmir; both large cities. Our guide tells us that she feels that due to this situation, more people will come out and vote and that the outcome will be the same and she is actually hoping for a larger majority. As you can guess she is liberal minded. It is felt that the present State government is felt to be very conservative idealogies.
Most of the industries that I mentioned before are located in the Istanbul area. Jasmine confirmed that major industries are car manufacturing (Fiat, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, Citroen, etc.), textile and leather goods manufacturing (Hilfiger, Armani, Burberry, etc.) and the third main source of revenue is tourism. Tourism did take a hit a few years ago due to several terrorist attacks.
Yasemin told us that the minimum wage is about 400 Euro per month, so this low cost of labour is a benefit to the manufacturing sector. The main agricultural area is in the Aegean and Mediterranean areas of the country. Cotton is one of the main crops which is used in the textile industry. Unfortunately the country still deals with an unofficial unemployment rate of 12%.
The transportation in Istanbul is excellent. They have an underground, even with one line running under the Sea of Marmara which joins the Asian and European sides. A light rail transit system, trains and ferries. Jasmine tells us that it is very economical to use the public transit system and people are encouraged to use it to help lower the number of vehicles on the road. Taxis abound on all the streets.
Turkey does have four seasons. Yasemin indicated that on occasion even Istanbul gets snow; but it usually melts as soon as it lands. In the north part of the country they can get huge amounts of snow and at times the children don’t attend school for weeks at a time due to the amount of snow.
On our drive in from the airport we also see part of a Roman Aqueduct built in the 7th Century by the Romans. They also built a system of cistern’s to hold the water. The aqueduct no longer functions and neither do the cistern’s. Some of the cistern’s are so large, they are used to day for functions. Also see some of the ancient walls along the way in the Sultanahmet area, near our hotel.
We had read that when in Turkey we should use bottled water and Yasemin did confirm this. She indicated that the water from the taps is only to be used for bathing or washing clothes. The city grew so fast and the officials weren’t able to deal with the infrastructure needed to deal with a proper water system.
Even the best hotels do not have potable water. Our hotel provides bottled water in the rooms. The thing that bothers us the most is all the plastic…..what on earth do they do with it. We even have problems in Canada with recycling our plastic and we probably don’t use half the plastic they do here. What a pity!
Our hotel is located in the Sultanahmet district, which is the old part of the city. We finally arrive at the hotel around 5:30 pm and we are all very tired. We take time to unpack and freshen up and head out for dinner. As we are walking around trying to get our bearings, we pass by many restaurants. Outside all the restaurants there are men trying to beckon you into their establishments. These guys are so quick and have the greatest lines. When I kept walking by one and shook my head no, his response was “You are breaking my heart”. None of us are too hungry as we were well fed on our flights. We opt for a small restaurant where we share a few appetizers. Cold beers enjoyed by Faye and Robin and I opt for a glass of wine.
Jet lag keeps me up for part of the night, but Robin doesn’t ever having problems sleeping. He always tells me that is because he has “pure thoughts and a clear conscience!”. Since it is Ramadan, there is a call to prayer at 3:30 in the morning…..yes a.m. Good thing I was awake. After the call to prayers, the dogs started barking! The Muslims are supposed to be fasting in daylight hours during Ramadan, so that is why the prayers take place so early, so that they can eat after the prayers but before sunrise. Normally the Muslims are called to prayer five times a day. Women are also allowed in Mosque, in a separate area, but not on Fridays; as this is only for men. Our guide tells us that most practicing Muslim women pray at home.
Yasemin has told us that not all Muslim’s fast nowadays and many even drink alcohol and smoke on a regular basis. I guess that this would be similar to non-practicing Catholics. Must say that they are very liberal when it comes to Ramadan here in Turkey; the shops and restaurants are all open, liquor is available and all historical venues are also open. We were in Morocco once during Ramadan and everything was shut down.
On Friday morning, Robin, Faye and I head out to discover our neighbourhood. This area is know for its old wooden built homes which date back to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. A lot of them have been restored as homes, while others turned into small hotels. Some of them are very well taken care of and restored, while some have been allowed to fall into disrepair, which is unfortunate.
We continue on our way, simply walking down streets randomly and come across the Small Haghia Sophia mosque and continue on and find the small Arasta Bazaar which is located just below the Blue Mosque. We stop at the first bazaar shop we see….so like a tourist!. It is a chocolate, dried fruit and tea shop; who can resist. A young man waits on us and he spots that we have bought a box of green tea in a plastic bag that I am holding. We had stopped at a small corner store to buy the green tea. I always find it amazing how observant these merchants can be and that they pick up on the slightest clue. He tells us that loose tea is much better for you and proceeds to show us his teas. All the teas are on shelves and in drawers and he picks up a paddle full of the tea so that you can smell it. He gave us a sample of pomegranate tea which was simply delicious. Below is a picture of the loose teas as they were so colourful, all natural ingredients.
He then sells Robin some nice dark chocolate nuggets filled with coffee flavoured filling. Faye tries the chocolate/hazelnut log and cannot believe the flavours. She resists buying any, which is hard; as hazelnuts are her favourite. The young salesman tries to sell her some but she insists that she would gain weight if she ate all of this chocolate. He then tells her that he can also sell her a diuretic slimming tea, so she can buy the chocolate and the tea and therefore enjoy the chocolate and not gain weight! You would have to see this young man. He told us he was from Syria and was tall and very thin. Faye told him he didn’t need the tea and could eat all the chocolate he wanted!
We continue wandering down the mall and come across a Turkish towel shop that has a Canadian flag hanging in the window. Needless to say, we have to go in. Both Faye and I have indulged in purchasing Turkish towels back in Canada and we both say that once you have used a turkish towel, you will never go back. What a lovely shop, it belongs to a Canadian lady who lives in Turkey. We consider buying some bed coverings, but decide to wait. They will ship to Canada as do most shops. Such a lovely variety of Hamann and Turkish bath towels….hard to resist.
We make our way back to our hotel as we have our first tour this afternoon with our guide. On the way to the ferry terminal, we stop at Taksim (meaning “to distribute water”) square. In ancient times the square was used to “distribute water” to the citizens of the area. The Republic Monument is situated here. Turkey gained its independence in 1923. Taksim is a busy nightlife, shopping, dining district and is the city’s main pedestrian boulevard, which is lined with 19th-century buildings housing international shopping chains, movie theaters and cafes. Many embassies located in this area as well. We also note the construction of a new mosque just off the square and Yasemin says that the locals did not want the mosque built in this area, not sure why, but they lost their cause.
Today, the square is surrounded by police fencing and some very serious looking police riot vehicles, water cannon guns and lots of police presence. The square was the location of the 2013 anti-government demonstrations and concerns exist that there might be trouble on this anniversary day. Not something we would see at home!.
We make our way to the boat/ferry terminal in the harbour and we begin the trip on the Golden Horn, which was the original port during the Byzantine period. Legend has it that the Golden Horn name comes from the fact that this is where the trading of goods took place and gold was the currency used. Another story is that the name comes from the color of the water at sunset as it shines with a gold color because of the reflection of the sun.
Once we leave the harbour, we cruise into the Bosphorus strait. Sailing on water is a great way to see the skyline of a city. The Bosphorus is the body of water that joins the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Lots of large transport ships use this shipping lane. We are told that ships travel in one direction for eight hours and the other direction for the next eight hours. By the way, the Sea of Marmara joins the Aegean Sea which eventually joins the Mediterranean. I actually had to look up a map of the region to get my bearings and that finally made sense. We begin by sailing under the Bosphorus bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges and view the beautiful wooden mansions along both shores. Yasemin told us that one Russian tanker lost control some time ago and smashed into one of the mansions. No one was injured…..can you imagine seeing a bigger tanker coming toward you while you are having coffee in your living room!
Along the shore the beautiful Dolmabahce Palace is a striking building. It was built in the 19th century and was the administration centre of the Ottoman Empire.
In the distance on one of the hills of the city, we can see the Galata Tower. This is one of Istanbul’s most recognized symbols. It was first built of wood as a lighthouse in 528AD and was originally called the Great Tower. At one time the tower was damaged and was rebuilt in stone in the 1200’s.
We pass a couple of islands on which one stands the Maiden’s Tower. According to one myth it was built by an emperor to protect his daughter who he saw die of a snakebite in a dream. It is said that his efforts proved futile as a snake hid itself in a fruit basket and bit her anyway. Today it is a restaurant.
We spend a couple of hours touring and following are just some of the views from the ferry.
On the way back to the old town, we discuss the education system. In schools, the children first learn Turkish and some then decide to take another language (french, english, german, etc). When it comes to high school; two choices are available. Private schools or public schools. One must write an exam and they need to excel. If the child does well they can attend a private school and it is paid for by the government. If your child does not do well in the exams you have two choices…attend a private school and pay or attend a public school. Yasmin tells us that the education offered in the public schools is basic and that it is much better if one can attend the private schools. There are some 40 Universities in the city of Istanbul.
The new government has changed the laws and children are not mandated to go to school after grade 4. This horrifies Yasemin, as does us. She feels that this is one of the many laws that the new government has changed in trying to bring the country backward vs progressing into modern society. Knowledge is power!
We drive through the Nisantasi Tesvikiye neighbourhood which has very high end shopping and home sell for two to three million U.S. dollars as they have a view of the Bosphorus.
We visit the Basilica Underground Cistern, the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city. It is nicknamed “The Sunken Palace” due to all the columns and was built in the 6th century. It provided the water needs of the imperial palace and other residents living in the area and later used as a water source for the Topkapi Palace gardens. It is supported by 336 columns and the cistern could hold up to 100,000 tons of water ( 3 million cubic feet). The columns are not identical as they were taken from older buildings that were no longer in use. Some are in the Doric style and others Corinthian. One column draws special attention due to engraved pictures resembling eyes and tears. It is said these tears pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern.
There are also a couple columns with sculptures of Medusa on the pedestals of the pillars. These are said to be guardians of the cistern.
At some point, the cistern was no longer and use and during renovation work that took place between 1985-87, 50,000 tons of mud were taken out and walking platforms were placed in the cistern and opened to the public for viewing.
Some of you might recognize the cistern as it has been the location of several movies including the James Bond “From Russia with Love” and in the “Inferno” with Tom Hanks. The cistern normally has some water in it with fish abounding. It is presently undergoing some restoration so the water has been emptied. It is often used for concerts and private functions. It is hard to describe how huge this place really is.
We walk to the Hippodrome, where chariot races used to take place. It could hold up to 100,000 people. It is now a public square which hosts many events. Along the square there are 2 columns and 1 obelisk.
Our first day has been full and we are hot and tired. Decide to head up to the terrace on the top of our hotel to have a “cold one”. I am not normally a beer drinker, but with this hot weather the beer is going down very well.
Below is a view from our terrace and in the distance you can see all the tankers waiting to cross the Bosphorus.
At supper we were given a complimentary desert of “Kunefe/Kanafeh” which is made with a thin noodle like pastry which is soaked in syrup and layered with cheese and some nuts. It was followed by a glass of “raki” which is a sweetened anise flavoured liqueur….wouldn’t want too many of these, goes straight to one’s head.
In a corner of the terrace, I noticed a baby seagull. The waiter told us that the mother hated him, every time he approached the mother would start squawking and sure enough that did happen. Quite amusing to watch as he would walk back and forth. We mentioned that Turkish was a hard language and that we were even having a hard time with the simplest of phrases. He told us that after 10 beer we would be able to understand the Turkish language!
Once again today I was taken aback when a shopkeeper in the market spoke to me in French. Seems to happen to me all over the world; makes me proud of my french heritage. Faye made an observation that all of the people working in the shops are men. For the most part this is very true, we have seen very few women working in the shops.
We head out early for our second day of touring with Yasemin. Our first stop is the Blue Mosque. To enter the Blue Mosque, women must be dressed modestly and their heads must be covered. Men must wear long pants. We were aware of this and dressed appropriately but for those that did not, there was a small shop that rented long skirts (for both women and men) and scarves for women.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616. It’s official name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque (commissioned by him) but is known as the Blue Mosque due to it’s 21,000 hand made blue tiles in the interior. A nice interior courtyard before one enters the mosque. It has 260 windows. As with a lot of historical sites, the mosque is undergoing a restoration, so some areas were closed off. This did not take away from its’ beauty.
One of the most distinctive elements of this Istanbul mosque is that it has six minarets, as opposed to the usual two or four of most of the city’s mosques. In the history of the Blue Mosque, legend has it that this is because of a misunderstanding – when the Sultan decreed there should be altın minare (gold minarets), the architect heard altı minare (six minarets). This caused some controversy, as the only other mosque with six minarets at that time was the Prophet’s mosque in Mecca – a problem the sultan overcame by ordering a seventh to be added in Mecca. Our guide told us that some believe that the architect did this on purpose to save money!
On the tiles, the images are those taken from nature, such as flowers or geometric designs. There are no pictures of humans or animals as the Koran indicates that Muslims are to pray directly to God. For this reason one will never see any statues in a mosque.
Tourists can only access the mosque at certain times as it is still used for Muslim prayers on a daily basis. Yasemin tells us of the five pillars of Islam
1) God is one and Mohamed is the prophet
2) One must pray five times a day
3) One must fast during Ramadan
4) One must go to Mecca at least once in a lifetime
5) One must be charitable
It is believed that it is better to go to Mecca at an older age; as your sins are forgiven. When you go to Mecca you cannot borrow money to go and you must leave money behind for your family.
Some of the elements of a mosque are the minaret (where the muezzin calls people to prayer), the mihrab (a niche that shows the direction one should pray), the minbar (where the Friday sermon is given) . Men pray on the rug in the main part of the mosque and the women pray behind screens or on the second level.
I should apologize to my Muslim friends if any of my writings regarding the Muslim faith is incorrect.
Our next stop is the Hagia Sophia, which is just some 500 metres from the Blue Mosque. This was a former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum. Built in AD 537 at the beginning of the Middle Ages, it was famous in particular for its massive dome; which is 56 metres high. The amazing thing is that this building incorporates not only Muslim symbols, but Christian ones as well. In our travels, this is the first time we see this. The readers may recall that we visited the Andalusia province of Spain last year and many mosques converted to churches and vice versa. but every time a church was converted to a mosques, all the Christian symbols would be removed and the same applied when a mosque was converted; it would only have Christian symbols.
Partial Christian mosaics can still be seen on the second floor of the Museum. Beautiful gardens surround the property.
It has flying buttresses to support the structure; an outer and inner narthex and a cistern was built under the church to stabilize it in case of earthquakes.
There are two resident cats at the Hagia Sophia museum. One is called Gli and has slightly crossed eyes and has its own Instagram account with 12,400 followers. Gli just sits there while everyone takes his picture…..possibly looking for more followers!
Yasemin asks us if we want to go see some turkish carpets and we all agree. She tells us that the shop we are about to see is very famous; the owner will spend time with us, explain how the carpets are made and show us various carpet styles. He does not pressure anyone to buy anything. Upon entering the shop, we are shown how the carpets are woven. There is a lady who is weaving and we are told that it can take any where from 1 to 2 years to weave an average size rug, depending on the pattern. This lady’s fingers are moving so fast, we an hardly see what she is doing. She is weaving a carpet with silk fibres, such beautiful colours. Faye tries her hand and does one knot….so somewhere out there in the future, there will be a carpet with one know done by Faye. We are offered tea and are shown various carpets. Robin and I succumb to the beauty of these handcrafted carpets as does Faye. Carpets are being shipped home!
Turks were nomads and lived in tents. They made woven rugs to sleep on and used natural substances to dye their carpets.
Off to the 15th century Grand Bazaar which is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 4,000 shops on a total area of 30,700 square metres and 22 different gates. The vendors sell leather goods, jewellery (mainly Armenian designs), turkish rugs, scarves (silk and pashmina), ceramics, lamps, antique shops, silver and souvenirs. Hang on to your wallets!
Oh….some fake silk scarves as well. Why do I know this? Yasemin takes us to her favourite “ethical” vendors. In one scarf shop we enter, she introduces us to the owner and I start to look at the silk scarves. He tells me that these really aren’t silk and brings me to the inside of his shop to look at the “real silk” scarves. I was telling Faye that it is nice to go to these places with a guide as she takes you to the reputable vendors. I kind of smile when I write this as I wonder if this vendor would have tried to sell me the “not so silk scarf” had we not been with Yasemin! Oh well….I am now the owner of a beautiful pashmina….like a need another one!
We make our way to Topkapi Palace. The following is taken from their official web site:
“Topkapı Palace was not only the residence of the Ottoman sultans, but also the administrative and educational centre of the state. Initially constructed between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, and expanded upon and altered many times throughout its long history, the palace served as the home of the Ottoman sultans and their court until the middle of the 19th century. In the early 1850s, the palace became inadequate to the requirements of state ceremonies and protocol, and so the sultans moved to Dolmabahçe Palace, located on the Bosphorus.“
There are four courtyards in the palace compound; but each one was for a certain group of people in the palace. For example the Sultan and family had their own courtyard, with a swimming pool, then the Harem had theirs, etc. Each group also had their own turkish bath, their own kitchen and eating area.
We were also told that the Mother Queen was also a very important figure, especially if the new Sultan was young. She also would have had her own quarters. 36 Sultans ruled during the Ottoman Empire.
By the way, I learnt that the word Harem meant “forbidden”. In other words, the harem women were forbidden to men, except for the Sultan that is. It is said that the Sultan had his favourites and the favourites had their own suite of rooms and their own garden, of course. The women of the harem were served by Eunuchs, normally young black boys that had been castrated. In some instances they were also deaf and mute; that way they could not report what they had seen or heard.
Yasemin told us we really must watch some Turkish shows on Netflix…Magnificent and Kuzgun. Must look these up! Tried to look them up, but the internet in the cave hotel in Cappadocia is not that great.
We visited the Justice Tower, the clock room and then the arms/armour room. In the justice tower, there was a screen in the upper wall and it is said that the Sultan would sit there and listen to what the counsel was discussing.
We then visit the royal kitchens. Apparently they could serve up to 3,000 at one time.
Stopped for lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus. Always so nice to see all the boat traffic, beautiful setting. I finally tried Serber, a cherry drink; it is sold in markets, in restaurants and from street vendors. The drink is made of pomegranate, ginger, raspberry, tamarin, cherry, strawberry, rose water, rose-hip, cinnamon and carnation. Must say it was very refreshing in this heat and I have had it a few more times.
Yasemin takes us to one of her favourite restaurants near the spice market. We took the tram from the palace to get there. We told her that we just wanted something light to eat. We shared Igli Koftl (a meatball made of lamb, bulgar and walnuts) Lahmacun (Turkish pizza) and Fistikli Kebap (kebab with lamb, beef and pistachio). Pistachios are grown and Turkey and is widely used in cooking. Great views of the harbour.
Talking of food, I love the fresh fruit I am enjoying every morning for breakfast, along with their Turkish yogurt. Have also tried Cigara Boregi – a deep fried pastry rolled up to look like a cigar, stuffed with cheese….very yummy!
Our last stop is the Spice Market, which was built in 1664. On the outside are all the spice vendors and the inside shops are selling dried fruit, teas and very similar goods to the Grand Bazaar. Needless to say, one finds Turkish Delight everywhere. I am not a fan of this confectionary, so have not indulged.
We finish our tour with Yasemin and we take the tram with her back to our hotel. She has been a delight and had made our time in Istanbul quite memorable. We feel that we have only scratched the surface of this vibrant city and wished we could have spent more time discovering the many museums, market and experience daily life in this wonderful place.