Tag Archives | istanbul

Spring Break Europe 2013

Spring Break Europe 2013: What is Hot right Now?

If you’re wondering what European destinations are still making the top slot when it comes to spring break, look no further.

We’ve enlisted our friends at beatthebrochure.com to help give us brief rundown of what’s hot in Europe for 2013:

Iceland

It may not score highly for hot temperatures, but give Iceland a go for its stunning architecture and scenery of glaciers, ice fields and volcanoes.  It’s also a prime position to catch glimpses of the Aurora Borealis, that’s the Northern lights to you and me.  There’s fantastic terrain for hikers to conquer, The Winter Lights Festival in February to enjoy, volcanic thermal spas to luxuriate in and capital city, Reykjavik.  The best news is that holidaying in Iceland is still relatively affordable.

Holland Museum

Willet Museum Amsterdam. One of our faves!

Amsterdam

We have long used Amsterdam as a stopover in route to destinations afield in Europe.  We always like to build in a day or two in the city.  There are so many things to do in Amsterdam!  Spring break is the perfect time to take in Holland’s famous tulips.  Yes, the city is noted for it’s dark and seedy underside.  But the Dutch capital has so much to offer for the arts, history and culture lover.  The city is home to an amazing Van Gough Museum.  2013 marks its 40th birthday and no doubt will be honoring the country’s most celebrated artist, Vincent van Gough on what would be his 160th birthday.  Take a morning and visit Anne Frank’s home.

Barcelona

Barcelona is still as popular as ever.  Could this be due to the fact that it is crowded with fantastic architecture, is the place to indulge in guilt-free café culture and has its very own beach?  Whatever the reason, Barcelona is a must-visit destination for spring breakers, if only to appreciate architect Antonio Gaudi’s own inimitable style of architecture throughout the city.  Check out our post about the 10 Best of Barcelona.  The mild temperature of the area makes this the perfect spring break location.  Better yet take in the Barcelona and Real Madrid match!

Istanbul Carpet

One of our treasures being wrapped up at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul

Turkey

The next pick is a Fighting Couple favorite  Istanbul.  This welcoming city is an interesting blend of old and new.  A contemporary art scene, boutique hotels and plenty of retail therapy opportunities rub shoulders with historical places of interest.  Enjoy the best of both worlds, but be sure to check out Turkey’s latest discovery, the ruins of Göbekli Tepe.  As well as Istanbul’s Old Town, Midyat and Mardin are also worth exploring.  Don’t forget to get an unforgettable Turkish bath!

Berlin

The once imposing Berlin Wall, now reduced to remnants and the city’s chequered past, are of course huge pulls for visitors.  After all who isn’t fascinated by Berlin’s history and this now physically undivided city?  You’ll also find the Reichstag and great art galleries and museums to explore here.  Berlin is no longer dark and cementy? (Is that even a word?)  It is now a vibrant metropolis offering couples romantic parks, and tasty eateries.

You cannot go wrong choosing any one of these lovely locations.  Get out and enjoy spring!  So do you have a fave European city to welcome in spring?

Drop us a line below in the comments section if you have been to Iceland, Berlin, Amersterdam or Barcelona!

1

On the Road Less Traveled

We took turn after turn on dusty lonely dirt trails, passing thick plantations of tall lush trees and seemingly deserted shanty towns.  The setting sun was casting a red hue on the trees that matched the color of the road.  We finally reached our appointed destination, a small bed and breakfast located on a small rise overlooking forest and meadow.

flat African tree

Beautiful Swaziland

Our travel weariness must have been written on our faces.  The welcoming attendant at the front desk dispatched two young women to mind our luggage and settle us comfortably in our assigned abode.  The service offered by this small establishment rivaled any 5 star hotel.  The proprietors were a lovely Dutch couple and was completely staffed by young women.  Our short stay at this little outpost of hospitality has forever changed Luci and I.  Our hearts were struck by the hospitality, generosity and sheer beauty of the place.  The paradise we have described is Swaziland.

“You are going where??!!”  is usually the typically response we get when we tell friends and family about our next adventure destination.  “Why would you want to go to (insert remote location)?”  The answer is in the paragraph above.  Now the rest of the story from the portrait above.  Swaziland suffers from a number of challenges, poverty, hunger, disease epidemics and numerous social ills.  They don’t tend to put those on the glossy tourist websites. As a traveler, you can choose to let this scare you off, or you can dig deeper and find a treasure as we did in Swaziland.

In addition to Swaziland, we want to introduce you to some off the beaten travel destinations that might change your life.  Strap on your walking shoes, its time for adventure!

Bosnia

We are often asked which has been our favorite location out of the travels, Luci will always say Turkey (stay tuned!).  Mine would be Bosnia.  Bosnia is frankly one of the most beautiful, intriguing, and difficult places we have been.  Our trip, which wasn’t an extended one by any stretch, gave me a taste for a land filled with lush forests, dramatic waterfalls, towering mosques, and war hardened residents.  Bosnia offer travelers historical insights, out of door adventures including hiking, rafting and camping.

Greek coloumnsTurkey

As a kid, I always dreamt of being teleported back in time.  I wanted to live history.  I wanted to see, taste, smell, and interact with the scenes of great literature.  Turkey has made this boyhood dream a living reality.   The characters of the bible walked the same streets as I did.  We drank from the same springs.  I ate wonderful olives, savory meats from a roadside kabab, and partook of the most amazing Baklava!  Turkey brings history to life.

Read about our Open Love Letter to Istanbul.

Turkey was a surprise to both Luci and I.  We were discussing where we might want to go in Eastern Europe.  Turkey came up and we both said, yea….Turkey.  We started our in-depth research about the country, began our quest to learn everything we could about the history, culture and language.  Turkey offers great shopping in the Grand Bazaar, delicious cuisine, ultra friendly natives, and a window into history that has no rival.

Maldives

“Where exactly are the Maldives?” Ask most people, and they might have a challenge pointing the country out on a map.  The collection of roughly 1000 islands is located due south of India and west of the African Continent.  The island country is bathed in the Indian ocean. The temperature ranges from 75 to 90 degrees year round, making it a wonderful year round destination.  It offer travelers seclusion that rivaled by few places.

beach

Lovely Maldives

The most difficult choice is which island and resort to pick!  There are so many options for holidays to Maldives.   Lodging offerings range from Spartan shacks on the beach to five-star full service resorts.  The warm clear waters offer great snorkeling and diving.  Rent a boat and go island hopping.

A few words of warning about traveling off the beaten path.  First, be prepared.  Do your homework. Then be completely flexible.  Things including hotels, roads, and people that were to be there for you might not exist.  This is truly the beauty of traveling where few do.   One of our tricks to traveling well is humility and openness.  You must be willing to try new food, smell new smells?, and be completely removed from your comfort zone.  In return the dividends of off the beaten path travel will greatly enrich your life.

Tell us, where have you traveled off the beaten path?  What lessons have you learned?  Where would you like to go?

8

Open Love Letter to Istanbul

I Love Istanbul. Let me count the ways.

The People

Istanbul hagia SofiaOur love Fighting couple love letter to Istanbul must begin with the people. But before we start our overture, let’s say we accidentally fell in love. It was Luci’s year to pick our location for the annual big trip. We went back and forth on various spots around the world. Luci wanted a place with history, culture and food. I showed her a video of Turkey. In the next 24 hours, we booked a trip to Turkey. It happened so fast, she says I “Jedi-Mind Tricked Her.” She spent the next six months trying to get to Greece! But it turns out our “accident” in selecting Turkey was a dream come true. We fell in love.

Like most Norte Americanos, the first thing that comes to mind when we think of “Turkey” is the poor foul that gets placed in the center of the table in November. But Turkey is one of the most hospitable countries to visit.

We found Turks to be the epitome of kindness and generosity. On several occasions, Turks went the extra mile to show off their country and culture. As an example, once my subway card won’t work, and a man came up and swiped his. Whether we were buying a rug or a kabob, we were greeted with a smile and a “Welcome, my friend.”

The Shopping

Istanbul TurkeyShopping is one of our favorite pastimes. Shopping in Istanbul is a contact sport! If you can buy it, you can find it in Istanbul. Of course, you cannot visit Istanbul without a trip to the famous Grand Bazaar. It literally takes days to explore it from top to bottom. There is so much to take in, so many little dark alleyways leading to hidden treasures.

A friend recently asked if an hour would be sufficient, we laughed. An hour is sufficient to have lunch before even going in. The main attractions at the Bazaar are rugs. Prices range from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands. Part of the game is agreeing on the price. Turkey also sports some beautiful hand painted pottery and delicately designed ceramics.

 

Istanbul, Turkey

The Spice Market

 

The Spirit

Call to prayerOur exposure to Islam has been very limited. In preparation for our visit, we invested some time to learn more about the world’s second largest religion with 1.5 billion followers or over 22% of the earth population. A few of the keys to understand about Islam: Followers of Islam are called Muslims. Muslims and Islam are not different (common misunderstanding).

Muslims take their teachings from the Qur’an. They believe that the religion was revealed universally through prophets including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the last prophet Muhammad.

With a basic primer in Islam, we took in many of the famous holy places in Istanbul. Many of the historic mosques are now open to the general public to enter and explore. Again, we found the people of Istanbul more than willing to help us interpret what we were seeing. The artwork, carpets, stonework and the parishioners make visiting these places something special. Hearing the call to prayer at diverse times of the day added to the mystic of the city. We found the “quality” of the prayer caller to be dependent on the size of the city. Istanbul hosted the most beautiful prayer callers.

 

islamic call to prayer

Regardless of your religious bent, take the time to understand what you are seeing, what it means to the people and why. Most of all please be respectful of the buildings. Most mosques require conservative clothing, women’s heads to be covered and shoes removed.

The Water

IstanbulOne of the defining features of Istanbul is the water. It is magical. The city itself is dived in half by the Bosporus River. It is not like the wimpy canals of Venice. The mighty Bosporus is a powerful, choppy and colorful symbol of the city. The bridges that link the city and two continents are works of art in both day and night time. Also, check out the Basilica cistern with discarded columns underground that held the city’s drinking water. It’s another monument’s to the city’s dramatic water.

Istanbul….(or is it Constantinople?), we love you. We love your intense waterscape, spirited markets, your warm people, and your heart. We can’t wait to go back!

If you are looking for help booking your holidays to Turkey, look no further!

 

 

3

My Glen Ivy Escape

The words Glen Ivy SpaLos Angeles Spa makes me go weak in the knees. Located only 60 miles southeast from Los Angeles in Corona, Glen Ivy is an oasis of spa heaven. I first discovered Glen Ivy 10 years ago when I escaped to Los Angeles for the weekend to get away from my husband and children. My friend took one look at me and said, “You need Glen Ivy.” Boy did I ever. I was a working mom in my mid-20s with two kids, a heady job, and dirty house. (Now that I think about it nothing has changed in 10 years, except my age.) I needed a break or mid-life crisis. I opted for the break.

When my friend told me we were going to a spa, I figured it would be in a strip mall with mediocre massages, shag carpet, and maybe a free glass of water if I was lucky. Not even close. As we drove up the entrance it was clear to me Glen Ivy wasn’t just a spa; it was a complex, so vast it would make a Vanderbilt or Kennedy blush.

We walked up to the admittance office and then I beheld what I was to experience. The attendant handed me a map. A spa that needs a map? Yep. It’s that big. We walked into the area and I was as doe-eyed as a five-year old’s first trip to Disneyland. There were signs to the mineral baths, Roman baths, lap pool, the hot pool followed by the cold plunge pool. Fourteen pools total. We hit the mud first.

Mud? Yes. Your admission gets you access to every pool plus Club Mud. There’s an entire area dedicated to mud. Not just any mud, but Glen Ivy mud, a red clay mixed with the natural hot springs that will tighten your skin. Plopped on giant wheels, you grab a handful and  slather the special mud on your body. Let it dry in the California sun and then wash it off. Your skin will feel soft and revitalized.

I liked the Club Med, but I really liked the Grotto. For an extra fee, you can experience absolute soft skin. You walk into the Grotto area and then go down an elevator and enter a cave aka grotto. Your attendant will take a paint brush and paint you with a light green cream. It smells divine because it’s made of aloe vera, shea butter and coconut oil. Go deeper in to the grotto and sit in the “hydrating chamber.” You’ll feel like you are breathing butter, but the longer you sit the better your skin will feel. Then go rinse off. My hands felt soft and subtle days after I returned to the desert of home.

Los Angeles SpaA visitor to Glen Ivy could spend all day just drifting from mud to grotto to roman bath to mineral bath to sauna, but Glen Ivy also has traditional spa treatments. On my first visit, I was treated to scrub, wrap and massage.  Heavenly. Since, I have tried other Glen Ivy’s treatments including the clarifying facial.  Check out their pedicures and manicures as well. A massage or facial will cost roughly $100 per treatment.  On my last visit, I discovered the Glen Ivy Getaway package that included your choice of one 50 minute Swedish massage, 50 minute Glen Ivy facial, or a 50 minute body treatment, as well as grotto admission, and lunch for only $139. Admission is extra and will cost you $46 or $59 depending on whether you are there on the weekdays or weekends. If you buy a service that’s 50 minutes or longer, your admission is discounted.

Plan your day wisely. I like to get my treatments early in the visit, then eat lunch and spend the rest of the day vegging by the pools and ending the day with grotto. You’ll be wasted by the time you leave so expect to be in a fog.  Don’t forget to go to the gift shop. I like to pick up a container of mud and the grotto paint. That way when I’m back home, looking at my dirty house, exhausted from my job, frustrated by my mediocre mothering, I can open up the container, breathe deeply and let Calgon, I mean, Glen Ivy take me away.

Los Angeles has so much to offer!  If you are looking for a great Los Angeles accommodation to go with your spa visit.   Look no further!

2

The Magic Carpet Fight

One of the greatest pastimes in Istanbul is shopping.  Pastime is not the right word.  Experiencing the grand Bazaar it is one part contact sport, one part human psychology 101 and one part exhilaration. Shopping in Istanbul is truly a timeless art form.  Yes there are the chinsy tourist items, the fake Rolexes, carpets made in China.  But it also has some of the best handcrafts and jewelry we have ever seen.  The Grand Bazaar has it all.

English: Lanterns in a shop in the Kapalıçarşı...

Glass of the Grand Bazaar.

How to do the Bazaar

We don’t have an answer for this.  It is funny to watch other couples enter and say to one another…”I will meet you over by the one carpet dealer.  See you in an hour.”  Good luck with that!  LOST!  The size of the bazaar is so difficult to describe.  Where does the Bazaar end and the city begin?  Is the Bazaar just one story?  Is there better shops in one are over another?  We don’t have an answer.  The Bazaar is best enjoyed with a lot of time and money.

 

The Art of the Deal

I have seen some incredible salesman in our travels.  None rival the talent on display in the Grand Bazaar.  Some of the hawkers in the bazaar are three, four and we even found one five generation salesman!  These men, we didn’t come across a saleswoman, so yes they are almost all men, are tuned and trained to evaluate you and devise a plan to separate you from your cash.  It is almost a science for them.  Language barrier?  Not in the bazaar.  Everyone speaks the language  of sales.  I was able to chat up a young salesman that let his guard down a little.  Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “When did you start selling?”

Him: “Sold my first thing when I was only 5”

Me: “Impressive.”

Me: “Whats your secret to making sales?”

Him:  “Reading customers.  And keep them talking to you.”

Me: “How do read a person?”

Him:  “Shoes and eyes.”  (Enter big smile aka end of sales training)

Him:  “Would you like to see some of my best stuff?  I keep it back here…come my friend” (Enter sales pitch)

Put this to the test.  Walk past the best salesmen in the bazaar.  They will check your shoes in as you approach and then they will focus on your eyes.  Eyes tell everything.  They point to the things you find most precious.  They reveal your love for an object.  Very telling.

Heart of Darkness

Go get lost in the Bazaar.  Go deep.  The bazaar cannot be “done” in an hour.  We are not sure that it can be “done” in a day.  Enjoy the experience for what it is, you are a part of history.  Breathe in the experience.  Take in the mosaics at every turn.  Drink some tea with some salesmen.  Play with the shop owners kids.  Most importantly, buy stuff in the Bazaar!  Don’t let the salesmen intimidate you.  You will never forgive yourself if you don’t buy that silver bracelet you found.  First off, you will never find it again in the melee of the bazaar.  Candidly, we found our best deals when we were completely lost in dark alleys deep in the beast of the bazaar.  Find your own path.

 

Check our our Facebook page for more pics of the Grand Bazaar.  While you are there…give us a “Like”.

 

The Carpet Fight

Add the Grand Bazaar to the list of 1000 places to fight before you die.  Mike wanted to buy a rug.  Of course we agreed to a price ceiling before we even set foot in the market.   Of course Mike paid no heed to that agreement.  He boldly walked into carpet shops and looked at stuff we couldn’t afford.  (Don’t do this.)  We ended up meeting the George Clooney of carpet sales.  Mike the great white salesman himself had met his match.  We went round and round on the price.  In the end, we paid way too much.  With that said it was a great experience.  Today, the rug welcomes everyone that comes into our home.

The Grand Bazaar is not to be missed.  Turkey and Istanbul especially is a wonderful couple travel destination.  It offer so much.  Experience the bazaar.  Spend some money!

Have you been to the Grand Bazaar?   What did you find?  We would love to hear from you.oo much for our little rug.  But it was great fun!  Our little piece of Istanbul greets everyone that walks into our door.

5

Our list of the 5 “Most Intriguing” Churches in Europe

Like most explorers of Europe, we always end up marching into a million different cathedrals and churches.  Unfortunately for us, call us unwashed heathens, they start to all blend together.  Every once in a while you enter a house of worship that is different in some dramatic way.  Something within sparks our interest.    We decided to offer you some of our favorites.  Favorites in a sense that their beauty, uniqueness and history make them worth the visit.  Enjoy our countdown to the most intriguing church in Europe:

Salisbury Cathedral

5) Salisbury Cathedral, (Salisbury, England)  

Located about an hour and a half from London, the Salisbury Cathedral offers an interesting day trip.  Its well worth the jaunt.  The church landed on on list for a whole list of reasons.  Lets start with its sheer size.  The Cathedral has the tallest spire of all the churches in England.  The spire towers at 404 feet.  You can take a tower tour that will take you up to an amazing vista.  The entire church covers a foot print of over 80 acres!  It is massive.  The church has a number of claims to fame, it has the world’s oldest working clock circa 1386.   It houses one of the four original Magna Cartas.  Take a side trip out of Londontown and see one of the most intriguing churches in Europe.

4)  The Church of Santa Maria Assunta  (Venice, Italy)

We happened upon this church by accident.  We were lost in Venice.  (We love getting lost in Venice! Highly recommended.)  To take a break we entered the church, and found one of the most exquisite displays of stonework we have ever laid eyes on.  The pillars of the church are made of inlaid marble unlike we have ever seen.  The delicacy and precision that must have been requisite to make such a masterpiece is mind blowing.  The craftsmen that created this structure, with limited tools was masters in the highest degree.  Every inch of this house of worship is a masterpiece.  Don’t miss this one next time you get “lost” in Venice.

IL Duomo Siena, Italy

3) IL Duomo (Siena, Italy)

Nestled in the hills of Tuscany is the sleepy little town of Siena.  What once was a hilltop fortress housing the township, has now turned into a haven for smart tourists that break away from their gelato in Florence.  Getting to the town is half the adventure, rent a car, make the journey.  What is remarkable about this church is the colors inside and out.  We nicknamed it the zebra church.  Builders used alternating black and white marble.  The inside of the church is equally as dramatic as the outside.  Once you enter, you are struck with sensory overload.  On the floor is the mosaic depicting the “Slaughter of the Innocents.” Then direct your eyes above and take in the painted dome that creates an optical illusion of three dimensional heavens.  It is remarkable.  Don’t miss Bernini’s St. Jerome holding the cross like a cradled violin. I remember after we had walked out, saying to each other, that was amazing.  It was.  Go see it.

The Floor of IL Duomo, Siena, Italy

 

Español: Fresco en la Capilla Sixtina.

Image via Wikipedia

2)  Sistine Chapel (Vatican City)

Making a list like this, how can we not include the Vatican?  What makes the Sistine Chapel intriguing is its creator, we couldn’t help asking ourselves…How did he do it?  The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is one of the most amazing “canvases”.  What a remarkable example of human creativity.  —Warning: we are going to vent a little:  We were really disappointed in the patrons of the chapel.  In order to preserve the delicate works of art, photo’s are prohibited.  During the entire time we were viewing the art, we heard the guards incessantly chide tourists: “NO PHOTOS!”  It truly ruins the setting.  Shame on the tourists for not buying the post card, and shame on the guards for not finding another way to stop the villains.—-Back to the review.  See the Sistine Chapel once in your life.  Walk slowly.  Imagine the painstaking efforts of the artists.  Commune with a higher power.  Then go get a massage, your neck will thank you for it.

1) Our fave church in Europe is one you likely have never heard of.  It is not a masterpiece of architectural genius.  Millions of pilgrims do not make an annual trek to touch its walls.  It is one of the oldest and best preserved shrines to Christendom.   In its storied history, it served as a defense against invading forces and later serviced as a Muslim Mosque.  Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey is our most intriguing church in Europe.

Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey

Chora is a powerful place.  What makes Chora so special is its mosaic pageantry.  The walls of the church once plastered over to cover it’s “blasphemous” subject according to Islamic tradition, the church has been converted to a museum and the coverings have all been painstakingly removed.  What was left behind is nothing short of breathtaking.  Depictions of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the birth of the virgin Mary, and the Journey of the Magi.

Byzantine paintings in the parecclesion of the...

Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey

Far and away our favorite depiction is of the second coming of Christ.  It is one of the most compelling pieces of artwork we have come across.  Christ the redeemer is grasping the hands of both Adam and Eve pulling them from their earthly graves.  Satan is bound with cords and chains in the distance.  Keys litter the ground, symbolic of the keys to the grave.  What draws us in on this picture are the faces of both Adam and Eve.  They have a look of joy and wonder.  You simply must see it in person.

Turkey is an extraordinary place to visit.  It continues to be one of the Fighting Couple’s favorite.

So how did we do?   Agree?  Disagree?  Did we miss you fave church in Europe?  We would love to hear from you.  Just hit the comment button below and let us know.

Please visit our Facebook Page for more pics.  If you find a intriguing church that should make the list, let us know in the comments below.

7

The most opulent royal palace in Europe…is in Turkey?

Dolmabahçe Palace

The Crown Jewel of the Aegean

It’s not a secret that one of our favorite couple travel destinations is Turkey. She offers so much in the way of culture, history, and hospitality. Perhaps what we love most about Turkey is that it is a thinking person’s country. Short of a stopover in Istanbul on some cruise circuits, most couple travelers don’t put Turkey on their must see list. This is a huge mistake. Turkey has so much to offer couple travelers.  One of the many architectural highlights of Turkey is Dolmabahçe Palace. Come with us as we explore this palace of privilege and power.

Location

The country of Turkey and the city of Istanbul straddles two continents, Asia and Europe. The city is devided by the Bosporus Strait which connects the Black Sea with the Med. The Palace is situated on the north side right on the water level. The Palace is three stories tall including a basement. There are 45,000 square meter of “livable” space including 285 rooms, 46 hallways, 6 Turkish baths, 1500 windows and 68 toilets.

History

The Dolmabahce Palace was built by Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I. Construction stared in the early 1840s and was completed roughly ten years later. A father and son team of Garabet and Nigogayos Baylon were the principle architects. Ottoman Sultans and their Harems historically resided in the expansive yet Asian and Middle eastern designed Topkapi Palace. Six generations of Sultans called the palace home. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first President of modern day Turkey, was the final full time tenant of the home. Atatürk passed away in the palace on November 10, 1938. All of the clocks in the palace are stopped at the time of his passing 9:05. This caused us a little panic during our visit as we kept thinking we were making great time on our tour.

Interior

Abdulmecid admired the grand palaces of Europe, and wanted a more Western, more ornaite, more modern residence. Enter one of the major flaws of the palace. Instead of picking from the tastes of other royal residences the contained Baroque, Rococo and Greek influences, Abdulmecid said, “I will take them all!” The collection of all of these styles crammed into one area leaves the viewer a little overwhelmed.

The interior of the palace is simply “over the top”. The world’s largest crystal chandelier hangs prominently in the entry hall from the sea. It was a house warming gift from Queen Victoria. It weighs in at four and a half tons! It is exquisite. To match this addition to the home, the sultan had a solid Baccarat crystal bannister leading up the stairway. Words cannot, and pictures even cant describle how beautiful this stairway is. Mike just kept starring at it. The guide finally asked us to keep moving.

The Rugs

This wouldn’t be Turkey if they didn’t have great rugs. It does. The royal carpet makers were located in seaside town of Hereke, located just up the Bosporus. Master rug makers from this hamlet used the finest silks, cotton and virgin wool in making some of the finest carpets on the planet. The rugs look like they were made yesterday. They are impeccably made for sure. Interestingly enough, not all the carpets in the palace are Turkish, a 150-year-old bearskin rug was presented to the Sultan as a gift by the Tsar of Russia.

Special Interest

So what does Dolmabahce mean? In the Turkish dolma meaning “filled” and bahçe meaning “garden.”

The Palace was divided into two areas, the formal government administrative areas and the Harem-Humayun or private section. The entry to the private living quarters of the Sultan were heavily guarded. No man was allowed to enter except for the sultan and his eunuch servants. The private Harem included bedrooms and baths for the queen mother, favorite wives, wives, and of course concubines. Talk about a 1000 Fights!

The construction cost of the palace was five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, the equivalent of 5 tons of gold.  Fourteen tons of gold in the form of gold leaf were used to gild the ceilings. Wikipedia.com

Visiting the Palace

The Palace is closed on Mondays and Thursdays. It is open between 09:00 to 17:00. Get there early, as this is a very popular site.  Entry fee is 20 Lira or $12usd.   Istanbul is an amazing city to visit, and it is super easy to get to.  There are a ton of great flights to Turkey.  For the best deals try going in Oct. or May.

 

 

1

A Room with a View

We need your help.  So we were fighting the other day.  You have no idea how many times we have said that!  But then again you are on this site.  We were having a “discussion” on which of our fave hotels had the very best views?  Hotel rooms are just that to us, rooms.  What is important to us is what you can see from the room.  Great views are travel porn.  One of Luci’s all time fave shows is “A Room with a View”.   In this “chic” flick, the heroine Lucy Honeychurch and bumbling chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without a view.  In the end, she gets the man, and they get a room, oh and it has a view.  As a result of this show, as we travel one of key requirements is an amazing view.

Our four contenders are:  Conrad-Istanbul, Hiton-Nice, Cavalieri-Rome,  and the Fairmont Zimbali Lodge-South Africa

Conrad-Istanbul

This is an amazing property!  It lands overlooking the mighty Bosporus.  (click on the pic below to get a better feel of the immense view)  You can see two continents (Europe and Asia) with this view! How many hotels can claim that?    The unique shape of the hotel makes for views of some amazing land and seascapes. What makes this hotel’s view special is your are treated to views with two senses: sight and sound.  Every morn and night you are greated with haunting renditons of the call to prayer for nearby mosques.

Please click on photo to get the entire view!

 

Hilton, Nice, France

What is better than a view of the French Rivera?  Nice offers some ob the best water and beach front  on the globe.  We understand the hotel sold to another chain.  Can anyone confirm that?  Regardelss the view of the swaying palms, the fine eye candy on the beaches and of course the azure water are not to be missed.  You are literally a hop, skip and a jump to world class beaches.

 

 

Cavalieri-Rome

Ok we weren’t going to reveal which is favored by who to let you the reviewer an unbiased opinion.  But this is Mike’s fave hotel in the world.  The mighty Cavalieri is one of the ugliest hotels on the outside.  It is about as glamorous as a cement box.  But what it lack in outward appearance, the inside and of course the views more than makes up for.  Located on a perch overlooking all of Rome and especially the Vatican, the view is breathtaking.   As luck would have, as we opened the siding door to our patio, there was a rainbow over the city!   The hotel is located in a 50 acre parklike setting.  We understanding that during conclave, rooms go for astronomical prices.  You could see the white smoke from your room!

 

 

 

Fairmont Zimbali Lodge-South Africa

Lastly, but certainly not least is the the Zimbali.   While our room offered a jungle obstructed viewof the Indian Ocean, a few steps down the path to the pool affords one of the most impressive ocean front views!  We visited the Zimbali at the end of our safari trip trough South Africa.  The resort lodge is an oasis for the soul.  The hotel has a number of freshwater pools right on the edge of the ocean.  We timed our visit on the shoulder season and had the entire pool area to ourselves.  Beat that view?  I dont think so!

There are some many great locations out there: an African Lodge, a Mediterian escape or even take in Kensington apartments for that matter!  Regardless if they are hotels, hostels, or even serviced apartments treat yourself to a great view!

Now is your chance to weigh in with your opinion.  Which is the best view?  Just leave a post below.

2

Put it in Context

We must put a clear disclaimer on this post, there is one thing that we both hate more than a layover in anywhere that begins with Den and ends with a Ver: it is tour guides.  WE DESPISE THEM!  In so many places we have seen the gaggle of tourists led by someone that is supplying very simplistic remarks.  To identify them simply look for the person holding the metal stick with a yellow flag on top- sporting the clipboard.  You might hear them say, “There is a fine example of Greek statue….ok moving right a long.”  This in front of the Venus de Milo!  Or the most egregious example was a tour guide who said in front of the Celcius Library, “This is the library; imagine it,” and walked off. End of disclaimer.  Ok one more disclaimer…(We are never, ever paid/compensated for anything that we review or comment on.)  This is really the end of disclaimers.

We found a truly unique and frankly awesome service, Context Travel.  This is not your run of the mill tour guide.  You are paired in small groups never more than 6 people, with a true expert in the field.   When we say expert, we mean….someone that has devoted a lifetime to study in a given field.  Imagine having an architecture tour of Rome with someone with a Doctorate in Roman Architecture!  Or a tour of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul with someone that wrote a book about the palace!  Or even an incredible tour of Wall Street with a former bond trader!  With Context Travel you get just that. Ok…must be expensive right?  It really is affordable.  Tours are much more specific in their breadth, but much, much more profound in their depth.Our guide Claire in Istanbul. She speaks seven languages and literally wrote the book on Topaki Palace. We spent four hours with her and it was a highlight of our trip!

Most of our tours with Context have been just Mike and I.  They are not in every city. They don’t cover every topic.  They don’t even offer tours to some of your typically touristy spots.  But what they lack in quantity, they certainly make up in quality.

We have taken the following tours with context:

Imperial Rome: Architecture and History of the Archaeological Center

HISTORY AND CONTINUITY IN ISTANBUL

Tasting the Immigrant Experience

HISTORY OF FINANCE

Many of the tour descriptions sound more like a college syllabus than a promo for a tour. Don’t be scared away.  The beauty of Context is the questions you are able to ask.  Forget the trite quicky response (quicky’s are good just not on a tour).  You are always going to be surprised and enlightened.  (In-depth info really makes you sound cool at cocktail parties.)

We have only had one bad experience with Context.  Our foodie tour of NY.  But he really ruined it for himself.  He speaks fluent Chinese, so in Chinatown he kinda didn’t pay attention to guide.

We have recommended Context to many friends and now our blog-followers! A friend recently went to Rome with her two teenage daughters. They used Context to see the Vatican and the Vatican Museum. My friend said her daughters even thought the guide was cool! Context really puts things in, well, “context.”

We HIGHLY recommend:

Context Travel

Scholar-led Walks of the World’s Greatest Cities

Context is an in-depth alternative to traditional tours. We are a network of architects, historians, art historians, and specialists who organize over 300 different walks in 12 cities around the world.


What distinguishes us:

3

The Souvenir Dilemma

Dong Xi’s, Choch-Keys, junk, Dust collectors, trophies…whatever you call them… they are the items that you bring home as little mementos of your travels. The tradition is as old as time: Romans picked up Egyptian Obelisks…Greeks a golden fleece…hundreds of US midwesterns….I heart (insert town). Souvenierring is a time honored tradition. One of my favorites is exhibited above. My prized Whirling Dervish! My wife keeps hiding it as he continues to show up on various “highly visible”-her words not mine– places. I cherish my dervish. It really spins! I remember the tiny shop in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul where I discover this treasure. Tucked way back in vast dark passageways, was this little family selling metal wares. I tried a little Turkish, they a lot better English, and the result was an emigrating Dervish (and a lighter wallet).

Why do we do it? Why must we bring a piece of our travels home? Do we worry that we will forget the sights sounds and smells of _________? I really think so. I think that in our soul, we hope that one day when time creates a great chasm between the now and then, we will find the Dervish and it will bring a smile and a rush of memories to mind.

Sometimes these items represent a victorious negotiation. Perhaps a memorable shopkeeper or locale? Not sure some items will qualify…my I heart NY t-shirt never really spans the distance like my Dervish.

What is your favorite item? What reminds you of your adventure?

4