Istanbul/Danube and Rhine Rivers/Paris/England holiday, 2011
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(Week 1) Tuesday 23 August 2011
We are off - This day has finally arrived. We got about four hours sleep, and were up at 4:45am to be ready for a 5:45am pick-up by 'the airport flyer'. They found the farm ok, and we got to the airport at the appointed time.
We had an uneventful flight to Kuala Lumpur, leaving Adelaide on time at 9:00am. This trip, the front of the plane was less than half full, so it was nice and quiet. As usual, we ate too much and arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL) at 2:30pm. We are now waiting till half past midnight for the flight to Istanbul. No photos yet (just links ready!)
Wednesday 24 August 2011
Arrived in Istanbul early, around 6:00am. The Avalon tour guide collected us from the airport without any hassles, and we were driven tour hotel (Ritz-Carlton) for the next three nights. They even found a room for us at 7:00am. Terrific views over the Bosphorus, which is the connecting natural channel between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and the divide between Europe and Asia.
We had about four hours sleep for the last two nights, but caught a ferry up the Bosphorus. (As I write this at 9:30pm, the voice from the nearest mosque is chanting again.) We left from the terminal next to the Galata Bridge, and went to Anadolu Kavagi, almost at the Black sea. On the way, we saw these ruins (1). Had lunch of fish, including heads, and then returned at 4:30pm. The 2nd photo was taken from the ferry as we waited to depart for the return journey. We passed under the two huge bridges that cross the Bosphorus (one of them is in photo 3). They were high enough to allow ocean going ships to pass underneath. We met the tour guide at 6:00pm, then had tea at the hotel.
Thursday 25 August 2011
Today is our free day, so we left the hotel late (10:00am) and walked to Taksim Square. This is an important place to the locals, but somehow I did not grasp it. We walked down a long Mall (Istikial Avenue - photo 1) that had a vintage tram running along it (phot 1 shows the terminus), but very few trams were running. Crossed the Galata Bridge and walked up to the Hagia Sophia Mosque/Museum, where Anne had a Turkish Bath. I spent the 75 minutes being accosted by men wanting to show me their carpets.
After, we had a look at the Yerebatan Cistern, a magnificent underground water storage place, now empty fortunately (photo 3). We caught the tram back to our hotel, but the final 200 metre walk is uphill and 'challenging'.
Friday 26 August 2011
Today was the organised tour day, so we met the guide, hopped on a bus with 10 others that will be part of the tour group. There were no cruise ships in port today, so the guide said it would be less busy, and it was. We started at the Topkapi Palace, which was the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years. We did not have sufficient time to see everything (the story of the day), but we saw enough to be happy (photo 1 shows one of many buildings). Next the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque (photo 2). More tourists that people praying, but we got in just in time before it was closed for midday prayers.
The last of the sights in this part was the Hagia Sophia Mosque and museum, built in the sixth century. We had time for a quick look around, and a walk up to the first level (photo 3). Then it was the bus to the Grand Bazaar, where we spent too much time hearing about the carpets and traditions of Turkey. It was a good chance to rest our feet though. Had lunch, and had only 20 minutes left to see the Grand Bazaar before the guide ran out of time and took those who wanted back to the hotel in the bus. We opted to stay for another two hours wandering around, looking at lots of places all selling the same sorts of things. Lots of tourists and locals, but I did not see much buying. Caught the tram and walked up that hill again.
Saturday 27 August 2011
Today we fly to Bucharest, but we were not being picked up till 1:30pm. We pottered in the hotel till late, and went for a short walk to Taksim Square to fill in time. We were picked up on time, taken to the airport and flew to Bucharest, about 90 minutes flying time. We arrived at our Bucharest hotel about 8:15pm.
Sunday 28 August 2011
A town tour was organised for this morning, before being taken by bus to the ship. The highlight was seeing the Parliament building, an enormous structure claimed to be the second biggest building in the world after the Pentagon. Thirteen storeys high, and the same underground. It was built during the Communist era but not finished. Now it is a tourist attraction and mostly empty. We bought a light lunch and then boarded the bus for the trip to the boat, moored at Oltenita in Romania.
We were welcomed on board and spent an hour getting our bearings. The room is 'cosy' but there is enough space to feel comfortable. The ship is small enough that we are quickly getting to know the other passengers. There are about 150 people, with nearly half from USA. There is good representation from Australia/NZ, the UK and Europe, and a group of about 16 from Argentina. We meet a new group of people at each meal. Overnight, we sailed downstream to Silistra, in Bulgaria.
Monday 29 August 2011
The main trip today is to the Port city of Varna, on the Black Sea. on the way, we stopped at the town of Dobromir, and had morning tea in a former communist hotel. Very spartan now, and in need of a good clean. It took the half hour we had to toilet everyone. Varna was a biggish town, and is a tourist mecca during summer. We visited the archaeological museum and saw ancient gold and coins from long ago. We had free time in the city centre, then lunch in a 'pirate ship'. Anne put her feet in the Black Sea, and tasted it to prove it was not very salty. We got back on the bus for the two hour return journey.
It seems we have a briefing from the cruise director each night at 6:30pm. Tonight, she was delighted to tell us that all the 'lost' luggage had arrived on board. Also, the two lost passengers were found on board. We sailed overnight from Silistra to Svistov still in Bulgaria.
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