While surfing the internet one day I came across this hotel which is located on the beach at Rossnowlagh, County Donegal. It looked to be a wonderful place to just wind down and look out to sea and I can tell you now that I have stayed here that it is just that.
Don’t expect a 5 star hotel – it is just a tiny bit worn but the staff are a delight and the location, is of course, to die for. I chose an ocean view room and was so happy I did. There was a very comfortable chair by the window which I made good use of. Even during the night when the clouds cleared the moonlight on the sea was mesmerising.
The next morning I was out on the grassed area, between the hotel and the sand, taking photos. It was fresh but the light and vista were beautiful.
Rossnowlagh is on the Wild Atlantic Way. What a beautiful part of the world. I am so glad I came to stay here.
In transit from County Clare to Donegal I stopped off in Sligo to visit the grave of Irish poet WB Yeats. It is located in a church yard (St Columba’s Church of Ireland) in Drumcliff just out of Sligo town. It’s in a beautiful setting but the actual grave isn’t that interesting. Yeats was one of the foremost figures of 20th century literature. A pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments, in his later years he served as an Irish Senator for two terms.
Although Yeats was born in Dublin he spent his childhood holidays in Sligo. He died and was initially buried in France but had asked to be buried in Sligo after a year in the ground. His wishes were carried out.
His epitaph is taken from the last lines of “Under Ben Bulben”, one of his final poems:
Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!
The Ben Bulben mountain is actually a backdrop to this attractive church.
Also located in the cemetery is a very cool looking Celtic High Cross and across the road is a round tower. Both are remnants from a monastery that existed in Drumcliff. The cross is from the 9th century and the tower was built sometime between 900 and 1200.
Today I started with breakfast in Taksim Square. This consisted of caramel cheesecake and Turkish Delight (Lokumlar) in three different flavours. Very naughty! Taksim Square was a lively place with some tourists (not too many as this is almost off season) and Istanbullians going about their business. I had my ‘breakfast’ at a café that was established in 1864. Wow!
I headed down Istiklal Caddesi (Istiklal Street) which is a pedestrian thoroughfare. Unfortunately I did spot a Burger King, MacDonalds and Pizza Hut – what a shame. There were many well known brand name shops and I browsed for awhile although this does not interest me much.
Soon it was time for lunch. Yummy Halloumi was on the menu at a lovely little restaurant in a laneway off Istiklal. I continued my trek and soon came to Galata Tower. I sat down in a rest area next to the tower and was preoccupied watching a family of ginger cats deal with a black cat intruder when I felt someone touch my hair. I turned to see a man behind me taking down his hand. Ooh creepy! I moved away quickly and back onto the street.
The area between Galata Tower and the water had many music stores (selling instruments) and some arts and craft stores. At the Galata Bridge I pondered whether to cross the bridge by foot or take a ferry ride. I decided on the later and jumped on a boat that went to a place called Üsküdar. I had no idea where that was but it sounded nice so I went with the flow (so to speak). It turned out to be on the Asian side of Istanbul (across the Bosphorus). Istanbul is, of course, famous for being a city that is located in two continents; Europe and Asia.
I spent a couple of hours doing pretty much nothing but people and cat watching. It was time to head back and I caught a ferry back to the European side before taking a taxi ride that rivalled any rollercoaster. There were men carrying carpets who darted across in front of the car, countless buses that decided they liked our lane (and I use the word lane very loosely) better and who knew a car could even fit between two buses like that. All this at seemingly a break neck speed in peak hour traffic.
I am currently sitting in the fine dining restaurant of the Crowne Plaza Hotel Harbiye in flip flops. This was a ‘splash out’ hotel for me at the end of the Turkey leg (no pun intended) of my trip and also I am an IHG member so I get points. I am eating Meze (which I was destined to eat because my nickname is Mezz) which is a Turkish Platter – a little like tapas. This one has hummus, a spicy rice dip, and two vegetable selections, one which was carrots and celery and the other marinated green beans. They were very nice indeed. I have asked the maitre’d so many questions that I am sure he thinks I am a food critic or blogger.
Ok so tomorrow I say farewell to Turkey. I will miss your smiling faces, crazy driving, persistent sexy (and some not so sexy) men and wonderful history. Goodbye Turkey, hello Eire.
N.B. There are two more rather important Turkish posts to come. One is Cappadocia which has a fascinating landscape and where Christians lived underground to avoid persecution, and the other is Ephesus, a place so ancient that it is mentioned in the bible. Stay tuned…
While in Selçuk I decided I would like to see Pamukkale. It is a network of thermal pools cascading down a white calcite hillside. You can walk through, sit in or photograph the pools. The area is quite striking and is basically a white hill with running warm water which is supposedly good for you. You can only bathe/move through the designated areas and there is a pools guard complete with whistle to keep you on the straight and narrow.
I jumped on a train for three hours and got off at Denizli. I had heard that the pools were 20 minutes away from the train station so I jumped in a taxi. My driver was Mustafa. He told me he would come back at 5.30pm giving me three hours there.
I started to climb the hill and paid the entrance fee of TL25 which included the pools and the Hierapolis ruins. A little further up and everyone had to remove their shoes. About half way up I realised that Mustafa was returning for me at a time after my last train back to Selçuk had left. So I made it to the top stopping to take photos and soak my feet but I didn’t get to see any of Hierapolis. Can you believe it? Never mind, I hadn’t really come to Turkey to see those particular ruins anyway. I enjoyed the pools and there was also a fast moving stream that I immersed my feet and lower legs in. It was lovely and relaxing.
Back down at the foot of the hill I got a local cafe owner to call Mustafa for me. Yes he was on his way. I sat down to wait for the 20 minutes for him to return from Denizli. I soon saw his smiling face and I jumped in the taxi to return to the train station.
I knew my train would be getting back to Selçuk at about 8.45pm and so thought it would be good to have some food for dinner on the train so Mustafa drove me to the local shopping centre for no cost, came in with me and made sure I got some food. He returned me to the station and saw me buy my ticket. He gave me a bag of apples that he had in the back of his taxi – so nice! I said thank you and got on the train. A few moments later I saw him at the window beckoning me to have some çay (tea) he had bought. I got off the train with 15 minutes to spare and sat down on a bench with him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I don’t drink tea. I forced myself to drink it. Then it really was time to go so I hopped back on the train and found a seat. The whole interaction with Mustafa happened with very limited words being spoken. He could say come! name? how are you? and not much more. I used the limited amount of Turkish words that I knew. His acts of kindness are indicative of what I have experienced since I have been away on this trip. People ask me am I ever afraid to travel by myself but I have found that travel restores my faith in humanity. I have experienced nothing but kindness so far. Mustafa – you’re a star!
Sometimes when you think something is going to be simple, it’s just not.
I was staying in Nevşehır, but flying into Kayseri airport. Kayseri and Nevşehır are less than an hour from each other so it didn’t seem too hard.
Firstly the shuffle from my hotel in Istanbul to the airport took me to the wrong terminal. That wasn’t too much of a problem as they are walking distance apart. It took me two times stopping at an information desk though to understand the directions.
The flight to Kayseri was quite pleasant as I had an empty seat between myself and the lady sitting on the aisle. Great! When I got to Kayseri airport there were some car hire desks and not much more. I was standing out on the pavement wondering what to do so I walked up to a man next to a bus and started to say ‘Do you know a bus…’ when he interrupted with ‘no’. ‘So you don’t know a bus?’ ‘No’. ‘That’s funny,’ I thought ‘you are standing next to one’. Next I walked up to the taxis and was told TL100 to get to Nevşehır. That was out of the question. My only alternative was a local bus to Kayseri Otogar (bus station) and then another bus to Nevşehır. That sounded like a nice adventure and much cheaper. So I jumped on the bus.
I arrived at Kayseri Otogar, which was rather large and was ushered inside to a ‘friend’ to buy a ticket. Then I was shown the bus stop. I have noticed less people speak English here in Capadokya and are more shy than in Istanbul. They will, however, go the extra yard to try to help you. So the bus arrived and I jumped on and found a nice seat.
After a while the bus was getting ready to go and a lot of people were getting on at the last minute. I managed to throw the bus into confusion and it seemed to have a domino effect. I hadn’t realised that there were allocated seats and I was sitting in someone’s seat. There was a lot of muttering and talking in Turkish, maybe they were saying ‘dumb tourists’. It doesn’t matter anyway because they weren’t mean about it. Someone tried to help me find my seat. I ended up sitting next to a young lady with a headscarf who I imagined was a student. These buses were really good. They had a screen in the back of the seat like a plane and a lovely young man went up and down the aisle handing out food and drink. How nice!
As we were driving along we were making stops and people were getting off but I had no idea where I was. People were being dropped off on the side of the road. I started to see signs saying Nevşehır and after a few more stops became nervous that I would miss my stop. I turned to the girl next to me and said ‘Nevşehır?’ I could see panic creep into her eyes but she managed to do a ‘stay’ gesture with her hand. I repeated this question a couple of times at each stop and at one point she got up and fetched the young food and drink man who did the same gesture. May be they were just saying ‘Chill out’. I was enjoying this. I loved being the only one on the bus who didn’t speak Turkish.
Eventually we arrived at the Nevşehır otogar which was well out of town. I said thank you and alighted the bus. I asked for a taxi and was directed to an area outside but not before experiencing a sales pitch for tours of Capadokya.
I finally arrived at my hotel and was glad to check in. I think I paid TL10 for the first bus, TL15 for the second and TL10 for the taxi. It was much cheaper than taking a taxi the whole way and I got to see how the locals travel between towns.
Long story short on my first night I ended up in a carpet shop and had the whole sales talk done to me in the form of an ‘I will teach you about Turkish carpets’ lecture. Needless to say with my small daily budget I did not buy any carpets. I was a little put out that I had been led there under the pretense of finding some late night baklava. However, all in good fun I say.
The next day I had to laugh when I was ‘befriended’ by an older man in Hagia Sophia who very nicely pointed out the highlights of this beautiful building. Oh no he didn’t want any money this was just his hobby. I was grateful when he was able to walk me straight into the Basilica Cistern without having to stand in the long queue. But shortly after him ‘wanting to show me something nice’ I knew we were headed for another carpet shop. At that stage I had been walking since 9am that morning and it was now about 3pm and I was exhausted. So I went along with it and burst into laughter when I realised it was the exact same carpet shop as the night before. How hysterical! So ladies if you are ‘befriended’ by a strange man or have an offer of taking you somewhere – all for free – it’s never free, of course. I guess it depends how much you want to go along with the game I suppose. There were some benefits for me but I did waste a bit of time.
Ok back to Istanbul and the Hagia Sophia or as it’s known in Turkish the Aya Sofya. It has, to me, the most beautiful interior of the buildings in the Sultanahmet area. The nave is huge, actually the whole interior is enormous. The church was originally commissioned by Emperor Justinian. It was consecrated as a church in 537. The chandeliers which are relatively close to the floor and are very pretty, the medallions inscribed with gilt Arabic letters and the elevated kiosk where the sultan worshipped were added in sometime after 1453 when it was made a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror.
The main entrance into the nave is crowned with a mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator (Ruler of All). The dome measures 30 metres in diameter and 56 metres in height. Everything in here is large scale. There is an exquisite 9th century mosaic of the Virgin and Christ Child in the apse. The background tiles are gold making it quite alluring.
The Weeping Column located in one of the aisles has a legend that says St Gregory the Miracle Worker blessed it and by putting one of your fingers into its hole it can heal your ailments if your finger comes out moist. The Aya Sofya was made into a museum by Atatürk in 1934.
The next place I went to was the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarniçi in Turkish). This was commissioned by Emperor Justinian too. It is an underground structure which was built in 532 underneath the Stoa Basilica. It is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul and there are 336 marble and granite columns. There is certainly a symmetry and beauty here and I can understand why the James Bond film From Russia With Love made use of it and filmed one of the scenes here. The columns are all 9 metres high and are arranged in 12 rows. There are two Medusa heads (one upside down and one on its side) which would have been under water when the cistern was in operation. The cistern held up to 80,000 cubic metres of water for regular summer use in the Great Palace as well as for times of siege. I loved it down there – so atmospheric!
After having been followed by a man from Hagia Sofia who seemed upset that I had taken a photo of his cat, I arrived at the Blue Mosque. Because this is a place of worship it is necessary to wear a scarf on your head and conservative clothing (legs and arms covered). Non-Muslims cannot enter through the same entrance as Muslims so I went to the appropriate place. Shoes must be removed and plastic bags are available to carry your shoes with you.
The Mosque was built between 1606 and 1616 and is known as the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles inside the building. It is quite beautiful and peaceful inside. There were some people still praying even though prayer time had finished.
The official name of the mosque is Sultanahmet Camii – Camii meaning Mosque in Turkish.
I didn’t take too long at this place – may be half an hour. Once you are inside it is a matter of looking around in the one large room, soaking in the atmosphere and reverence and then moving on.
I found it very interesting and am glad I went. By the way women don’t pray in the same area as the men. There is an area at the back of the Mosque where women were praying. Also you cannot go into the mosque during prayer times.
The Sultanahmet area of Istanbul has a lot of the historic attractions that anyone would want to visit on their first or even second visit to Istanbul. There is the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii), Hagia Sofia (Aya Sofya), Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar, Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Arasta Bazaar and Topkapi Palace.
The palace was begun in the 1400s and Ottoman sultans lived there until the 19th century. There are various courtyards to move through and each one has its own set of buildings. I think my favourite part was the harem. It was quite separate and I’m pretty sure I read that the word harem means protected. There was a very big line to get into the Treasury but once inside you don’t have to stay in a line moving around to the various pieces of jewellery.
The cost was 20 Turkish Liras and the Harem cost an extra 15TL. It took me a good 3 hours to get around to it all and some areas I moved through very quickly. It was very worth seeing – get there early before the crowds.