Sunday, September 20, 2015

Falling in love with Turkey

(Here’s another one that’s been sitting in my “Draft” box for months).  We absolutely loved traveling in Turkey, we would go back in a second.  Obviously we didn’t really see much of the country, we only spent one day on the western coast and a couple of days in Istanbul but we’d love to go back.  (If you’re going, let us know, we’d likely find a way to go with you!)
Our first stop was at a little town called Kusadasi (I’m uncertain of the pronunciation).  It’s kind of like one of those little coastal towns that pretty much exists for tourists.  There’s resorts all over and tons of little shops around – although, this being Turkey, the stuff in it is a bit more interesting than say, the equivalent in Florida.  This was the only time on our cruise that we chose to go on a tour – mostly Kyle and I are not good with tours, we get interested in strange things and we are those people that the tour guide is always telling to “move along” or “wait for the rest of the group”.  This time we had a lot of things we wanted to see in a short time and we didn’t think we’d have time with out a bus to bring us. 
Our first stop was a place called “Mary’s House” – it ostensibly is where John the Beloved brought Mary, mother of Jesus, to live after the Resurrection of Christ. 

It reminded me of a lot of places in the Holy Land: the tradition is almost more important than what actually happened.  There were some interesting ruins however (apparently a cistern):

Our next stop was the ruins at Ephesus.  Coolest ruins ever!  (And I’ve seen a lot of ruins.)  We could have stayed there for hours, it’s massive and hasn’t been fully excavated.

 Me in front of the Temple of Aesclepius (which was basically a hospital). 

 One of the main roads, likely walked on by Paul. 

An ancient condo development with very cool mosaic porch.  

Local public toilet.  

 The Library of Celsius – this one’s for you David Ross.  

The Large Theatre – there are many theatres but this is the largest, I wonder if it is the place talked about in Acts 19.

Before we had our fill of Ephesus the tour bus was leaving so we dragged ourselves away and went to a few more sites including a lunch at a simulated Roman villa (yummy food, kitchy entertainment) as well as:  
A church dating from around 60 A.D. where John the Beloved was OSTENSIBLY buried. 

A stop off at a turkish rug shop where we learned about harvesting silk from the cocoons of the silkworms.
A beautiful silk rug that we wanted to buy but couldn’t really afford the $25 000 USD price tag (picture doesn’t do it justice).  We ended up with a very small wool rug that we love, perhaps someday we will go back for the silk one.

Kyle, pensive as we left the port of Kusadasi.

The next couple of days we toured Istanbul.  A very cool city that I would like to visit again, we really only hit the highlights given our time constraints.  I dragged Kyle to the Topkapi Palace our very first day – the main palace of the Sultan and the headquarters of the Ottoman Empire for centuries.  It is a massive complex with building after building with room after room of lovely architecture and mosaics.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ancient Greece

So, here's another of those posts that has been sitting on my computer for awhile.  WAAAYYY back in January Kyle and I embarked on our biggest adventure yet.  We really wanted to do several sites in the Mediterranean and I was going crazy with trying to figure out the timetables when I came across a brilliant idea:  a cruise!  Perfect, no worrying about booking hotels every night, finding places to sleep etc.  Plus cruising in the latter half of January turns out to be a super cheap option.  It was Kyle's first cruise (odd, given his obsession with water and water sports) so he was a bit nervous.  I love cruises for the above mentioned reasons (i.e. ease of transportation/accommodations/food).  

Our first stop was:
That's Olympia, Greece (for those of you whose Greek is a little rusty)
We actually took this picture to send to our little niece Olympia.  
She's 3 and apparently wasn't too impressed with the photo. (Not surprising really since it doesn't look like her name spelled in English)

Olympia is where the original olympic games were held - here's Kyle in one of the gymnasiums (looks like it was much nicer than most gymnasiums I've ever been in).  The olympic games also were a form of worship so in order to ensure one stop-shopping there was also a MASSIVE temple to Zeus on the site - it contained a huge statue of Zeus - one of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the world.

Kyle demonstrating the width of one of the original columns of this massive temple

The stadium where the races took places

Lovely archeological dig sites

After trotting through lots of ruins - it's very nice to have an orange, fresh off the tree.  (Random orange trees in city park)

We did enjoy Olympia and also continued to enjoy the cruise...(yummy food).  The next day took us to the lovely city of Athens, Greece. (Ok, it truth, Athens is not really a lovely city - no offense intended to my Greek friends - they are lovely, it's just that Athens, well, isn't.  I haven't seen so many stray animals since my mission in Madagascar and there seemed to be a lot of trash just floating around.  So sad)  Fortunately for us, Athens boasts a lot of something that Kyle and I apparently love:  RUINS!!!  And other really old stuff, Hurray!!!

Me in front of some lovely ruins and reconstruction - can you find the dog in the background?

Kyle showing off the first (of his many) discoveries of nifty mosaic floors on an ancient market place floor.  This really is cool, can you imagine modern tile floors lasting 2500 years?  Hah.  Not a chance.

Sitting on Mars Hill (Acropolis Hill behind me) - click for Biblical reference

Below the Temple to Athena Nike, part of the entrance way up to the Acropolis

Ok, so this doesn't look quite as cool in the picture as in real life, this is actually the roof of the huge entrance way, being reconstructed with both the old marble stones and new laser custom cut marble.  My camera is apparently not good enough to show the spot where there is some original paint.  (Keep in mind that people believe all this was painted bright fancy colours)

For me, this is actually the cool part, all these little pieces laid out like a puzzle, trying to fit everything back together again.

And of course, the Parthenon itself.  We are thinking of planning a trip back in 20 years to see how the reconstruction is going.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ringing in the New Year - Dutch style!

(Here's another that's been sitting on my computer forever)

Now, I've never been one for partying on New Year's Eve, I think it's kind of a highly over-rated holiday.  I'd rather just eat some yummy food and get a good night's sleep.  This is not what happens in the Netherlands however.  This holiday is a big deal!!  We went to a movie early on New Year's Eve and then came home to go to bed because we had to get up the next morning for a fun activity (more info below).  However, the going to bed early thing was a little tricky because of this (note:  the video is actually terrible, mostly this is just audio):

No, we are not living in Syria, this is the Netherlands, this is what it sounded like from 3 pm New Year's Eve until 3 in the morning New Year's Day.  (At least that's what Kyle says, I'd fallen asleep by that time).  This resulted in an aftermath that looked like this:


Of course things got even more crazy.  Another great Dutch tradition:  the annual New Year's Day North Sea Swim!  Imagine 10 000 people running into the North Sea on New Year's Day.  Such fun!  Actually, I'm a total wimp.  We met up with some friends of ours; since both of them wanted to run I had regretfully bowed out (ha ha) and volunteered to be the photographer and toddler-holder.   Here is the "Before" photo (everybody got matching neon orange toques from a sponsor of the event):

As it turns out, it's difficult to hold a (fairly freaked-out) toddler and video tape at the same time, so this video is pretty bad, but you get the idea of the general chaos.

All's well that end's well:

Christmas in the Netherlands (an outsider's perspective)

(I haven't been a very good blogger, this has been sitting on my laptop for months...)

A great thing about going to live in a different country/culture is learning about the holidays.  Some of the traditions seem better than your own, some seem odd, all are interesting.  The Christmas season in the Netherlands really starts - at least from my point of view - in mid-November with Sinterklaas.  "Sinterklaas" is the name of an day and a person.  The story, as an outsider understands is as follows:  Basically he arrives in the Netherlands on a boat (ostensibly from Spain) in mid-November to great fanfare and excitement.  He is accompanied by his faithful servant "Zwarte Piet" (Black Pete) - no elves.

(Here he is arriving in the harbour of The Hague, somehow we managed to pick the right spot and be really close.   Traditionally there's only one Zwarte Piet but for some reason everyone dresses up as a Zwarte Piet - the boat alone had an entire marching band dressed up like Zwarte Piet)

(Here he is disembarking and getting ready to get on his white horse.  The "Spanish Ambassador" dressed in formal robes is accompanying him)

 He then rides around the country on his white horse (no reindeer here) for the next 2-3 weeks checking up on how good all the children have been/are.  The children leave their shoes out every night just in case Sinterklaas happens to pass by, because if they've been good, they will receive candy or treats in them (if bad, they may receive pieces of coal or other unpleasant things).  December 5th is Sinterklaas Day.  That day Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet will leave presents and treats for the good children and then mysteriously slip away for another year.

I kind of like this tradition - many people will exchange gifts with family members (part of the tradition is you have to write an accompanying poem to go along with the gift).  Then at Christmas itself there is much less focus on the gifts.  Previously the focus would have been on the religious celebration but now the focus is more on family time.  December 25th is for large meals and family time.  Second Christmas (Dec 26th - not joking, that's what its called) is for more family activities and many people even take a Third Christmas (Dec 27th - still not joking) for more fun and games.

My parents came for Christmas, which was a lot of fun.  This meant that they brought their cameras, which tragically translated into me reverting to my lazy habits of hardly taking any pictures...  We toured around all over the place and in reviewing my photo file, I'm pretty sure I took about 10 pictures, Kyle maybe 10 more.  Pathetic really.

Highlights included:

-A trip to the Lindt chocolate outlet store
 (here's some of the loot)
- Trip to Maastricht (Netherlands) Christmas Market
(Kyle discovers the best part of Christmas Market (according to him - BBQ meat)

- Trip to Brussels (Belgium) Christmas Market
- Christmas Baking with Mom (haven't gotten to do that for a long time!!)
- Trips to the Hague outdoor market and around the Hague
- Trips to Rotterdam (the place where we finally found a Christmas Turkey)
- Trip to Amsterdam
(Mom and Kyle in front of Rijksmuseum after we'd worn poor Mom and Dad right out)
- Trip to Germany including stops at the Cologne Cathedral (seriously no photos) and Cologne Christmas Market ( by this point you may have noted the Leitmotif of this posting ...eating high fat food...)
(See if you can find Kyle waiting in line for some high fat food (meat on a stick))
Mom eating a potato pancake (delicious!)

Actually, after Christmas things got less about food and we were able to take a short trip to Belgium.  We spent a lot of time in the Flanders Fields area, especially Ypres.  This was a really moving experience.  It was cold and miserable and probably a very appropriate time to visit the WW I trenches.  I kept thinking about sitting in these horrible places for 4 years getting shot at.  How horrible.  Although difficult, I would highly recommend visiting some of these sites.
Kyle in a (relatively) dry bunker

We also dragged my parents to one of our favourite places, Ghent and also stopped at Bruges.  It was whirlwind though, so they will have to come back!

Ghent, on a snowy night

The last day before they left we went to this cool place called Madurodam.  It's basically this little park showing all sorts of famous buildings in the Netherlands in miniature.  It gives you an idea of the diversity and coolness of the entire Netherlands in one teeny park.  Such fun!  And of course they play up the stereotypes:

Thanks for coming to visit Mom and Dad and sharing our Dutch Christmas (and Second Christmas and Third Christmas)

Friday, November 14, 2014

La Dolce Vita (or the first Italian Adventure)

We finally made it on our trip to Italy, finally!  I think that I have wanted to go to Italy for as long as I can remember so it was very exciting to finally go there.  
Getting there was quite fun as well...
We took the night train to Munich. What fun!
Kyle demonstrating the bunks on the train

Joanne in the dining car the next day traveling from Munich to Verona, Italy through Austria

Our first stop was in Verona - not somewhere I knew much about, aside from the fact that Shakespeare set his play "Romeo & Juliet"there.  We thought it was fascinating and would go back.
Kyle in the Roman Stadium of Verona

Above the River Adige  looking towards the hills

Castelvecchio (City museum with art and antiquities) originally built in 12th century basically for the local nobleman to hide out from the rest of the city (especially during tax collection time).

The old synagogue - taken from our bedroom window.

The next day we took a little train to a little city called Modena.  We took the slow train because it was about 1/4 price and way more interesting passing through little towns along the way.  We stopped for lunch in a tiny little trattoria run by an old couple (he runs the front, she does the cooking in the back).  Kyle thinks it was the some of the best food he had ever eaten.  It was delicious!  Part of the fun was that no one spoke english.  It made it very interesting, we didn't really know what we were ordering but no problem, it was all fabulous.  Our after lunch activity was a cool trip to the Ferrari Museum.  I now know more about Ferraris than I ever thought I would...
Kyle really enjoying himself

There were a bunch of Maseratis there as well (I can't really tell the difference myself...)

We then went to Modena Cathedral and climbed the bell tower.
 The next day we were on the road (train) again and made our way into Florence! 

Yay Florence!!

We went for a quick lunch and then I dragged Kyle immediately to the Piazza del Duomo.  We still don't believe in taking photos inside churches as per the signs everywhere despite what everyone else does. Consequently, we only have photos of the outside.  But what an outside!!!

The south doors of the baptistery (by Pisano) - we weren't able to see the originals of Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" since the museum wasn't open but we did see the copies on the door.  We loved the baptistry the best of all the churches we went to - it is built over the oldest church in Florence.

Next we went up the bell tower (we started to think that maybe we shouldn't go up so many bell towers...the stairs are pretty numerous)

A lovely view from the top of the bell tower.

Kyle in front of the Cathedral (Duomo)  We were amazed by the intricacy of the sculpture and decoration - so much detail that you almost can't take it in.

 Finally we went into the Duomo itself.  It's overwhelmingly massive, we explored it all; down into the underground excavations all the way up to cupola at the top of the dome.  (more stairs...)

At the top of the Duomo overlooking the south part of Florence

Our last stop of the day was the Galleria dell'Accademia, apparently you normally have to stand in line forever to get in but we seemed to do OK.  We really enjoyed it.  There's was several unfinished works from Michaelangelo and one very famous finished one.

Michaelangelo's David - a piece of art that actually lives up to all the hype

The next day we were really feeling a bit done in from our marathon of the day before.  We were rather slow moving but finally managed to make our way to the Uffizi Gallery.  The problem, as Kyle pointed out, is the "Art overload".  At some point it gets to be super overwhelming.  In retrospect I think I missed some pieces that I wanted to see but it's just too much.  We decided however, that Boticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is overrated and many of the other Renaissance artists are underrated (See for example:

Kyle resting at the Uffizi

As we stumbled out of the Ufizzi, we decided we really needed to eat.   There was a lovely-looking sidewalk cafe right there so we sat down to grab something.  Bad idea.  Terrible food, terrible service, hideous prices.  It turns out, out of the 1864 eating establishments listed on TripAdvisor in Italy, we managed to pick the 1861st ranked one.  Nice. (To give you an idea - McDonalds ranks higher).  This seems to be a trend with Kyle and me.  Whenever we wander into a random restaurant, it's either the greatest food ever or it's a complete disaster, there is no middle ground for us.  Ah well.  For the rest of the day we walked around Florence seeing lovely scenery and eating gelato to make up for our terrible lunch.

Back on the road again, our next stop was a somewhat non-traditional one for an Italian vacation.  Kyle had looked into diving (of course) and found out that the diving wasn't really great as far north as we were going to be.  He also found out that the deepest pool in the world is right outside Venice, strangely enough in a spa town.  He dove down to 40 metres and had a lovely time - especially since it's all hot-spring fed water!  Lovely.  I was an observer only.

Later that night we made our way to Venice.  I must admit, I've always been a bit ambivalent about Venice - it seemed super-hyped and I always wondered about the smell...Well, I really liked it - although I think October is actually a good time to go, no smell, OK weather and apparently fewer people.  Although it did seem like hoards of people to me, I'd hate to be there during the summer or vacation time.  Some highlights:
Gondolas and cool architecture

Really quite lovely

Piazza San Marco (with another bell tower - Kyle went up but I'd had enough of bell towers by that point, or, more correctly my knee had already had enough of stairs) and numerous tourists

Basilica San Marco from inside the Doge's Palace

Bridge of Sighs

Inside the bridge of sighs 
(So, somehow I had the idea that the Bridge of Sighs had something to do with some romantic Venetian story.  Not so much.  It's the bridge between the old courtrooms and the old prison where prisoners would sigh to see the freedom that they couldn't have).

We will have to go back someday I think.  Too much to see and not enough time to see it.  We flew home on RyanAir (which turns out to be a good idea since then it forces you to avoid buying any souvenirs given the strict luggage policies).   We arrived home quite tired but excited for our next trip.