31 Oct 2010

Back in Melaka

The orchids are doing well - imagine that they're still in bloom after one month! Most of them anyway. The deep purple ones are already dried but hopefully will bloom soon. My roses are dead and gone I know... it's not easy trying to nurture a rose plant when one is more often not at home than at home. Anyway most of my other plants are all right.

I still have a lingering cough - no plegm but I hate this dry wracking cough especially at night. Must try the honey treatment my friend said would  work - a spoonful of honey mixed with warm water. Simple isn't it but I haven't tried it yet.

As for the cats - Momo and Karupin have to be taken to the vet for their vaccination. Then next month its GInger and Chi chi's turn. I think MOmo also is in need of grooming - his fur is really thick and long now and its so difficult to get rid of the tangles sometimes.  But last year when I took him for a grooming session, he was ill and was out of sync for almost a week. Poor thing - must be really stressful for him. He doesn't really take to strangers; the only person he allows to cuddle him are Sarah, shasha and me. So at the vet its always distressing to see him cling to the cage, miawing loudly and refusing to let go. I guess for him its the ultimate torture so I try to do it only once a year. Hope he'll be fine this year!

Last year after we had cropped of nearly all his hair - its the no 2 cut (GI Joe) - he was really out of synq. Even his close pal, Karupin, who is his twin, could not recognise him and when he came near Apin, Apin would run, or worse still growled at him. Then he would run and Momo would stand there looking baffled, and Momo would go to his basket to sulk.

A newly cropped Momo - taken last year looking very dejected

27 Oct 2010

Back home

Well I'm home now - after being away for more than 3 weeks. My cats are fine and so are the fishes and the plants and most important - me. Apart from being tired that is. And a bit dejected too - I lost a piece of luggage with a number of souvenirs from Turkey as well as some gifts for my children from London. I had left the bag at the hotel where we were staying (pre- tour) at the hotel storage and it seems the storage was burgled. Of course the hotel's insurance will try to compensate us but who can replace the lost souvenirs? Anyway that's it, enough said.

My body still thinks its in London - am waking up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep after that. And when I do sleep, I wake up at 8.30 am! Guess it'll take some time to catch up... meanwhile  I am catching up with daily chores, friends, bill payments and all those other things that make up my life. Life's good!

18 Oct 2010

Istanbul - London - Amsterdam

Repin at the Rue Scribe waiting for the Cosmos bus
 From Turkey, we went to London where we stayed at the Novotel in Hammersmith.  It's a 4 star hotel and is not bad actually - its fairly close to the tube and the bus station is within walking distance.We were in London, prior to the tour, for about 5 days. The tour started on 16th October, one day after my birthday which was celebrated with a our friends when we were in Istanbul. It was a surprise actually - one organised by Hanin.

I had a great time in Istanbul and in London, missed my friends for a while. They all went back to KL  after Istanbul. In London, we renewed our acquaintance with this huge city - we walked along the Thames, took a bus through its old streets and rode the London Eye. We went back to Melur the Malaysian restaurant on Edgware Road and had our first Malaysian meal for days. Then we went to Oxford Street and  I bought some pullovers for Shasha, the Kath Kidston bags that both Shasha and Sarah loved and a few souvenirs to take back home. 
( Some of these were stolen subsequently but were later replaced - some, not all).

The Malaysian Restaurant that we frequented is situated nearby!

On the 16th October we started the tour. First we were driven to Dover in a coach. Our tour director would meet us at Dover, it seems. But in Dover we found that our tour director was still in Calais and could not come over because of a labour strike in France. Then we found out that we had to carry our luggage on to the ferry, which was called 'The Pride of Scotland'. It was fairly big, with lots of restaurants catering to the different budgets. The journey was smooth and uneventful - no squalls or heavy seas. In fact the sun was shining brightly!

FRench and Belgian country side

It took us approximately one hour to cross the Channel and even from far we could see the famous "White Cliffs of Dover", made nostalgic by Jim Reeves' song of the same name. I took the time to read my book, window shop at the tax free shopping arcade and Repin had a little nap. At 2.00pm we berthed and an announcement told us to take our bags and walk down to the level 3 floors below us to meet the bus and tour director.

Our bus was waiting for us and so was our Cosmos tour director, Flora Anfuso, an Italian living in England. Flora seems okay, though I noticed that throughout the trip she hardly talked to us (Repin and I as well as Mr and Mrs Ho from Singapore.) Maybe she didn't know what to talk to us about. I find her not rude exactly but not  really friendly and warm. She was also a bit aloof, a bit standoffish. Whenever I said something to her, either she ignored it (if its not a question) or she would answer but very briefly. She definitely wasn't warm towards us. I could see how friendly she was with the others though. For sure I will refuse to take Cosmos again as a tour package. We enjoyed our last trip with Globus so much last year which was the reason we took the Cosmos tour - because it was a sister company. Nevertheless we did have a great time in spite of all this - we were in fun-filled Amsterdam and took a boat ride on the canal, went for a visit at one of  the cheese factories, visited a traditional Dutch village (very touristy though) complete with girls wearing clogs and windmills and also went to the Zuider Zee. At night we went to the red light district, which was really really, interesting! What I really enjoyed was not the Red Light district itself but the funny little jokes that our local tour guide gave us. She was nothing to look at, but she can talk and has a really good sense of humour.


Our walking tour of London started from Big Ben


On the Rhine cruise to Basle

Repin walking along one of the canals in Zaanse Skaans

12 Oct 2010


Interior of the Grand Bazaar (there are more than 25000 shops in the Grand bazaar!)
There are so many things to do in Istanbul and we had only 3 days. Yesterday we visited Topkapi Palace which is really really big. The queue to get in too was worse than Disneyland! Finally we managed to get in but the main attractions, which were the displays of the various ornaments and tools used by the Ottoman sultans, were so crowded, my group opted not to see them. Instead we went to the second viewing chamber which housed the jewels that used to belong to the former sultans. Cameras were not allowed inside so we could not take pictures of the jewels but there is a large display of precious stones - mainly emeralds and diamonds. There were necklaces, earrings, rings and made of all kinds of precious stones. There were also golden cradles that used to belong to the young princes and swords and daggers encrusted with precious stones and gold.

On Saturday we took a boat ride on the Bosperus. It was a cold and foggy morning but it cleared somewhat a bit later, though the clouds were still there. Istanbul seen from the sea is really magnificent.

 boat ride on the Bosperus
The Kamal Ataturk Bridge which spans the Bosperus
Beautiful houses along the Bosperous coast

Potter demonstrating the making of Turkish pottery

This is a Turkish pottery shop. The master potter is demonstrating the art of turning the pottery wheel using the special red clay from Cappadocia, in the south eastern part of Turkey. They have some of the most gorgeous pottery in the world. If I wasn't travelling on to Europe I would definitely buy them.

Gorgeously coloured bowls of all sizes

Topkapi, The Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia

Today's Istanbul was actually Constantinople - the eastern capital of the Roman Byzantium Empire which ruled Anatolia and Byzantine until the late 13th century when it was conquered by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey had been ruled by the Greeks or Macedonians (sometime in 343 BC when it was conquered by Alexander), then taken over by the Romans who formed Byzantium and finally by the Ottomans. When Sultan Mehmet the 2nd ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire, he laid seige to Constantinople, which had already been weakened by corruption and numerous wars. Two years later, Constantinople finally fell to the Turks - on 29 May 1453.

The ancient Byzantine empire, with Constantinople as its capital

During Emperor Constantine's rule in Byzantium he had built a large church to celebrate his conversion to Christianity - the Hagia Sophia. When Constantinople fell, the church too was converted into a mosque at first. The Turks however did not destroy the beautiful interior of the church. However Sultan Ahmet the first,  his heir, realised that he needed his own mosque, and instructed Sinan, his architect to design the largest and most beautiful mosque on top of the hill, close to the Hagia Sophia. This mosque is today one of the most beautiful in the world, and known to most people as the Blue Mosque. Its actual name is Sultan Ahmet Cami (Sultan Ahmet's mosque). It is indeed a splendid structure, with its graceful cascade of domes, its six slender minarets marking the corners of the courtyards and the lovely grey colour of the stones, set off by gilded ornaments on the domes and minarets.

Next to the Blue Mosque, just acoss the gardens is the Hagia Sophia or at one time called Saint Sophia's Church. There are still beautifully painted frescoes in the central hall and in the domes. Pictures of the infant Jesus and the Virgin Mary decorate the high ceilings of the central area, with gold coloured lettering of the words Allah and Mohammed covering the pillars.

Inside the Blue mosque

The main entrance to Topkapi Palace or Topkapi Sarayi

11 Oct 2010

From Eskesehir to Istanbul

The drive back to Istanbul seemed shorter by contrast, though we took the same road going in. Maybe we were fresher and more relaxed and there was rather less traffic on the road compared to when we came. Anyway on Sunday at 8.30 am we left Eskesehir for Istanbul. We passed the same orchards mainly quince I notice, and a few manufacturing plants - near Eskisehir, they were mainly cars.

After a brief stop at one of the rest areas - we had a coffee break and bought some local fruits - we were back on the way. Marwan, the guide wanted to arrive at the bridge before 12 noon he said. The congestion would be bad after that he told us. Even then, we arrived at Istanbul a few kilometers from the bridge to a jam packed road. There seemed to be no end - it was going to be a long crawl. However our driver had a few tricks up his sleeve - he knew of a few short cuts and soon we were on the bridge itself, crossing the Bhosperous going towards the European part of Turkey.

Our hotel , The Titanic, is situated on one of the busy streets of Istanbul - Takseem Road. It's a fairly large hotel, very accessible to most of the large shops and close to many restaurants. Just leave the hotel and immediately you are invited into the numerous little eateries and cafes! Since it was already past lunch time, Marwan took us to a fish restaurant nearby. The soup was really delicious and so was the grilled fish that were served later. According to our guide, food is expensive in Istanbul, especially if one orders ala carte. So we ordered the fixed menu which came to about 98 TL ( double that for USD). There are about 6 people in the group so I think that is fairly reasonable.

After lunch we went back to our hotel for a short rest and came out again around 5pm. We all decided to walk along Takseem Road and just do some window shopping and maybe look for souvenirs to take home. Dinner was at one of the nearby kebab places and by 9pm we decided to go back to the hotel for the night.

7 Oct 2010

2nd day at Eskisehir

View of Eskisehir from Selale Park

Old Quarter of Eskisehir

View of the Posuk River in Eskisehir
Early on the second day we drove out of town towards Gordion, a small village  about 80 km away and famed for its ancient sites. It is said that when Alexander the Great came to conquer Asia Minor, he was asked to unravel the great Gordion Knot, which only a wise ruler could do. We all know that Alexander was a great warrior, but from this story we also know he was a practical and intelligent man! Instead of spending hours trying to unravel the knot, he just took his sword and cut it into two, thus unraveling the knot at the same time. He then went on to conquer the country, defeating King Darrius III and proclaiming himself Emperor of  Asia Minor. At that time Asia Minor included Persia, (today's Iraq), Turkey and Syria. We saw the ruins of the city that was built there in the early 7th century, the ramparts of the citadel and parts of the walls of this ancient city.
Ruins of the Gordion civilisation

Near Gordion too there's another famous figure, though this one  we all thought was only fictitious. This person is no less than the famous King Midas (pronounced as Mi (me) Das (Dust). Yes, the one with the golden touch. It seems there really was a King Midas and he did indeed had a golden touch, that is, whatever he touched turned to gold. The legend is that Midas had performed a good act for one of the gods (cant remember which one) and in return was told he could have anything he wanted. So he said that he wanted anything he touched to be gold and at once he got his wish. For two days Midas was very happy, running all over the palace and touching everything. Everything that he touched did indeed turn to gold. But alas, soon he realised the foolishness of his wish because he could not eat. Even the food that he tried to swallow became gold pellets and who could eat gold pellets? In sorrow he sat in the garden wondering how he could eat and drink when his little son came running to him. He turned to see the little boy and was so happy to see the child forgot about the wish. He carried his son in  his arms and found to his horror that the boy had turned into a golden statue. Regretting his greedy wish, he begged for forgiveness and told the God that he would give up everything, just to have his son back.  He was told to go and bathe in the river Oshu, near his palace and the gift would be overturned. And after he had bathed in the river, he found that everything was back to its original status and his son was again a normal boy. From that incident he realised how foolish he was and that he had to be grateful for what he had.

In Gordion we visited the tomb of King Midas, which was deep under a hillock. The museum c lose to the tomb had artifacts and even a statue of King Midas. I knew that Turkey had a rich history but never really understood how rich it actually is, with a civilisation that goes back to Mesopotamia, the Romans and later the Ottoman Turks.

At the Gordion Museum with a collage of Alexander the Great at the back.

Having coffee at the colorful garden of the Museum cafe

6 Oct 2010

Istanbul and Eskisehir

So finally after almost 16 hours of travel, we managed to get settled in at the Hotel in Eskisehir. Eskisehir is actually a small university town, south east of Istanbul. We landed early in the morning at the Mustapha Kemal Ataturk Airport. No problems there - the landing was fine (we didn't even bump) and Immigrations and customs were a breeze. Well not actually a breeze because the queue was fairly long, but it moved and we were cleared without any hitch. Outside, the air was cool and bracing - after being cooped in a cabin for almost 11 hours, that was a really nice feeling. Like other airports, this was very busy but our tour guide was already waiting for us and soon had us out of the crowded car park and onto the highway. He asked us if we wanted to stop somewhere to freshen up and so on so we all said yes and he smiled. But it was easier said then done - the highway was congested and traffic was very very slow. To pass the time he pointed to us some interesting places along the way - Topkapi Palace, the Bhosperous  sea, and a number of old buildings and mosques. He also gave us a brief history of Istanbul, at one time the capital of the Byzantine Empire and known throughout the western world as Constantinople, after the Roman Emperor, Constantine.

The Straits of Bospherous which divides Istanbul into two - the European side and the Asian side

 Istanbul is a fascinating city - a curious blend of East and West, with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, straddling the Straits of Bospherous. We crossed the huge bridge spanning the straits and went across towards the Asian part of Turkey leaving Istanbul behind us. Well, we'd have 3 days there later on, after the conference. But for now we have to go to Eskisehir, which is more inland and approximately 450 km away.

We finally managed to get out of the congestion and on to the highway by 8.30 am. At 9.00 we stopped at a rest area for a bit of breakfast and to freshen up. The journey would be about 6 hours. We passed through countryside that were quite beautiful - lots of trees and greenery, apple orchards, quince, vineyards and so on. As we journeyed further and further inland, the vegetation became more and more sparse. Much of the country is mountainous according to Marwan, and the place where we were heading is actually a valley, surrounded by mountains. We passed fields of wheat (though the wheat had already been harvested) and meadows where we saw thousands of sheep grazing. We passed through quaint little villages, looking deserted and empty.

We finally arrived at our destination around 1pm and checked in about 2pm. After checking in and freshening up we all had lunch at one of the cafes in town. Eskisehir is a university town with a population of almost 500,000 people, half of which are students. The main food type I think is the kebab. There are many different  varieties of kebabs - meat, vegetables and fish. There are lamb kebabs, beef kebabs, chicken as well as mutton. There are also aubergine, carrots, capsicum, tomatoes and other types of vegetable kebabs. This is normally served with a variety of breads and rice, salads and pepper  (fresh as well as preserved).

The town looks very European in architecture - the apartments all had little gardens around them. There are roses, impatiens, marigolds and foxgloves. Roses especially - all colours and all so fat and healthy looking. Its a pretty town, even though I was told there's nothing touristy here. After the heavy lunch we had a walk along the main street and had a bit of window shopping. Hmm lots of goodies to buy later.

We went back to the hotel for a rest and at 5pm decided to walk down towards the hypermarket next door - Carefour, which is just like the ones we have at home. They also had some nice shops inside - mostly selling clothes.

1 Oct 2010


Tomorrow night around midnight, I'll be on a plane bound for Istanbul.  We'll be in Turkey for 6 days - 3 days in Istanbul and another 3 in Eskisehir. Actually Repin will be attending a conference there but we have taken this opportunity to take some time out for a short tour of Turkey. Then we'll also be going to London and another tour of Europe. This one will take us about 2 weeks, so all in all I'll be away for about 23 days. Fairly long.

So today I stocked up on cat food and cat litter. My son who will be home to sort of look after the cats will not bother to buy their normal food which I get from the veterinary  so I thought I 'd better buy them and keep them in the store room just in case. I know I'm going to miss Chi Chi, Ginger, Momo, Karupin and Black. Especially Ginger. I'll worry about Karupin (He's always so sickly and I hope he wont be too sick while I'm away.)  And I wonder who will cuddle my two monsters (Momo and Karupin) when I'm not around. Chi chi is quite self sufficient and doesn't really need to be held, but both Karupin and Momo somehow always seem to be needy, poor things. Karupin especially will look at you with his soulful eyes as if wondering why you haven't brushed his hair or petted him.

Chi Chi showing her boredom

I also bought some books to read along the journey too - one JD Robb - Promises in Death,one book by a Turkish writer - Orhan Parmuk, and another by Jeffrey Archer - Paths of Glory. Looking forward to reading that first on the plane. I read the review and I think its a sad book in a way - its about George Mallory, a mountain climber who died while climbing Everest and it's based on a true story.