one great city

i'm stealing the old slogan for winnipeg and applying it to istanbul. now that winnipeg is 'the heart of the continent'...i'm sure they won't mind. we really liked istanbul...it was definitely one great city. and i say that even though we missed a bunch of stuff. you know how it goes...travel planning, getting acquainted with the area you are staying in and then resting from exhausting travel days all gets in the way of actually seeing the sights. that said we were able to stay in all sides of istanbul by the end of our trip to turkey. there are two european sides, the first is the area between the sea of marmara and the golden horn and the second is between the golden horn and the bosphorus strait. the third side is on the asian continent.
most of the touristy bits are in an area called sultanahmet which is where we stayed our first night. we arrived after our night train from greece without planned accommodation which i supposed i'm getting used to. other than the smelly bathroom, which we would soon learn is a common problem in turkey, our hostel was adequate for the one night we stayed there. we were once again fortunate to find a couchsurfing host...mehmet. we met him our second night at the kadikoy ferry terminal with a handmade sign held in front of us like we were limo drivers waiting for our passenger. we drove for a long time to reach his apartment but were treated to endless amounts of tea upon our arrival...at midnight...before bed. apparently, in turkey, you can't ever have too much tea, no matter what time of day.
breakfast at mehmet's was a turkish feast set out on a low slung table in traditional kurdish fashion...mom-made cheese, omelete, olives, bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, honey with the comb still in it and rich creamy spread which reminded us of clotted cream...oh yah, and tea. so delish. so not vegan. luckily he had some time off that day and he was able to show us around after breakfast. we spent the day wandering through sultanahmet visiting the spice bazaar, the blue mosque, hagia sofia museum and the grand bazaar.
blue mosque on a hazy day
one of the side entries to the blue mosque courtyard
column in the hagia sofia
beam detail in the hagia sophia
the grand bazaar - this was a calm area
i really wanted these...all of them...so beautiful
turkey, of all the countries, has been the place that we have couchsurfed the most. before we left winnipeg we attended a couchsurfing karaoke night where we met a turkish fellow named tacettin. we met up with him and his wife marija for dinner during our first stay in istanbul. they extended the invitation to surf on our return to the city which we gratefully accepted. our last host in turkey was avsar, a young designer type living in a young designer type neighbourhood called besiktas. this was our favourite area of istanbul. crowded, lively and hip. lots to do and near to everything. we had a night out with avsar and some american student friends of his at a local pub with a live traditional turkish band. good times.
unfortunately our very last experience in turkey was not a good one. we were warned about scammers and taxi drivers in particular by others that had been to istanbul before us. we experienced nothing but friendly people and good service our whole time in turkey. until we had to resort to a taxi to the airport. when we called to confirm our flight the ticket agent warned us that there may be a transportation strike the next day. avsar called the morning of our flight to make sure the trams were still in service. and although there was indeed a strike, the trams were running as scheduled. well, we did catch a tram but it only took us up to sultanahmet which is quite far from the airport. we had no idea if what bus we could catch or what was actually still in service so we opted to spend a bit of cash and catch a taxi to the airport. the strike had already caused a delay and we were running about 1/2 hour behind.
we ran up to the first cab we saw and asked what the fare was to the airport. the driver assured us that he had a meter and took our bags. neither jason or i saw a meter but neither of us questioned him about it. we were in a rush. we were stupid and naive canadians. the driver engaged us in some small talk as we made our way to the airport. on arrival he turned around and said '38 lira' in his thick turkish accent. jason handed him 40. a second later the driver turned around with 25 lira in his hand and said '38 lira' again. jason looked bewildered and told him that he just gave him 40. i thought perhaps the driver had said 48 lira and was now asking jason for the rest of the money. i said to jason 'maybe he is saying 48'. then the driver said '48 lira'. we didn't have anymore lira as we hadn't planned on taking a cab so jason pulled out his hidden travel wallet where we kept the rest of our cash. he tried to discreetly look through the wallet for an equivalent amount in euros but the driver brazenly started grabbing for the money. somehow he managed to get all of our cash out of the wallet and into the front seat. he was fanning out the money showing us all the euros and american money we had. we were stunned. this was all happening way too fast. i grabbed the money out of his hands and gave 30 euros back to jay. once again the driver took the money out of our hands so that now he had 30 euros and 40 lira fanned out in his hand. both jay and i were shouting that 30 euros was more than enough...worth at least 60 lira. finally after much protesting he threw the 40 lira back at jay, grumbled about how we were cheating him and told us to 'get out, get out'. we were already late to check in for our flight so we just took our bags out of the trunk and left.
i was flustered and upset that this was our last impression of turkey after such a great 3 weeks. once we were settled at the gate and waiting to board our flight jay decided to count the cash we were able to pull away from the cabbie's grubby hands. we were short $40 american. so a cab ride that was supposed to cost 38 lira (approx. $27 cdn) ended up costing us over $90 cdn. i was so angry...at the cab driver...at jason...at myself...at our stupidity and naivety and our canadian-ness. stupid. naive. canadian. just what the scammers live for.
i have to remind myself that it could be worse. jason could have been beaten and taken for alot more money. we are safe. we are healthy. and we still have very fond memories of turkey.
gule gule,


out of this world

rockscapes found in cappadocia region

it's difficult to express in words how cool the cappadocia region is. the landscapes are like nothing you will find in canada...maybe even the rest of the world! a long time ago...like millions of years ago...a volcano erupted and over a few million years the rocks eroded into the spectacular chimney forms you see today. the volcanic deposits are soft rocks that people since the roman period have carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries. most of the cave homes are now hotels and pensions but a few people still live in the caves.

ancient cave dwellings near göreme

jay and i found a cave that we could climb into...
i love the cubbyholes...so functional!

look up, look waaaaaay up...

yay! cubbyholes at the front door for your shoes ;p

we found a cave hotel that fit into our tight budget. it had a cute terrace but it was a bit chilly to actually enjoy it. the temperature was between 0 and 15 degrees celsius which apparently is unseasonably warm for november. we arrived at 8 o'clock in the morning after taking the night bus from izmir. we set off to explore the area on our own, ignoring the sales pitch for a tour that included a guide, lunch and transportation to 'many, many interesting places for only 60 lira...but i give it to you for 5 dollar cheap'.

our cave room's terrace

our first climb up a hill rewarded us with this view

we were given a map that showed the hiking paths available to us but it really wasn't very helpful. there are several roads leading out and through göreme and street names are almost non-existant. we just picked a road and started out of the town towards the hills. after we looked around for a bit we came to a big rock that said, 'rose, red 1 km'. we followed the path but in the end decided to stay up on the hilltop instead of climbing down into the valley only to walk back up again. we walked for what seemed like hours and hours. i think we were tired from our night on the bus because we were only gone for 2 hours.

rose red 1 km --->

more abandoned cave dwellings

our third day in göreme we set out again for another hike. this time we had a destination in mind...pigeon valley. we had no idea what pigeon valley was or why we might want to go there but we heard a couple say they were going there the next day. must be good if they're going...we asked at the info centre where to catch the domuş to uçhişar so we could hike into the valley from there. he informed us we could just walk...'it's easy, just walk up this road. it takes you to pigeon valley'. so we followed the road, took a wrong turn and ended up in a valley...but not pigeon valley. we looked up the hill and could see a viewing point and restaurant at the top. tourist buses were stopped there and tourists were peering down at us with their cameras. we attempted to climb the hill from two different spots but each time we had to turn back because we would reach a vertical slope that was impossible to scale without proper equipment...or at least for us...but at least before we had to slide back down the hill on our butts we caught a glimpse of the snow capped mount erciyes dagi.

guess what? more cave homes!

mount erciyes dagi off in the distance

while göreme obviously has been touched by the tourism trade, it still has an authentic small village feel. we visited the farmer's market that was set up to coincide with the end of morning prayers. we witnessed a horse and rider trotting through town with the rider barely in control of the stallion. we inhaled smoke from the wood burning stoves that kept the villagers warm and cozy in their chilly cave homes/hotels.

a short walk from town is an open air museum that boasts over 10 cave churches. the churches were dug out and painted with frescos by orthodox monks. many of the frescos are still quite vivid and colourful. this was one of the only areas that we were able to actually get inside the caves as many of the area's cave openings are too high to reach. we are still wondering how people used to get up there. our best guesses are...rope ladders, extremely tall stilts, hover crafts...

cave dwelling within the göreme open air museum

actual real live people live in this cave home

güle güle,
corina & jason


it's worth the trip to turkey

those of you from winnipeg will recognize the slogan "it's worth the trip". usually it refers to the trip from winnipeg to steinbach when you are purchasing a new vehicle. in this instance i will use it to refer to the long, extremely expensive trip we made from greece to turkey. a long story that doesn't really make for interesting reading. what you need to know is that we made it...finally!

our first stop was istanbul. we spent 3 days there before taking a bus to denizli. we will tell you more about istanbul in a later post as we are due back in a couple of days before flying to dubai. denizli was a means to an end. it's not a tourist destination in itself but we stayed there because it was close to pamukkale (one of jason's coveted UNESCO sites). AND because we found a couchsurfer, patricia aka wizzy, to host us. so even though denizli wasn't the reason for our trip south it ended up being a memorable stop.

pamukkale, turkish for cotton castle, has been a tourist destination for many years...like a millenium! in the last 50 years hotels have been built and then torn down when UNESCO declared it a world heritage site.

our tour of the area started at the hilltop ruins of hierapolis, an ancient city. wizzy instructed us to stay on the domus until it reached the top, walk through the ruins and then walk down the travertines. good advice as it meant we could walk downhill all the way :)

ancient building surrounded by the cottony white travertine

theatre of hierapolis

spas are not modern inventions. the greeks, the romans and the byzantines all recognized the benefits of the natural thermal pools of the area. they settled here to take advantage of the curing properties of the baths. today, turkish people and visitors from around the world, come to swim and bathe among the ancient ruins. unfortunately we were not among them. we had to pay an entry fee to the hierapolis and pamukkale which did not cover the cost to enter the pools. due to budgetary concerns we did not pay the extra 23 lira.

thermal pool with ancient ruins

we did, however, walk sans footwear, down the travertine and dip our feet into the hot spring pools...well, the runoff of the hot springs. the pools in the travertine ranged from cool to lukewarm. some of the water running down the channels was quite warm but nothing i would call hot. by the time we reached the bottom my feet were tender from the rough travertine and pretty much frozen.

jay standing near a waterfall from the hot spring above

patterns in the travertine left by the water flowing downhill

stalactites formed by the calcium deposits

our next destination was izmir, a port city on the aegean sea. jason was not well while we were in izmir. he caught my cold and then it got worse. he ended up with a nasty chest cold that keep us both up at night. so during the day we lay low and only ventured out a couple of times. our cs hosts, barbara and jeff, were very understanding and help nurse him back to health.

our first day in izmir we wandered down through the traditional market place called kemeralti. as we walked through the streets shop owners and touts hollered at us to buy their stuff. buying stuff hasn't really been high on our list of priorities as it would mean we would have to carry it for months and months. we did stop and watch this candy man make colourful taffy pops. he had a few people waiting patiently as he skillfully piled six different colours of sweet goo on a stick.

candy man and his sickly sweet goo

how could we...i mean...I...pass it up? i couldn't do it. so for 2 lira i got my own pop and for the record it was disgusting.

me eating the candy pop...not exactly enjoying it

on our way over to the bostanli side of izmir to our hosts' place the first night we saw an incredibly beautiful sunset. the red was brilliant, rebounding off the mountains and reflecting off the water as we watched from the ferry. we went back the next night but sadly were not treated to the same beauty...but the fisherman made it an interesting shot.

gule gule,


flat travellers on the loose again

well, for those of you that are closely following our blog...i know, i know...that's all of you...there is no need to introduce our flat nieces and nephew. but just in case we have some newbie followers i'll tell you a bit about each of them. our real live nieces jane, hannah, ellie & sasha and nephew owen drew pictures of themselves for us to take with us around the world.

the real live jane is an avid reader, she loves to sing and play piano and we love her impromptu performances at family get togethers. the real live owen is jane's little brother who isn't so little anymore...he's 5! he's rambunctious, his laugh is infectious and he can charm anyone. the youngest of the family, the real live yohan, was only a month old when we left so we don't have a flat version of him with us but we still think of him often. we hope to make a stop in vancouver on our way home to see him.

jane and owen just before we left in july 2009

the real live hannah is also an avid reader (is this a result of both being the eldest?), plays piano and loves to dance. we've had a few chances to see hannah's ballet performances and can't wait to see her progress. the real live ellie loves to be silly! she's squishy, goofy and fun...the life of the party :) the real live sasha is sweet and shy...but only until she feels comfortable with you and then watch out! the stuff she comes up with...innocently enough i'm sure...hilarous!

hannah, ellie & sasha (l to r) at our goodbye party in july 2009

who knew we all came from families of chess players. not sure who won this round in geneva, switzerland.

the famous jet d'eau in geneva shoots water 140 meters into the air. both flat penners and petroff were so impressed they insisted on having their photos taken with it.

this is the photo we got in trouble for taking in front of the parthenon in athens. who knew that flat people were symbols and not allowed to be photographed with the ancient ruin. luckily the guards didn't see us take it and the bossy greek lady didn't turn us in. phew!

after the fiasco with the flat penners, the flat petroffs decided to play it safe and had their photo taken in front of the theatre of the acropolis instead. uncle jay wanted to be in the photo too but i wouldn't let him...somehow he still managed to get his arm in the picture.

all of us were disappointed when we got to delphi and the main attraction was closed due to technical difficulties. we had questions for the oracle but we were turned away. the only decent ruin to have in the background was this athena pronea temple. kinda cool...it looks like camouflage.

this is flat owen on the train to turkey. the real live owen likes trains and has always wanted to go to turkey. this is in our 2 bunk berth before we put the beds down for the night time train ride from thessaloniki to istanbul.

we are in the blue mosque in istanbul. we didn't have head coverings for the flat girls but that's ok because you don't need to wear one until you are a teenager. they only let tourists in when there are no prayers in session. the call to prayers can be heard throughout the city five times a day...before sunrise, midday, afternoon, sunset, and late evening.

flat owen and flat jane are pretty brave...they are standing on a tomb in the ancient necropolis near pamukkale, turkey.

flat hannah, flat ellie and flat sasha loved playing in the theatre. this photo is taken after they ran down to the bottom and back again. whew! they sure were sweaty after all those stairs...

hope you are glad to see that the flat people are still alive and kicking ;p we'll keep you posted as they break out of the camera bag on more adventures...around the world. next stops are in asia.

güle güle,
corina on behalf of the flats


a look back at europe

san sebastian - corina's favourite beach so far but we still haven't been to thailand so...

we left europe today for a few hours. we crossed the sea of marmara from the european side of istanbul to the asian side. it was a small reminder that soon we will not be in europe again for a very long time. even when we want to travel again, after we get home, it probably won't be to europe and it definitely won't be to this extent. so we decided to write a post about our impressions of europe.

food - one of the first things you see a difference wherever you travel. we have struggled with striking a balance between trying new things, sticking to a vegetarian/vegan diet and keeping in our budget. we've gleaned a few tips from our couchsurfing hosts and other travellers. here are our notes:

uk: fish & chips must be consumed in a proper fish & chip shop NOT in a pub...mushy peas are an individual's perogative. indian cuisine is abundant & tasty as are many other ethnic foods. the food choices in general are similar to what we have available in canada. packaged and restaurant food was all clearly labelled when it was vegetarian.

netherlands: i tried a form of food called hagel slag and even though i'm a sucker for nutella i didn't quite get hagel slag. first you butter your bread and then you pour chocolate, vanilla or strawberry sprinkles onto it. our favourites were the cheese and a mustard from the region of zandaam where we stayed with duckje and her family.

france: pain au chocolate...no need to say more...delish! of course we also had to try wine and cheese while we were in bordeaux with berenise & ben. jay ate the rockforte, which if you ask me looked and smelled disgusting. i mean seriously...moldy cheese? fyi - cheese is an appropriate and common dessert in france. we proudly carried baguettes home from the bakery almost every night. you could hardly tell we were tourists!

spain: ham is everywhere! for instance, you walk into any bar...there are legs of ham with hooves intact just hanging there from the ceiling...you walk into any grocery store, more legs...we are not just talking about one or two either. a common thing among many countries is to have only one or two flavours of potato chips available not like north america where name the flavour and you can get it. guess which flavour spain has...yup...ham. tapas is everywhere but we didn't experience much of it. vegetarian tapas is harder to come by...vegan tapas is impossible.

italy: pasta and pizza reign supreme here. the best pizza was not in naples as everyone will tell you. we had our best slice in rome from a tiny hole in the wall far from the tourist traps that plague that city. it was easier to eat vegetarian here but next to impossible once again for vegan. cheese tops all food. this is the country where my resolve to eat vegan began to crumble quickly. must have been the gelato.

croatia: meat, meat and more meat. jason cooked alot while we were here. when we ate out it was at a vegan restaurant in dubrovnik and a mexican dive in split.

greece: most of our meals included at least one of these items: feta, tomato, cucumbers, potato, tzatziki and bread. a local favourite breakfast seemed to be natural yogurt and honey. jay liked it but i found the yogurt much too creamy. we didn't have any baklava but we really like the galactoboureco which had the pastry and honey of baklava AND a fluffy white filling. so tasty!

some favourites from home that we've had a hard time finding are: peanut butter, tofu, beans, hummus, and almond milk. hopefully that just means that we will find them all the more yummy when we get home!

other differences we've observed

how people greet: UK same as Canada (ıe. no kissing just handshakes unless you really love each other), Dutch and Swiss kiss cheeks three times, French, Spanish, Italians & Croatians kiss cheeks twice and it hasn't been obvious in Greece if there is any kissing at all.

it is not common to find clothes dryers in homes. everyone hangs out their laundry for the world to see. or if its raining in their living room or on the terrace.

most buildings have their lights on timers so you have light as you walk through the hall but it shuts off automatically once you've reached your flat.

it's hard to find a toilet with a seat on it when you are in france, spain or greece. this didn't seem to concern jay at all while i on the otherhand had to become an expert at 'hovering'.

we've had a few questions from home and from people we've met on the road about what our favourites have been. here's our list to date:

favourite street food jason: veggie gyros with haloumi cheese, corina: pain au chocolate

favourite drink jason: beer in turkey, corina: hot chocolate in budapest

favourite place to sleep jason: pascal's place in split (wonder if that had to do with the twin beds?), corina: flo & rhea's place in berlin

favourite beach jason: sitges, spain, corina: san sebastian, spain

favourite UNESCO site giant's causeway

favourite ancient ruin pompeii

favourite place overall jason: paris, corina: amsterdam

jason wearing an eiffel tower hat

good-bye, tchau, doeıl, salut, adios, ciao, au revoir, szia, ya sas, güle güle,
corına & jason


UNESCO, my not so secret obsession.

Hello folks. As we bid a fond farewell to Europe, not withstanding the European section of Istanbul, I look back at the truly awesome sights and experiences we have seen with a certain reverance and look forward to more of the same. Well, there is an international body that also thinks some of the places we visited are most definately noteworthy. There is nothing better, for me, than to have our choices validated. Of the twelve countries and one city-state we have visited so far, we have visited a UNESCO world heritage site in all but one. Sometimes our visit is planned (i.e. me, "oooooh we should go here, it's a UNESCO site!"), sometimes they are suggested and sometimes we just end up there by chance. Regardless of why we go, to date we have checked off 23 world heritage sites with more to come.

Without any further ado, in order of appearance we have seen:

1) The statue of liberty
2) Tower of London
3) New & old town Edinburg

4) Giants causeway

*Ireland (Republic of)
5) Bend in the Boyne


6) Palace and parks of Potsdam

7) Rietveld/Schroderhuis, Utrecht

8) Banks of the river Seine, Paris

9) Palace and parks of Fountain Bleau
10) Jurisdiction of St. Emilion

11) The works of Antoni Gaudi

*Vatican city
12) St. Peter's Bacilica & the Sistine chapel

13) Ancient Rome

14) Ancient Naples
15) Pompeii & Herculaneum archeological areas
16) Old town Dubrovnik

17) Diocletian palace & old town Split

18) Plitvice lakes national park
19) Old town Trogir
20) City center/historic Budapest

21) Acropolis, Athens
22) Ancient Delphi

23) Old town Rhodes

Wheew! (Sorry Switzerland we could not get to any of your world heritage sites.)

Some spots were more impressive than others but all in all the sites held their own with the exception of Naples (read my post on how much we "liked" Naples).

We even have a few more sites on the agenda! In Turkey we are going to Pamukkale and the UNESCO sites in Istanbul. We also don't intend to miss Ankor in Cambodia, and Machu Picchu in Peru. I know I'm forgetting some and we are sure to stumble upon more still. I for one can't wait!!!

To see the list in it's entirety the post title is a link to the UNESCO website. You have probably been to a few yourself. Let us know where, maybe we will add them to our "must see list". Or maybe we will be jealous because it will be impossible for us to go there (Boo-hoo hoo, poor us only 23 and counting world heritage sites). No really, I am interested. Recommend, comment, brag...where have you been.

My next post will be on another more secret obsession I am tracking. Hopefully "thunder stealer" won't spill the beans ;-) Jason