Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On tour

The Best of Turkey tour began with a walk around the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. There are nine of us in the group, all Australians apart from one Canadian and one American. One token male. Our lovely guide is Suleymon of the Long Eyelashes.

Keep up, and don't lose the group

Ok, where did my group go? Getting lost in the Grand Bazaar

The gardens of the Topkapi Palace are being prepared for a tulip festival in April

Not much left of the Hippodrome. This is the King Wilhelm Fountain

Plenty of selfie sticks in the Blue Mosque. Mine is called Helen

A strong police presence everywhere, including inside the mosque. 

Spot the redhead. Helen looking at the selection of dried fruits in a shop in the Egyptian Market, the Spice Bazaar.  

I'm not going to take my laptop with me for the next two weeks, so dear readers you'll have to live without news of my daily feasting and frolicing.

Meantime although my photos do not do any justice, here are a couple of images from the Hagia Sofia.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Istanbul first impressions

Image result for ataturk airport Not much colour yesterday morning when we flew in to Attaturk Airport. Disembarkation was down the stairs into a bus, and the pilot had to warn us to take care and hold on to the handrail. Out, into a sleety wet tearing wind that made the official 9 degrees feel like something minus. So far from Singapore! It always amazes me how people transform themselves in air to emerge at the destination looking like everyone on the street - a trick of shedding or adding layers of clothing.

Image result for sultanahmet tramImage result for golden horn hotel
 I got off the tram when I saw the spires and dome of Hagia Sophia, and sat in the nearest coffee shop to orient myself, find my gloves, and refuel both body (cafe americano and scrambled eggs) and maps (free wifi). I could hardly walk into the wind that was tearing up the little alleys leading to the Golden Horn Hotel. Stands of leather bags and pots of cyclamen being blown up the pavement. Also tulips. Spring is on the way. "It was warm last week" the waiter said. There are two Golden Horn Hotels. Sadly mine is the one that doesn't have the word Deluxe in its name. I'm sharing with Helen, but she is out doing a food tour.

OK - ready to plunge into the Grand Bazaar.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday morning coffee

Buying the newspaper and going for coffee is my Saturday morning routine. So where to head today? Ah Teng's, lah! Why wouldn't I have coffee and a croissant at Raffles if I could?

That's me on the balcony outside my room. Yeah nah. I stay at the YWCA. 

Next stop, the National Library of Singapore. The new building is just along the road from Raffles.

Special exhibition of items from the special collections.

This is the old building where I used to work. It has been pulled down

This made me laugh. So different from the reality. at the Queenstown Branch Library where I worked, our only catalogue was the drawers of cards, and dog-eared dirty things they were, manually typed and cyclostyled on soft paper. 

Short ride on the ever-efficient MRT back to Chinatown for lunch (did I mention laksa already?)

View of Pagoda Street from MRT entrance 

Singapore again

The train trip from Butterworth to Johore Bahru was comfortable enough but very long. I made it to the kiosk just as the grumpy attendant closed up nid-afternoon, so survival rations consisted of a tiny bag of cashews and one packet of potato crisps. Lovely spicy treats made by Karaikudi, but not enough to fuel a whole day. It was still dark when I left Chulia Mansion to walk to the ferry terminal and it was 11.00 pm when I arrived at JB. By which time I had a such a headache food was the last thing on my mind (I think the caffeine habit was making itself known).

A long wait in the middle of nowhere - probably so the driver could go for makan. Or did I just have makan on my mind?

Nothing a cup of tea and a mee soup the next morning didn't fix. Me and a million commuters crammed into buses for the short trip over the causeway from Malaysia to Singapore.

 The MRT highlights the differences between the two countries, with it's air conditioned platforms, plentiful signs and maps, an efficient ticketing system and escalators that actually function.
More space to observe people too. Now why would a lad go through the pain of having this done to his leg?

And for seniors there's a special button that makes the green man stay around longer so we can shuffle across safely. That's Singapore for you.
To be fair, I have to add that the buses in Penang go up and down. They crouch down to let the elderly embark and then with a sigh, rise back up to drive away. 

I met up with Helen for a tour at the Peranakan Museum, then she went off to do a walking food tour of Chinatown. I walked past Treasury and Parliament to the Asian Civilisations Museum. Lots of memories of this part of Singapore, which is just so impressive these days, though I remember what it was like before the river and quays were cleaned up and the bumboats were removed.

Highlights at the ACM

  • the Tang Shipwreck display
  • the Southeast Asian collections
  • section on ancient religions.

A huge haul of 9th century Chinese ceramics and other artifacts were recovered from a wreck found off the coast of Sumatra in 1998. Many of the ceramics are in perfect condition, and they are all very beautiful.
Changsha Bowls

This buddha, protected by a naga, is from Cambodia and was made in the 11th century.

And this is Quan Am, an 18th century Vietnamese representation of the same Goddess of Mercy as watches over Penang from her pedestal on the hill in the Kek Lok Si temple complex. 

A bronze statue by the river. This was a common sight I remember from my
very first visit to Singapore when I arrived by ship. 

So different today.

Yes, we have to photograph the funny signs

Let's just hope that these heritage buildings can remain.

I got lost walking to Chinatown but had a great time wandering.
Finished up at Gardens by the Bay for part of the light show. 

That rooftop pool and garden just amazes me every time I see it. And I'll just say it once, but (Wow) - laksa. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kek Lok Si temple

Kek Lok Si is a Buddhist temple complex on the hillside overlooking Georgetown. The pagoda on the right is the oldest part of the complex. The base of the seven-storey pagoda is Chinese, the middle tier reflects Thai design, and the crown is in Burmese style.

I got off the local bus in the middle of a busy street market at Air Hitam and followed Trip Advisor's instructions. A side road leads to a narrow, dark laneway stepping up the hill, crowded with souvenir shops. Before I reached half way I was drenched in sweat. Just keep following the signs (if you can find them).

I climbed up the first three levels of the pagoda, more to get the cooling breeze and to enjoy the views than with any appreciation of the buddhas along the way.

Back down, the path continues through more souvenir shops with devotional music blaring. I found myself chanting along; Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum. The shops had signs indicating that photography was not welcome, but I amused myself by trying to find the tackiest Monkeys. Plenty of choice.

In a pond full of turtles these guys were having their morning meeting. Reminded me of the Rotorua Public Library for some reason.

A short cable car ride (a further sauna experience) takes you to the upper level of the complex which is overseen by the massive bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin.

 She's flanked by and dwarfs these scary dudes, who are actually pretty big themselves. They represent her two warriors.

At the shrine near her base, you can buy ribbons for prayers for children. Kuan Yin represents the ultimate compassion and mercy but is said to have forsaken nirvana to bestow comfort to children. I liked the offering of pink buns on the shrine.

All that was generating a bit of an appetite, and luckily there's a very good vegetarian restaurant in the complex.

Image result for malaysian kingfisher
I spotted one of these while in the cable car.
Scroll down to see the cheerful buddha who watched over me while I enjoyed lunch. I would really like to buy some of those red and green flashing lights that winked away on either side of the table.
Here's looking up your nostrils kid. 

And that's today's story folks. Enjoy!

Funny things, turtles.