Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Turkeys and Grease, updated

Pictures are up! Added captions too, so go look (and comment?) at them, if you're thus inclined. I think I got tired of annotating as I went along, so the later photos have funnier (and crappier) comments.

A (not-so-)quick summary follows.

We were trying to save on transport costs, so we chose to leave on New Year's Day. After a doughnut toast, some snoozing, and general bumming around in the airport, Jason, Yiwen, Ailin and I were off to Istanbul.

I was actually quite excited about visiting Istanbul, since it was actually an extremely rich historical centre (formerly known as Constantinople, it was formerly the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, then the Ottoman Empire, and I'd figured it'd have a lot to offer. Alas, it seems that it has fallen to a similar fate as its Western cousin (Rome). It's somewhat run-down now, and its greatest offering to tourists would probably be its array of mosques (many of which were converted from Eastern Orthodox churches after they were captured by the Turks).

The most famous example of this would be the Haghia Sophia, which was for a thousand years the largest cathedral in the world. It was captured and used as a mosque for about 500 years, then more recently it has been secularised and converted into a museum, showcasing both Christian and Muslim elements within. The juxtaposition was quite interesting, really.

Unfortunately we were in Istanbul during the Eid ul-Adha, a Muslim festival. Apparently it's the custom for all the locals to holiday during this period, so many things were closed. One of this was the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest covered markets in the world. We probably should have suspected something when we first saw its closed gates being used to display wares.

We did manage to go for a Turkish bath, which though refreshing was somewhat overpriced. The 'massage' aspect of it seems to be somewhat overhyped as well. I suspect these Westerners simply have never met an Asian masseuse. =P

Athens was a different story, however. Maybe it was just fresher from its facelift for the 2004 Olympics, but it was a good mix of modern and new with old and quaint.

The Acropolis, basically the ruins of the ancient 'high city' of Athens, was isolated from the other parts of Athens. While this is arguably touristy, I kinda preferred it since it allowed you to temporarily forget that skyscrapers existed. It was like walking in a gigantic open-air museum.

It was also a religious festival in Athens, Epiphany, but instead of everything being closed, we got to see a parade.

The presidential guards in Athens had the funniest uniform I've ever seen. Since it was a national holiday, they were wearing a traditional variant which is even more colourful and frilly than the usual one. They also have a totally unique way of marching. Funny stuff.

We took an overnight cruise ship to Crete, which turned out to be a really good idea because although it cost the same price as an air ticket, it provided us with (clean! comfortable!) accommodation for the night.

Crete, though pretty, was somewhat less exciting than Athens. Winter is probably the worst time to visit the Greek islands, since everything kinda shuts down during this time. We basically rented a car and drove around, which was still fun in its own way, though winding mountain roads are really quite scary to drive on. Especially at night.

After Crete, we went back to Athens for a day, then returned to UK via London, which resulted in another mini-adventure of its own.

I'd booked a bus back to central London arriving after midnight, because I was under the impression that Kings Cross station would be open all day (because of this site which lists the reception as being open 24h), but apparently the station shuts down for the few hours between the last train and the first. We were basically shelterless for the three hours in-between, and were about to just wait it out at the bus stop, but in the end decided to just fork out the money and stay in a hostel instead. I can't say it was the best value-for-money decision I'd ever made, but at least the others seemed happier for it.

(I wanted to take a picture of us at the bus stop, but I figured that the others would not take so kindly to my desire to document our hobo-ness)

But now we're back and school's started. Sigh. Back to work!

1 comment:

yellowlemonie said...

some very exciting and amusing pictures i see.. :)