Amazing Amasra

We’ve arrived in a little bit of heaven last night.  Amasra is a town of 6,500 on the coast of the Black Sea.  It’s not easy to get to but once here, it’s worth the effort. 

Amasra, which is made up of two small islands, survives as a fishing town and a tourist destination, especially for Turks from Ankara.  It has a remarkably long history, dating back to several hundred years B.C.  It was controlled in various eras by the Pontus empire, the Rus empire, the Roman empire, the Byzantine empire, and the Ottoman empire and is mentioned in Homer’s Iliad. 

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There’s a laidback air here.  The people are warm and friendly.  From our pansiyon (Turkish for pension), we see and constantly hear the waves crashing on the shore.  The view from our balcony is fantastic (see pics below)!

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Our walk around the town today took us to the sea wall and jetty.  The power of the surf is incredible.  We were walking on top of the sea wall, along with some other people, when a fisherman came over and, in animated fashion, said something emphatically in Turkish.  A young woman came to tell us that someone had been swept off this sea wall yesterday so we should not be walking on it.  Needless to say, we found a different way to get to the end of the jetty.  The surf on the rocks and wall put on quite a show.

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We spent many hours at the sea watching the surf, the ships, and the fishermen before sitting down for an incredible Turkish meal nearby.  My meal consisted of homemade ravioli covered in a very garlicy tzatziki and hot pepper sauce.  Incredible!  For dessert, we all shared an order of künefe which is a traditional Arab cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup.  Wow!

A much less exciting activity today was each of us doing our own laundry by hand.  Yup, even Aaron.  The wind outside quickly dried the clothes.

Later in the day, as the sun set, we sat on a terrace where Mary-Anna and the girls had Turkish apple tea and I had thick Turkish coffee (a small cup about 1/3 filled with coffee grounds and hot water).

As always, check out my pictures in the gallery on the right side of this page. I added those above and others to the Turkey gallery today.

Bus Trip to Amasra

We got up this morning at a little after 6:00 a.m. so that we could be at the mini-bus station by 7:50 a.m.  This mini-bus then took us to Istanbul’s main bus station.  Like one guidebook says, this bus station is like a city itself.  It was huge!  Thankfully, we found our next bus easily.  When using the WC (water closet or restroom) at the station, we saw that the options were to go to the Mr. WC or the Ladies WC.  Smile

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The highway buses here are fantastic.  We remember the great buses and transportation system from when we were last in Turkey, nearly 20 years ago.  Today, some many buses have WiFi access on-board. 

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We boarded the bus for the 6 hour trip to Amasra.  Luckily, the‘stewardess’ served drinks (both hot and cold) as well as snacks several times during the trip.  In spite of these treats, we did hear “Are we almost there?” from Aaron a few times.

On the way, we drove through Izmit where in 1999, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed at least 17,000 people and left about 300,000 homeless.  I recall watching this on the news at that time.

We arrived in Amasra late in the afternoon, in heavy rain.  Our first glimpse of the town of 6,500 people was breathtaking.  The road to this coastal community winds in switchbacks from the high hills down to the Black Sea.  We first saw it from high cliffs to which the road clings.  The town sits on a small peninsula which today was being pounded by heavy surf amidst the storm.

The rain stopped so once we settled into our pension, we took a walk through the town.  We bought bread and fruit for breakfast.  The kids played a game of chess on a super-sized chess board in the centre square.

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A 16-year-old boy who, together with his mom, had been watching the chess game, came up to Emily-Ann and introduced himself as Yusef.  We all talked with him for a while.  Great guy!  His mom is visiting a friend here in Amasra.  His dad is a police officer in Ankara where they are from.

Although it was dark, our walk in town showed us that this place is something special.  We’re all looking forward to tomorrow when we can see it in the light of day.

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To Wish Whatever Kebabs

We ate tonight at the kebab restaurant across from our hotel.  Deciding on what to eat was a lot of fun because the English version of their menu used the language in new and creative ways. 

Which of the following options would you order?  Smile  (Click on them to enlarge)

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Shopping, Target Practice, and Kebabs

The main objectives today were to purchase bus tickets to our next destination and then for Mary-Anna and the girls to go shopping. The bus tickets were purchased first and then Aaron and I were left kicking curbs while the three ladies scoured the stores. Clothes are offered at bargain prices as compared to Canada. Fortunately for Aaron and me, the 36 degree heat soon tired out the shoppers so we all headed for something to drink and a break from the heat.

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Aaron also took a shot at some target practice with a BB gun pistol. This was done at a street shop next to clothes shops where the girls were shopping. I guess other guys needed something to do too. Aaron had a great time and eliminated a few balloons in the process.

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Tonight, Emily-Ann, Aaron, and I went to a kebab restaurant near our hotel. Fantastic food! Speaking of food, breakfasts here have usually included olives and Turkish cheese. I love it but the rest of the family, well, they aren’t too crazy for it.

I ended the evening with a Turkish coffee. This super strong coffee is served in a little cup and the coffee grounds are left in the cup. I’m still picking the grounds out of my teeth. 🙂

Bazaar Experience

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, is a labyrinth of nearly 5,000 shops on 61 covered streets within the walls of the old city. It was started in the 1400s and has grown into a world reknowned destination for shopaholics. Pretty much anything can be purchased here and, if not, the persistent shopkeepers will make you believe it’s true. Mary-Anna and the girls spent a lot of time looking at gowns with Emily-Ann’s grad in mind. Dresses that would cost $500 at home are available here for as little as 1/10 that price. In the end, however, they bought a few decorative trinkets after bargaining down the price.

After a great supper at a donair restaurant, we headed back to the hotel. At a shop near our hotel, Aaron found some Angry Birds Cheetos. Check out the picture of Aaron’s ‘Angry Birds’ moment in the gallery of my pictures taken in Turkey.

Turkish Delight

We landed in Istanbul at about 9:00 p.m. after a 3 hour flight from Amsterdam. With the sun beginning to set, we pulled on our packs and ventured out into the Turkish night. Instead of taking a taxi as recommended by our hotel, we asked around for cheaper fare and finally found a bus that would take us into the heart of the city of 12 million people. After the bus reached the bus station, we figured out how to use the light rail Metro and boarded it in the direction of our hotel. With our packs on, we pressed into the overcrowded tram and so rode face to face with other late night commuters in this bustling city. When we reached our hotel, the manager provided us with a second room at no extra charge! Shedding our packs and crawling onto our beds was a welcome end to the evening. We’d wait to see what the next day would bring.

This morning, we all slept in. When we finally did leave our rooms for the day’s adventures, it was nearly 11:00 a.m. and already 32 degrees outside. We took the tram down to Sultanahmet, the area next to the Bosphorus where the most famous old buidings are located. We first went to the Hagia Sophia Museum, a massive building constructed as a church in 360 A.D. Until the Ottoman empire conquered what was then called Constantinople in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was the most magnificent cathedral in all Christendom. The building was converted into a mosque in the 1400s and remained an Islamic place of worship until it was turned into a museum in 1935. To say that this building is absolutely magnificent is an understatement. I loved being in its sanctuary.

After a snack of fresh watermelon from a street vendor, we went to the Blue Mosque. Since this building is still an active mosque, we needed to remove our shoes and the girls needed to cover their shoulders with scarves supplied at the entrance. Once inside the building, we saw worshippers praying on the richly carpeted floor. This building, like the Hagia Sophia, is stunning. The mosiacs and impressive columns added to the grandeur of the space. It certainly is a place of reverence.

After a break back at our hotel, we headed out for what we thought would be our final adventure of the day. We took a cruise on the Bosphorus, the body of water which divides both the city of Istanbul and the continents of Europe and Asia. As the sun settled over the domes and minarets of the city’s many mosques, we enjoyed the cool winds coming off the water. Our ship wallowed its way through the rolling waters, past ferries shuttling passengers and cars from one shore to the other and between container ships and tankers steaming their way to the Black Sea or the Sea of Marmara and the Mediterranean beyond.

After leaving the ship, we enjoyed hot tea and baklava on a terrace cafe overlooking the old city. It was magical. We then walked back up to the tram station for our ride to the hotel. After a few stations, however, the tram stopped. Following an announcement from the driver over the intercom, everyone began to leave the tram. We discovered that the tracks up ahead were blocked so the tram couldn’t continue to its destination. We landed up walking the 4 kilometres back to the hotel where we arrived sweaty and tired at 12:45 a.m.

What an amazing day!

“Gezelligheid kent geen tijd”

This Dutch phrase, directly translated as ‘coziness knows no time’, means that when you feel coziness and comfort, time doesn’t exist. Gezelligheid is a great word to describe our time with family in Holland. Our wonderful time in Holland has flown by too quickly. Our bonds with our Dutch family have been strengthened. It’s difficult to leave. To add an English phrase…”Time flies when you’re having fun”.

Our kids have had a great time getting to know their second cousins. They spent countless hours laughing, playing, and talking with each other. They’ve gained close friends through their time together. I can easily foresee our kids coming back to visit family here in Holland in the future. And, who knows, maybe some of the Dutch family will come again to visit us in Canada. Thankfully, through the use of the online communication these kids are so used to, they can all keep in touch with each other in the meantime.

Throughout our time in Holland, I’ve been reminded of the strength and importance of family. This Aaldijk family has demonstrated that spending time together is important, that caring for each other is important, and that loyalty to each other is important. I deeply appreciate their love, their generousity, and their hospitality. They have embraced us with open arms (and the typical Dutch three cheek-to-cheek kisses) and have welcomed us into their homes and into their lives. We look forward to our next time together.


Dutch Blitz

The Netherlands, land of tulips, canals, windmills, and…family! 

Family is family no matter the length of time between visits.  Our time with the Aaldijk family in Holland has reinforced this fact.  Mary-Anna’s Uncle Dick and Aunt Ellie, their children and families have been wonderful to see again. Holland feels like a second home.

We spent the first days in Vlaardingen where Dick and Ellie live.  We met the extended family over the next days.  We went to Madurodam, an open-air museum of miniature versions of famous Dutch buildings.  It includes interactive activities.  Aaron loved it!

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On Friday, the whole family, a total of 20 people plus several crew members, boarded the Vlaardingen Zeekadetkorps ship Assam II.  After sailing through a series of locks and canals and through a portion of the port of Rotterdam, we weighed anchor in a lake where we spent the weekend.  The temperature averaged 35 degrees each day, the hottest weekend in Holland in 18 years!  The time aboard this big ship was fantastic.  What a great way to spend time with family!  There was opportunity to sail a small sailboat, to go waterskiing, to dive off the ship’s three-metre-high deck, play games, etc., etc.  We had the most amazing time together!

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Bohemian Ecstasy

Cesky Krumlov is simply magical. 

I’ve been entranced by this little city and its ambiance, its architecture, its small winding streets, and its cultural texture.  It sits in a valley of stone walls and magnificent trees.  The Vltava River winds its way through this portion of the valley, creating peninsulas of quaint houses and shops, punctuated by stately churches.  The magnificent castle is set on a cliff, overlooking it all.  Add to this, church bells ringing hourly and the smell of sweet Czech pastries from their ubiquitous bakeries.

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The kids and I went to an art gallery this afternoon, quite by accident really.  On the low door which exited from within one of the castle’s gateways, a sign indicated that older city streets lay below the castle.  Always up for a Hogwarts-ish adventure, the kids were excited to see it.  Yes, there were several short streets lit by streetlamps but each of the cold caverns we entered featured artwork by Czech artist Miroslav Paral.  The art, in abstract fashion, represents Paral’s personal struggles as an artist during the Cold War and the impact of the end of the communist era in his homeland.  Each sculpture is a melding of human and animal figures, likely demonstrating, in part, that our primal nature is never far from the surface of our being.  It rears its head in times of distress and anxiety.  Our more affective side must then find equilibrium and contain the fears within.

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Later in the day, Mary-Anna and the kids went rafting down the Vltava.  I spent the time next to the river, enjoying the sights and sounds of Cesky Krumlov.

The evening ended off with an amazing dinner together at an outdoor restaurant with medieval flair.

Our pension accommodation in Cesky Krumlov is known as The Tower, part of a medieval fortification from the 15th century.

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The little slice of Bohemia crawled into my soul today.