Thursday, June 22, 2017

Y is for Yerebatan Saray Sarnıçı in Istanbul

Hidden beneath the historical area of Sultanahmet in Istanbul is one of my favorite sites to show visitors, especially during the hot summer months.

After walking down a few flights of somewhat slippery steps, you’ll find yourself in what is commonly known as the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıç in Turkish) because it lays beneath the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine public square. The cistern also is called the Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray Sarnıçı) because of its gorgeous 336 Byzantine marble columns and impressive size – nearly 9,800 square meters (2.4 acres)!

Did you know that this dark chamber has the capacity to hold near 80,000 cubic meters of water (21 million US gallons) of water?

In fact, when Istanbul was Constantinople, hundreds of Byzantine cisterns were located underneath the old city and were used to store fresh water. The Ottomans used the Yerebatan to supply fresh water to the Topkapı Palace. You can still find a few cisterns around Sultanahmet that are used in restaurants or simply forgotten about.

The Yerebatan Cistern is the perfect retreat from Istanbul’s sweltering summer days. The cavernous room is cool and dark, lit only by lights along the elevated pathway and to illuminate some of the columns. Water droplets of condensation fall down on you as you’re exploring this underground treasure.
I also always imagined that the cistern would be the perfect location to fill a horror movie as well!
Did you that one of the old James Bond movies was filmed in the cistern? Not too long ago, I had to rewatch From Russia With Love especially the scene when Bond is seen rowing a small boat between the cistern’s columns?

When you visit the Yerebatan Cistern, don’t forget to look for the mysterious Medusa-like head as well!

I’m linking this post to the monthly A-Z travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “Y.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

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My Traveling Joys

Friday, June 16, 2017

Afternoon Tea in Bath, UK

The idea of nibbling on dainty sandwiches and sipping tea out of delicate English tea cups did not seduce my husband.

However, he finally gave into my pesky demands to try this English tradition when I suggested the champagne afternoon tea option. Back in February, we took the train out to Bath, about 90 minutes west of London, and spent the weekend there. Besides sightseeing, I booked us in for Afternoon Tea at The Bath Priory, an elegant 1835 Georgian manor (now hotel, spa and a-Michelin-starred restaurant) nestled within four acres of beautiful gardens.


The setting couldn’t have been lovelier for my first time…noshing on afternoon tea that is. But the weather was typical English crap, and we walked nearly 2 km from the city center past the Royal Crescent building and botanical gardens in an ugly, drizzling spring rain. Once we shed our damp jackets at reception, we settled into a corner table overlooking the wet gardens. The hotel has a splendid terrace for dining when the weather cooperates.

The Bath Priory offers its Afternoon Tea with champagne for 44 (30 without) so the cost makes the tea a special treat (though definitely far cheaper than the ones I’ve seen in London.) Like I said I had to tempt hubby with the booze option, so we chose the champagne menu. We also received an unique tea menu where we actually could smell the different teas before selecting the one we wanted. I had no idea it would be so involved!
Soon the tower of afternoon tea treats arrived. Basically, you better come to tea hungry because you are eating a full lunch. We ate breakfast around 10 a.m., knowing that tea would be at 3 p.m. We started with the finger sandwiches, and although well made, the flavors didn’t really wow me. The sandwiches included: roast chicken with tarragon, local ham with mustard, egg salad with watercress and smoked salmon with cucumber.

But then we dived into the petite pastries and scones. OHMIGOSH…the scones! These were like nothing I had ever eaten before. Picture the most tender, flakiest buttermilk biscuit you’ve ever had in your life – served warm with a giant mound of English clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam. Holy cow! The clotted cream reminded me of Turkish kaymak (a clotted cream made from water buffalo’s milk).
 
Forget about calories and just eat the damned scones! They were sooo delicious! I wanted to spread the cream on everything and just eat the scones!
Surprisingly, the British tradition of afternoon tea is only about 200 years old. In the 1830s, Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is credited with first making Afternoon Tea into a formal social occasion. Finding herself quite peckish in the gap between lunch and dinner, the Duchess began inviting friends to enjoy tea and light snacks at the Woburn Abbey. When she returned to London, she continued the practice and thus Afternoon Tea became a fashionable ritual for the upper classes.

In the 19th century, tea rooms were becoming quite popular and were THE place to meet friends and gossip. They were also considered respectable places for young women to meet without chaperones, so a perfect excuse to get out of the house, in my opinion. In Bath, there are several cafés and formal tea rooms that offer afternoon tea. Reservations are highly recommended, even weeks in advance if you are going to Bath on the weekend.

Just like anything else when it’s your first time, afternoon tea started out a bit awkward for these two Americans. We weren’t quite sure what to do or how to properly act. Should we have our pinkies out as we sipped tea, perhaps? Well, we ended up devouring nearly our entire tower of treats so I’d say we mastered Afternoon Tea and had a grand time doing so. Maybe I could convince hubby to do another round?

One of the formal sitting rooms at The Bath Priory.

My Traveling Joys

Thursday, May 25, 2017

I never thought I would end up hunting for lions and elephants in Chelsea, one of London’s posh neighborhoods!

But since I missed out on snapping up 350-pound tickets to see the famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, I decided to take a walk on the wild side and attend my first Chelsea in Bloom event. Earlier this week, I read about the event in my weekly Timeout magazine on my evening commute and instead of forgetting to check out said event as I usually do, I went on my day off yesterday. Chelsea in Bloom has returned for its 12th year, transforming this posh neighborhood into a street flower show with a “Floral Safari” theme in honor of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The event is only set up through Sunday, May 27th.

Local boutiques (such as Jimmy Choo, Club Monaco, Rag & Bone and Kiehls) have transformed their storefronts into a wild parade of elephants, monkeys, lions, giraffes and more. I started at Sloane Square, where the information kiosk is located, and then walked along both Sloane Street and King’s Road and past the landscaped Cadogan Gardens. (Map here.)

The amazing displays seem to be crafted from a mix of fresh and dried flowers and grasses. I love taking photos of gardens, so I had fun with my camera, but was annoyed to find so many people in the middle of my free day. Ha!
Anyway, I thought you all might enjoy seeing what these creative florists got up to in central London this year. Cheers!

Which animal is your favorite?
One of the cool giraffes in front of the Rag & Bone shop - one of my favorite displays.



My Traveling Joys

Sunday, May 21, 2017

X is for eXcitement in MeXico

Since we’ve never been to China, trying to find a destination that we have visited that started with the letter “X” has been quite challenging.

We’ve explored the ancient Tlos ruins insouthwest Turkey which looks out onto the Xanthos Valley, but we never actually made it to Xanthos itself. We’ve also driven over the ancient Xanthos River (now the Eşen Çayı) which follows the road between Fethiye and Kalkan, but never stopped to take photos.

So for this month’s A-Z Guidebook post, I’m cheating a bit and going with a trip to the Riviera Maya in Mexico, an area stretching from Playa del Carmen to Tulum along the Yucatan Peninsula. Hubby and I took a short vacation to this beautiful resort area about a year before we were married. I received only 10 days of paid vacation when I was working full-time as an American pastry chef on the East Coast so a quick trip to Mexico was the answer to a much-needed sunny vacation.

I love Mexico! I spent a summer studying Spanish in Querétaro City, located in central Mexico, when I was 21. I worked with a lot of Hispanics in the restaurant kitchen’s I worked in and frequently spoke Spanish with them. Sadly, my Spanish is no bueno these days.

On this particular trip, we mainly relaxed and snorkeled at our resort. When you work all day on your feet at a restaurant, you finally just need a break. One of the exciting moments at the resort was attending a special Mayan dance performed by local artists. I suppose the extravagant costumes represented something important in the Mayan culture, but this trip has been so long ago now that I don’t recall the meaning. Still, I got a few good photos and most importantly created some Mexican memories.
I’m linking this post to the monthly travel guide link up organized by Fiona, a fellow Australian blogger, at Tiffin Bite Sized Food Adventures. Each month features a new letter of the alphabet. This month is the letter “X.” Please pop on over to Fiona’s blog to read more travel stories or feel free to link up your own!

TIFFIN - bite sized food adventures -
My Traveling Joys

Thursday, May 18, 2017

As I turn another year older, I must say that celebrating a four-decade milestone was much more fun, exciting and emotional. Now, I’m just another year older. Blah!

Weeks before we left Australia, I wanted to do something special for my 40th birthday. I did all the planning and decided that floating over the beautiful Yarra Valley and drinking local Aussie wines sounded like a perfect fit. But then on the night before my birthday, the hot air balloon company called to say the conditions were too windy to go up early the next day. (Hubby consoled me with a wine dinner at a winery so I can’t complain too much.) Then, we rescheduled for another weekend, which also was cancelled due to wind. Finally, the third time was a charm for us and up we went into a misty autumn morning.

The Yarra Valley is located about an hour from Melbourne’s CBD area. Previously, we already had taken two wine tours in the valley and one DIY winery tour. I had fallen in love with Australian and Kiwi wines and the valley happens to be the closest wine-producing region to the city. Wine + beautiful landscapes = one happy girl.
A horse and its shadow amongst the autumn-hued vineyards in the Yarra Valley.
On the big departure day, we opted for the free shuttle bus ride via Global Ballooning from Melbourne to the valley’s meeting point. We arrived a little after 5 a.m. The sky was still pitch black and we were surrounded by a low misty fog. I was worried the balloon ride would be cancelled yet again!

After driving to an appropriate landing site, our group got out to help set up the hot air balloon. Three other balloons took off from the same site, so it was fun to watch everyone prep the balloons. I mainly stood back and took photos. Ha!
Hubby and me before we took off on our Global Ballooning adventure.
I should mention that I’m a teensy bit afraid of heights, and I started to mildly panic once I hopped into the balloon’s basket. However, once we got up in the air, the feeling was magical. Any fear subsided and all I did was admire the beautiful scenery around us and take more photos. We literally floated through and above the clouds! What a delight!
Admiring the Landscapes
We silently floated over Victorian farms, apple orchards, wineries, emerald-green pastures filled with cows and horses and even a couple of kangaroos. Seriously, the views could not have been more perfect!
Why had I waited 40 years to take this thrilling balloon ride? When we lived in Turkey, we almost did a balloon ride over Cappadocia, but opted not to because of the expense. Now, we were paying nearly twice as much in Australia, but the cost was certainly justified in the end.

After an hour or so up in the air, we landed in the middle of a pasture filled with cows who didn’t seem to mind our intrusion whatsoever. The company has partnerships with several local farmers who allow the balloon companies to land there. Then, we all helped roll up the balloon and gather the supplies so we could head to breakfast.

Time for Bubbles
Our balloon package included a fantastic brunch at Rochford Winery with lots of sparkling Aussie wine. Hooray! Plus, we had a good time chatting with our Aussie neighbors who were planning a big trip to the U.S. I was more than happy to provide my foodie recommendations for NYC.
All in all, turning 40 wasn’t too bad. I may have shed a few tears, but in the end, I made true memories to last a lifetime by floating over the amazing Aussie landscape.

My Traveling Joys

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