Bergen, Norway is one of those places which seems to have everything – beautiful architecture, the sea, mountains, forests and plenty of history. We landed (after a quick 1.5 hour flight!) in Bergen and took a bus to the city centre, where there was plenty of hustle and bustle, among colourful houses, a beautiful harbour and plenty of street art everywhere.
Below are just a few memorable places in the city, we had a few days to explore and pretty much did everything on my itinery (and more!), and loved how colourful everything look.
Bryggen ‘Bryggen’ litterally means ‘wharf’ in Norwegian, and is one of the most iconic places in Bergen – a row of colourful houses along the harbour where plenty of boats and ships dock. Most of these buildings along here are museums and shops, but they are a great place to sit and relax, and look amazing at night. I didn’t manage to get a decent picture of the lights in Bryggen at night because the first few nights we stayed they weren’t switched on (and it poured with rain all night) and the next few nights we didn’t go out late enough – sunsets were around 10.30pm and it wasn’t properly dark until after 11pm!
You can walk around inside the harbour as well – there’s plenty of old buildings and staircases to explore, with shops, restaurants and museums hidden away. We had great fun exploring these, it was nice to see such old buildings still being maintained – Bergen itself is nearly a millenium in age, and the buildings have been there for about four centuries and more.
And there’s also a wishing well to look out for, although this is mainly gated off (probably a good thing too, I remember the well in my grandparent’s house in Pakistan having to be barricaded off after a few people fell in the dark without looking where they were going!)
The Town Square
The town square is a busy meeting place, often filled with market stalls, stops for buses and coaches and surrounded by colourful buildings and restaurants. While staying here we often came to this point to get to other parts of the city, meeting plenty of other tourists, as well as stopping for lunch, dinner or a quick cup of coffee (the Starbucks is in a huge Gothic-style building). This is also at the foot of one mountain (there’s seven mountains in the city altogether) as well at the edge of the high street, which felt like a fun mix of history versus modern, old city and the new.
For some reason, birds love standing on statues
Left is the Starbucks
Pretty much self-explanatory, this was a market to buy fresh fish and also get it cooked to eat if you wished to sit down and enjoy a meal. Bergen being a fishing-town, there’s a big demand for fish and a big range of sea-food, as well as tanks of live lobsters, crabs and fish to boggle at!
St Marys Church
I was pretty keen to visit this place, as it is Bergen’s oldest building. We didn’t get a chance to catch a service inside as we arrived too late, but I was amazed at how well-maintained this building is for a building which was built around 1130s. Of course it has been renovated a few times since then, but it’s still a very striking looking building which looks very impressive.
Things to look out for
There’s a lot to see in this city, and a lot of it can be found simply by wandering around Bergen and exploring. I loved this pavilion below, situated opposite an old government building which both looked very striking. We also saw plenty of beautiful flower shops which made me want to buy some to take home (I didn’t because they’d probably be shrivelled by the time I got on our plane!) and also quirky junk shops which were worth exploring. I also loved the fact that from wherever you stand you can see the beautiful houses on the hill, the huge mountains and plenty of art and decor everywhere.
There’s so many memorable things about this country (apart from the gorgeous colourful houses!) – one things which really struck me was how fresh and clean the air felt – you don’t appreciate it until you get away from a smog-polluted city like London, away from congestion and busy skyscrapers and go to a beautiful place like Bergen. There’s an abundance of greenery, the water feels unbelievably clean, and there’s beauty in almost building, from beautiful arches and doors to the street art lining the street.
More to come, but one of my favourite lines from my husband about this holiday was “the WiFi here is amazing!” – and it really is!
Appreciation is the highest form of prayer, for it acknowledges the presence of good wherever you shine the light of your thankful thoughts.
– Alan Cohen
Alhamdullilah, in it’s simplest translation, is the Arabic phrase for ‘Praise God’ and is something many Muslims say when wanting to express their thanks and appreciation to God.
One of the things that always strikes me about Islam is its capacity for beauty, and the the fact that there are so many ways to ask for mercy, for prayers, for good deeds and rewards. The month of Ramadan is the most beneficial – the Devil (Shai’tan) is locked away and all the good deeds and blessings you do are multiplied through the act of fasting and prayer in this month.
Of course, at the core of this is the fact that Ramadan and abstaining from all the luxurious things we’re normally used to has a purpose – to make us aware of how lucky we are in a world where there is still famine and poverty ride in so many countries – what better way to empathise with their hunger than to feel it for yourself?
So, at the end of every fast, when the sun sets and the food is set out, there is a fresh sense of appreciation for our ability to set out a feast and enjoy our meal. Unlike many others in the world, we are lucky enough to set out our food and quench our thirst, finishing our meal with Alhamdullilah to give thanks for what we have.
After the eventful Day 4, we decided to relax for a few days – it was the weekend and it was also time to make the most of time off work and catch up on sleep! We decided to stay in the local area for the weekend and explore local sights (as well as relax and make the most of the sunbeds!) and saw a lot of things we wouldn’t have noticed if we hadn’t looked around. As with the last few days, the day was a beautiful sunny one, and the breeze from the sea meant that we didn’t feel too scorched from the sun.
We decided to spend some time in the local beach for lunch, before we wandered around the town – I love the fact that there a lot of relics and artwork around the town, admittedly a lot of it for the purpose of tourism, but all adding a flavour to the town which was lovely.
Hubby and I were excited to find and Indian and Thai place, as we wanted to find out if they served halal food. The restaurant we found was called Visanto, on the beach strip along the seafront, and served a variety of dishes to satisfy our Asian tastebuds. Unfortunately, none of these dishes had halal meat, so we had to stick to vegetarian dishes (and chips!)
After lunch we took the opportunity to look at the local sights, which was around the main are of the the beach, and also some roads leading off from there. The St Irini Church was our first stop, the church being named after the Saint Irene (which is what the island Santorini’s name also refers to) – a beautiful big building of white and blue which was tucked away toward the mountains.
We then wandered around the local shops and then decided to stop for gelato at a local ice-cream parlour, which ad some beautifully shaped seating chairs and benches, and some seriously yummy-sounding flavours of ice cream (although we just opted for traditional vanilla with chocolate!)
We then decided to around in the the area towards the green, foresty areas, which had some private houses and closed-hotels dotted around, and lots of winding paths leading us around the area. We also managed to speak to some locals – one businessman, for example, told us he was originally from Athens, and when enquiring where we were from, told us there were a lot of Pakistanis who had settled in Athens when he was growing up, which was really interesting to hear!
It was a really nice relaxing weekend, where we met and spoke to a lot of locals, caught up on sleep (in the hotels and the sunbeds!) and ate at a few restaurants. It also felt a little slower-paced, where we took the opportunity to meander around the town and explore, and also have a lazy weekend!
Santorini Day 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia
Day 4 of our visit to Santorini involved a lot of sight-seeing, so this is a slightly longer post than the other ones, so bear with me! My husband and I had been searching around for boat tours or cruises which would take us to different islands. You can get ferries to other islands but they can come at obscure times, and some islands are pretty far away so will take hours to get to. While in Fira, Perissa and Pyrgos (another part of the island we drove few a couple of times), we had been looking around at different travel agencies and tour companies, and comparing prices. We found a pretty big difference between prices, the tour we ended up going with was a full day tour for €35 per person, this same package cost as much as €65-75 from other agencies, so we got a pretty good deal.
(We also looked into private boat hire, because we wanted to see the more private, romantic options. The prices were astounding, with some of them being as much as €1500 for about 6 hours for a private boat! Needless to say, we didn’t go for any of those options).
So, 8.30 in the morning, we had breakfast and made our way down to the local bus stop, where a coach was booked to pick us up, along with a few other passengers who had booked the same tour along the way. We had a quick walk around a small town called Pyrgos, there’s a famous monastary there but we didn’t get to spend much time there, but it was a lovely town with white buildings and a lot of shops.
We arrived at the docks where the boats were waiting, the one we boarded was called King Thiras and was pretty big (not quite a ship but a decent-sized boat) which held around 30-40 people. There were toilets and a lounge in the cabins below, with a bar area on top for cold drinks and snacks, as well as plenty of benches to sit and sunbathe on.
From the moment the boat was safely boarded and pushed on, the breeze was beautiful. The weather was pretty perfect for us, scorching sun, bright blue skies and no clouds at all, but the heat was practically non-existent because of how cool the breeze was and the fresh air from the sea.
You can see our view from the pictures below – the boat moved quite quickly for the expanse of water that it crossed, and we quickly saw islands that we were approaching becoming bigger and bigger, while at the same time, Santorini became smaller and we could see tiny white buildings perched on huge cliffs (and also the zig-zag of those 587 steps we had gone up and down a couple of days before!)
Our journey through the various islands
View from our seat
The three islands which surrounded the boat
Our first stop were the Hot Springs, which were next to the Volcano island, which took us about half-hour to reach. The Volcano Island is literally an active volcano (although the last eruption took place in 1950 AD), and actually consists of 2 islands, the bigger called Nea Kameni and the smaller Palea Kameni. This also means there are two areas with the hot springs; one in Nea Kameni island and one in Palea Kameni island – the former means you have to swim from cold water to the hot water, the latter means you can go straight into the hot water (which is where we ended up).
At this point, those who wanted to swim in the hot springs for a little while could jump in the water (which was not very deep), and enjoy the water for a while. I decided not to jump because I didn’t bring anything to change into, and I didn’t really want to join twenty other people in the water, plus while I love swimming, I didn’t want to pull out the burkini and swim, so we stayed on board with a few other people while some of the passengers splashed around.
Don’t wear your best bikini if you’re going to swim. We were advised that the water taints clothes a little orange due to the sulphur in the water, so to expect it to be a little stained.
The water is apparently not that hot, so don’t expect sauna/spa conditions!
You still need to swim safely in this area, there are a lot of rocks around and even a boat or two, although they maintain their distance. While we were at the hot springs, a private boat party parked nearby to enjoy it as well!
Eventually the boat was ready to move onto the main part of the volcano island, which is Nea Kameni. This involved a lot of hiking (which we didn’t realise, and were wearing the wrong footwear for!) around the volcano to to main parts at the top where you could see the volcanic craters.
The walk took about 30-40 minutes and was actually pretty tiring because the heat was stronger and the road was really rocky. There was a clear path around most of the island, but it was still pretty rough and slopey in a lot of areas, and you need to be willing to walk!
Wear sturdy footwear! It really makes a difference when walking around.
Take water bottles with you if you can, they can really help if it’s too hot.
There are seats with umbrellas for shades dotted around along the way – take a break if you need one!
Enjoy the view! The islands which can be see from here look pretty amazing from far away.
We walked around the majority of the island but didn’t spend as long as some of the group did at the top, we rested for a while and made our way back to the boat one we’d seen enough.
We all loaded back on the boat for a quick break, before making our way to our next destination – an island called Thirasia. This is a smaller island, which is also a little more cosy and small-towny, with a fishermen feel to it, because of its ports, sea-food restaurants and greenery.
There were quite a few restaurants along the beach and pier from the spot that we landed at, and it was also time to stop for lunch. Most of the restaurants serve mostly sea-food, and the menus are pretty much similar in most of them. We stopped at a restaurant (the name of which I’ve unfortunately forgotten) and had a meal of battered fresh-fish, and grilled sword-fish, with chips and vegetable rice, which tasted beautiful.
Our view from our table
Fresh fish waiting to be grilled
The restaurant we were in was beneath a big windmill, which we went upto and took photos from until the restauranteurs asked us to come down because it was a little dangerous with a moving windmill.
We had about 3 hours to spend on this island before our next stop, so we took our time to stroll around and explore. A lot of the passengers from our and other boats took the opportunity to climb up (or ride donkeys up!) the zig-zag stairs to the top, where where was a small monastary and tiny village that could be explored. We were feeling a little tired from the Volcano island so decided to save our energy and relax a little (and we were glad we did, because the next island had more stairs and we didn’t have a choice about not going up!)
The view in this place is pretty beautiful, and the water is seriously lovely in its maze of greens and blues – we even saw small tiny fish trying to eat crumbs from bread floating away from the shore!
Once we were ready to leave we set off for Oia, which is actually at the most northern part of Santorini, and a very popular destination like Fira. This is also the most popular place to view a sunset as well, because it faces the sun without anything getting in the way. The boat arrived at this last destination around 6ish, and jetted back to the port when it came from, leaving our group with a tour-guide who told us how to get up to the top.
As with a lot of other islands and parts of Santorini, Oia (pronounced Eey-ya) can be reached at the top from the 287 steps which make up the zig-zag staircase, and which again can be reached either by foot or by donkey. We decided to be a little adventurous and walk up the steps this time (plus we were still a little put off by the donkey-ride in Fira!) and we managed to make it to the top in about half-an hour, although we had to keep stopping for the donkeys which went past (and which was a little scary because they push past you!)
We finally reached the top, to a long strip of road which makes up the main street of Oia – full of restaurants, gold shops, designer clothes shops and art stores and souvenirs places. Out of all of the places we went to, Oia was definitely the most expensive, and it was also the most crowded, and at the middle of it all at it’s heart is a huge church called the Church of Panagia of Platsani situated in Oia Caldera Square, which is also a popular meeting place.
We also managed to a lot of things happening at once – a wedding shoot in a tiny church, children playing in a small playground, jewellery trying to entice customers to come in and various quirky shops and restaurants.
We stopped at a restaurant called Porto Carra (I think!) where we had a lot of cold drinks after that long climb and also a light snack, and also stopped to look at the daunting view all the way down to the bottom of the cliffs.
Around 8’o clock, we made our way down to the northern end of the street, where the best viewing platform was among the edge. There were hundreds of hotels, buildings and the ruins of an old castle around this area, which we manage to get a good viewing seat from. Lined up along all of the walls and hotels were hundreds of other people who wanted to see the sunset as well – I was pretty stunned at how many people there were.
The sunset itself lasted about half-an hour, and there was plenty of photo-taking and enjoying the scenery (bar one dog who kept barking at the crowd from his building because of all the people!), while we slowly watched the sun go down and the colours of the sky merging from blue, to gold to burnt reds.
This was one of my favourite moments of the day, because it was pretty awe-inspiring to watch something that seemed so effortless and majestic. Having said that, it wasn’t really a romantic moment (not that we minded!) with the hundreds of spectators next to us, the barking dog and the shuffling of the crowd!
At the end of the sunset, when it finally dropped down from a tiny sliver to complete dark with a little light to see ourselves in, the entire crowded applauded, which was nice to hear (not to mention seeing hundreds of flashes from cameras and mobiles going off at the same time!)
Bring a jacket or jumper, it can get chilly in the evening, especially after the sun starts going down
Oia is way more expensive than Fira – expect high prices! We wanted to try lobster while we were in the island, but didn’t because it was just too expensive. One restaurant was offering a lobster meal for €95 which was ridiculous. Don’t worry if you don’t spend a lot of food, sometimes the expensive ones taste the same as the cheaper meals!
Make sure you camera battery is fully charged – by the time we got to the sunset in Oia my camera battery died! There’s a lot to take photos of, so be prepared!
Try and arrange transport in the evening back to where you are staying – it can get pitch dark and there’s not much street lighting on the main roads.
This was the end of the tour for us, and time to also head back to the hotel – it was seriously crowded and we had to be careful not to get lost in the crowd so that we didn’t miss our coach either, but from here the coach took us directly back to the hotel and we watched the sky getting darker and darker from our windows of the coach. It was a pretty eventful and tiring day for us, and we went straight to bed for a long rest when we got back, since our feet were also pretty tired!
We decided on a change of scenery for this day, and decided to visit the southern part of Santorini to explore the beaches and archeological sites there. Since we didn’t want to take any taxis, we opted for public transport again to travel.
Ironically, we had to travel to Fira by bus in order to take another, shorter bus journey back South again to an area called Akrotiri, which had been recommended to us. We had looked at the idea of hiring quad bikes to get around (they cost about €20 at the local vendor we asked at), especially as we’d seen lots of people using them to get around. In the end we didn’t go with the quad bikes because it was a bit risky to drive long distances with these, and it would have added up after a few days plus petrol!
The picture on the left is our first view of area Akrotiri itself, there was a small archeological site and exhibition before this which we had a quick look at and saw a few ruins at (but we didn’t have time to go in, which I regret!), before we walked down to the strip of shops, restaurants and alleys at the pier.
We ate at a pretty place which was hidden away on the side of a turning called the Cave of Nikolas, which was an unpretentious place with quirky decor in the shape of a hollow, which reminded me a lot of Bilbo Baggin’s home! I went for battered codfish with a mash-and-garlic side, and my husband went for calamari with something called ‘tomato balls’, which is batter and tomato and seasoning (which reminded us very much of a dish we have called pakoray!)
Entrance to the ‘Cave’
Our table, with a sea-view
Our meal, sea-food galore!
Our complimentary honey-and-lemon cake
After eating, we decided to stretch our legs and make our way down to the famous Red Beach. We stopped at a few shops and restaurants along the short strip on the way, and took the scenic route to the main clearing towards the Beach. As with other parts of the island, the water was ubelievably clear, there were a few boats anchored nearby, and there was ample relaxing space, although again, the sand was quite pebbly so we didn’t take our shoes off for long!
From the bottom of the entrance to the Red Beach to the actual beach itself, is a bit of climb, and a little scary. It’s easy to get caught up in the beauty of the scenery, and it really is beautiful seeing the red cliffs and blue water stretched out, but you also need to be really careful when walking to the beach because it’s pretty rocky.
Wear appropriate footwear! This is really important, because there’s no proper staircase or steps, you have to have good grips over the rocks (although there is a beaten pathway where other hikers will have gone so that helps!)
Same goes for clothing – not that you’d expect to wear hiking gear, but it helps if you wear comfortable clothes that are easy to move around in and that you don’t mind a bit of dust on.
Don’t try to be adventurous! There isn’t much in terms of safety and rails, so it’s better to follow everyone’s lead and go along the same tracks.
Take food or water down with you if you want to relax in the main beach area of the Red Beach – we didn’t see any shops or food places at the bottom, and we noticed people brought their own towels to relax in after they went swimming in the sea.
It was a scary climb to get to the bottom of the beach but from the very outset, it’s easy to see why it is named the Red Beach – the sand and soil were a unique beautiful reddish-brown colour, and it as easy to see why this volcanic-sand beach is one of Santorini’s iconic landscapes.
Shades of reddish-brown volanic sand
Boulders and rocks to climb up on
Our view along the way
We we reached the bottom, we could see the White Beach, another iconic landmark in Santorini, in the distance. The only way to get to this beach is to take a ferry there, but there weren’t any scheduled for the time we arrived at the beach so we didn’t wait for the next one, rather choosing to relax, admire our surroundings, take pictures and dip our feet in the (really cold!) water.
After a couple of hours at this beach, soaking up the sun and enjoying the view, we got a little restless after a while and climbed back up the rocks again to the top of the beach (where we found another bridal shoot happening!) and we rested at the top for a while. We had a look at the Agios Nikolaos or St. Nickolas Church (below) which is built into the mountain at the Red Beach, and also some of the souvenir stalls nearby.
We then made our way back to the bus-stop, although we took another route back from the way we came, spotting a home-made preservative shop, some sea-food restaurants and plenty of flowers everywhere we went.
View through an arch
A shop selling home-made jams
This was a really interesting view of Santorini, compared to the hustle and bustle we’d seen in Fira the day before. While it was just as beautiful as the views we’d seen before, it had a much wilder look to it, maybe because it didn’t feel as man-made as the city had, and not as touristy as Perissa had. Climbing up and down the reddish mountains was quite tiring, and by the time we got back to our hotel we were ready to relax and have a good night sleep!
On our second day in Santorini was a little more adventurous, we had the whole day to explore and decided to venture out further in the island.
We spoke to our tour guide in the morning after breakfast, and also the hotel manager, for advice on travelling around the island and getting to different parts. Both suggested going to Fira, which is the capital and the busiest hub of Santorini – from there you can get a bus or ferries to other parts of the islands.
The layout of Santorini means that the beaches, towns and places to visit are spread all over the island, and there are a lot of winding, long roads to get to each of them – which means no one walks around, but rather takes a car, bus or even quad bikes to get around.
On our last holiday, my husband and I opted not for the easier, touristy route of taking taxis everywhere, but rather made the most of public transport to see more of the country – and we decided to do this again, getting around with the buses on the island (which were actually really nice, more like air-conditioned coaches! I’m guessing they’re usually used around summer time for the tourists).
First we went to this place (above) which was next to the hotel and also in front of the bus stop, called Dorian’s Bar. The place was quiet because it was morning, and the owner of the bar (Dorian himself? I have no idea!) invited us in to wait outside of the sun for the bus to come. We got talking to the owner, who told us his place has its own history, having been there since the 80s, and told us a little about the bar.
Finally the bus came and we hopped on, with a conductor coming along to issue us small paper tickers for €1.40 to Thira, and we watched the view of the town go past on the way to the capital. To say the island is green is an understatement – you can see the greenery, mountains and houses all along the roads, with roads winding around moutains to get to the top and get back down again.
Eventually the Aegean Sea came into sight, and a few islands in the distance, while the bus (after picking up and dropping off passengers on the way) finally stopped at the main bus station in Fira and let us off to walk around.
The streets of Fira, much like some other cities we have been, were sloping, some narrow and leading off to other roads, to the shops and markets, and also to the museums, churches and restaurants which were higher up.
The first thing we visited was the White Orthodox Cathedral of Ypapanti, a big white building with arches and a tall spire. It had a garden in a middle (but we couldn’t walk through it), and it was the perfect starting place to lead us upwards to more buildings and things to see.
From here we walked through the roads and saw more of the rich blue Aegean Sea, giving us a better view of what was below and the boats sailing past.
Eventually we got to the edge, that iconic part of Santorini which you often see on Google and on holiday brochures – the expanse of beautiful white buildings against bright blue sky, gorgeous cliffs and the view of the sea (where we posed for a good few minutes and watched the other tourists)
We stopped for a quick lunch at a restaurant at the peak called Zafora, where we had a cheesy pizza and lots of cold drinks, and watched the view.
If you’re staying in another part of the island, you’ll find Fira pretty expensive in terms of food and drinks – come prepared with money!
Like Perissa, ask the restaurants if they have WiFi, and they’ll give you access if you are a customer
Watch your step! There’s a lot of narrow steps and slopes downwards from the top when going into hotels and restaurants. Most of them are smooth but some of them aren’t and if it’s busy and congested, you’ll want to be more careful.
We saw a gorgeous bridal shoot while we were eating as well, which really made our day because it got my husband and I talking about our owe wedding shoot – we thought Fira was an amazing backdrop for a wedding day and loved how happy the couple looked (in fact, during our whole stay we saw another 3 weddings in various places, which was amazing as we never knew what a popular place it was for weddings!)
We decided to go down to the bottom of Fira where one of the ports where – there’s a variety to ways to travel downwards, cable-cars, donkey rides or climbing the 587 steps in a zig-zag formation, by foot! We decided to spare our feet (I think we both had sandals on which weren’t the best footwear) and take the cable cars, which was a nice treat, costing €5 per person.
We reached the bottom, called the Old Port, which is officially called Skala. It has a real simple-town, seaside-y feel to it, perfect for a stroll with an ice-cream, and looking at the sea.
This was a lot quieter than the city above, and a lot more peaceful as well. There’s a line of restaurants and souvenir shops along the pier and benches to sit and contemplate the scene in front of you, examine a few boats (docked or sailing) and even board one.
We decided to relax for a while at the pier and watch the clear water from the edge of the rocks. One thing which continued to strike me over and over again during our stay on the island was how beautiful the water looked everywhere we went, it was pretty clear in most places and in beautiful shades of greens and blues. Naturally, hubster and I took this as a chance to take our sandals off and stick our feet into the water, which was cold but very refreshing!
It was also pretty crazy how far down we were from Fira, and it’s difficult from this angle to show how far down we were, but the hundreds of buildings were a lot less visible and a lot more tiny. We could also see donkeys carrying passengers up and down the 587 steps as well!
After relaxing for a while (and eating an ice-cream, mine was watermelon flavoured!), we wandered around the shops, and even discovered a tiny church hidden away as well.
Eventually we decided to make our way back up to the top, and decided to skip walking up the stairs and be a bit more adventurous – we decided to ride donkeys up them. While we don’t regret this afterwards, it was pretty scary for both of us. Our donkeys were a little moody and kept stopping for no reason, they kept pushing our feet (and past each other) and you had to be extremely careful when they were either near the cliff wall (so you don’t get your leg squashed) or on the wall facing the sea (which was really scary because I had a constant fear of falling off the edge). Nevertheless, it was actually fun once we got the hang of it, and we even got to see photos of us taken by the donkey-owners at the end of ride, just like a theme-park ride, with our mouths open. Needless to say, we didn’t buy our photos, even though it was a shame I didn’t get to take more than two with my own camera because I had to keep my hands free.
Hold tight! Don’t be stupid (like I was) and try to take photos unless you’re really sure you know what you’re doing. It’s better to hold onto the saddle with both hands and feel a lot more secure (and don’t worry, I put my camera away after I got scared of dropping it a few minutes into the ride)
If you think you’re riding too close to a wall, you can kick a leg out and push away from it to cause some more room.
Don’t be alarmed if the donkeys stop suddenly, they do that. A lot. To sniff each other, to sniff donkey droppings on the floor, heck, pretty much anything.
Don’t try to be too adventurous and do your own thing. At the end of the day, we were riding up 587 steps and it was steep at some points, with some steps not very level or wide, so don’t scare the donkeys and don’t try to go your own routes, it’s better if you travel together.
Once you get off the donkeys, some donkeys may keep going past, face them and flatten yourself against a wall, and STOP. Don’t try to outrun them.
Eventually we got to the top, and wandered around a little more, and shopping around – while there were a lot of shops and cafe, some of them had a market-feel to them (although we tried haggling, unsuccessfully, when Hubster tried to buy a hat, after being told everything had a fixed price.) We discovered a variety of places (like the ones below), including a Bubble Tea place (which is pretty much popular everywhere now!) and some ice cream places to sit and relax in.
This sign made me laugh
A shoe-maker hand-making sandals
An example of the floral decor we saw everywhere
It was a really nice day out, and a taste of how to get around the island and explore. Looking back at this post, it looks bright and very blue, and in honesty that’s how it looked from when we stepped off from the bus in Fira and walked around – the weather was beautifully clear and bright blue to match the sea, and it was a nice difference from Perissa Beach, which is more for relaxing, while this involves walking around and exploring. It was also really nice to meet a variety of tourists, the resort in Perissa that we were staying in was a lot quieter and had a lot more maturer couples and tourists; in busy Fira it seemed that everyone and anyone came to visit!
After the long day out, we decided to head back to the hotel before the sun set (which is around 8.30ish when we were there) to avoid walking through the lanes in the dark. We caught a bus and it was a lot quicker on the way back, probably because the driver knew the passengers didn’t want a leisurely, scenic route! Once we got back, we relaxed at the lounge by the pool for a little while with coffees (him) and cake (me) – we both agreed that it had been a really nice day out and that neither of us were going to sit on donkeys again for a while!
I saw this about two days ago, which I had to stop and take a picture of (and in front of, to the eye-rolls of a work colleague). I haven’t been able to wander around London lately and look for street art or quirky, funky places in London as I’ve always been busy with work or have ended up with things to do at home which mean less time to act like a tourist.
So naturally this rainbow door caught me eye, in the middle of a congested road, jammed with cars and buildings and not much greenery, it’s like a beacon calling to passerbys. This is actually a doorway for a church, so naturally the door helps to usher people in and take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. While, as a Muslim, I wouldn’t ideally walk into a church, I don’t have an antipathy for them – my parents have always taught me to have respect for other religions, whether we believe them or not, and I’ve always seen Christianity as a religion which runs alongside Islam, for all of our differences.
So, a rainbow door for you this weekend. I like to think that there are similar doors around London in various places, leading to mysterious insides.
One of the highlights of our visit in Istanbul was the discovery of the rainbow stairs, which were hidden away on the streets between the Old City and the New City. I’d read about these stairs months ago but had forgotten about them until my husband and I went past them while on the Istanbul trams, which went by in a flash of colour.
We managed to find our way back to the stairs (and there’s more than one!) after winding alleys and sloping streets which we cut through to get to the main roads, and finally saw bright rainbow colours (and some other avid photographers!) I’ll let the pictures do the talking, the colours were as bright as they look, the stairs went up really high (I couldn’t reach the top) and there were plenty of hidden corners and graffiti art on the walls and side alleys.
There’s stairs like these all over Turkey – have you seen any?
The most iconic places in Istanbul are the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. Surprisingly, we found that when we asked the locals where the Blue Mosque was, they didn’t know what we meant until we called it the Sultan Ahmet (similarly, I’d been pronouncing Hagia Sofia wrong, which is pronounced Aya Sof-ya).
Both of these places are beautiful relics of history, each rich with art and stories which span over a long period of time, and iconic landmarks of the Ottoman era. Naturally these were at the top of my list of places to visit in Istanbul, and not just mine, both places were very busy!
Below is the Sultan Ahmet mosque, which is called the Blue Mosque because of the beautiful blue tiles and patterns in the interior – it is still an active mosque and open for prayers, so it is also a beautifully peaceful place because of how serene it is inside and how well looked after it is. I’ll let the pictures do the talking, it was quite dim inside though so the colours are less vivid in my photos.
The Hagia Sofia is directly opposite the Sultan Ahmet mosque, and is different in that it is now a museum – it used to be a church, then was turned into a mosque by invading Ottomans, before it was restored to its current state. I love that it looks pink from the outside, and that the interior strives to maintain the older, Christian art alongside the Islamic art pieces. Because it is a museum there are plenty of tours which take visitors around, and we managed to go up to the second floor which was a lot more cobbley and slopey, but also very atmospheric.
It’s amazing to see just how close these two iconic landmarks are to each other – I tried to take a panoramic shot to show how short a walk they are from each other. I like that they face each other and that citizens openly visit both places – it really symbolises the contentment of this place. Istanbul is made up of Old City and New, and European Istanbul and Asian, which really reflects in the way these two are positions, they face Qibla (the direction of Mecca) and yet allow visitors of all religions, nationalities and origins to come and see their beauty.
This was a very memorable visit for me, particularly because of how grand the two places are. There are certainly bigger, more beautiful and more luxurious places in Istanbul than these two places, but it is clear that these two are icons which appeal to everyone for their beauty and what they represent.