The Beautiful Colours of Istanbul

Hubby and I have been reminiscing over the beautiful things we saw in Istanbul (a sign that we need a new holiday), and it made me think that there’s so much of the countries and cities I have been to which have so many hidden, beautiful parts. There’s a lot of iconic landmarks like the Haga Sofia and Blue Mosque, the Basicilica Cisterns and Topkapi Palace which are of course, a must-visit. But there’s hundreds of other things you can find when you take yourself off the beaten tourist track. One of my favourite memories is walking through winding alleys, past blocks of flats with clothes-lines stretched across the street above us, and bridges and stairs until we found some beautiful rainbow stairs. It was the fact that along the way we saw a lot of beautiful places, which felt so much more real than the tourist spots – grafitti supporting Palestine, the ordinary public on their way to the markets, street-sellers selling cheap handbag replicas and lots of beautiful flowers, buildings and decor.

So here are my top 9 favourite, most colourful photos, each with an accompanying colourful memory. There’s a story behind each photo so make sure you hover over each square to read it!

 

Happy New Year!…2017

Here’s wishing you all a year full of love, light and unicorn sparkles!

Is it me or did 2016 rush past too quickly? It was a year full of sad news and unsettling truths for all of us, but I like to think that there were also many triumphs, personal and otherwise for a lot of us (like this list of good things) – Leo finally won that much-awaited Oscar, wild pandas and tigers have had a good year, and of course health-wise, people are getting better news. Not to mention all those amazing movies, books and technology we have discovered this year (or are still on my to-read/to-watch waiting list!)

I think 2016 gave us all a lot of things to think about and reflect, and we all are looking forward to 2017 being a new year that we all want to make the most of as well as use to take the opportunity to make improvements and build better relationships. One of the things which really bugged  me personally about 2016 was not making the most of my time – it always felt like I was busy doing something boring like housework or grocery shopping. It’s not the fact that I had to do these thing which bothered me as much as the feeling that I wasn’t making more use of this time (although part of this comes from my self-pressure to always be doing something productive!)

So this year I’ll learn to take it easy and enjoy the moment, but also think more about what I am doing – putting my whole self into the things which need to be done without worrying about wanting to be elsewhere (or that FOMO feeling!)

So here’s something I put together this morning before I had my breakfast – a golden, glitter 2017 welcome to the new year – I had a lot of fun doing this, and loved the result. It’s also made me realise just how much stuff I have in my house, on my shelves and in my wardrobes, so I think there won’t be much sale shopping this year!

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Happy New Year!…2016

Happy New Year everyone, I hope it’s a beautiful one for you all!

Can you believe it’s that time already? I’m not really one to make resolutions at the New Year, but one thing I have resolved to do more of is drawing and painting, which I have neglected, and I took the chance on the first day of 2016 to play around with colouring pencils, pens, felt tips and water colours – here is one of my results below. I love the different media and colours I can mix and it’s always fun feeling like a child colouring in again (I think I need one of those grown up colouring books!)

So although I say it every year, I’ve come again full circle to make the most of my free time and see what I can come out with! What do you want to do differently this year?

noo year

 

Transition

I know, I know, I’ve disappeared a little from blogging, but I’m still around, fear  not! I’ve been immersing myself in classic films and long books to enjoy a little time to myself and it’s nice not to have a little nagging pressure of worrying about cooking, tidying, working or tip-tapping away on my keyboard (until the weekend’s over and it’s back to work!)

Today’s weekly photo challenge is ‘transition’ – be it the general phasing of one thing to another, or a general progression as you learn more to go higher. It made me think of two things, firstly, the beautiful blues and greens of the clear waters in Greece when my husband and I visited in the summer, secondly, about my own journey with writing and the idea of ‘going with the flow’.

I won’t bore you with a philosophical rant (and it probably wouldn’t make sense!) but I’m loving the idea of writing and seeing where I go with it, as well as travelling to new places and seeing where we end up. I’m sure this will always remain an ongoing thing with me, and something to always explore, but it’s also something to interpret and re-interpret – progression, transition and the journey it takes us on.

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Happy Places: Libraries & Bookshops

I have a few places which I’d call my happy place (a shop with colourful pens, for example!) but one I think are one of my go-to happy places are libraries. I don’t go to libraries as often as I used to since I got my electronic book reader, which I use (when I do get time to myself!) or I end up forgetting I have a pile of books in my room (I currently have five next to my bed) and start reading something else.

I went to a local library yesterday, and loved the fact that although there are many changes to libraries, there’s still that magic of hundreds of books and the potential of a new world to step into. It reminds me of my childhood a little as well, since my sisters and I used to visit the library every week (and take out the maximum number of books allowed) – one of my earliest memories of the library is my dad taking me to the library as a child, and the estatic joy at seeing all the children books – so it’s no wonder that this feeling has stayed with me.

Whenever hubster and I go somewhere new, I always look for a bookstore or library to make myself home. This is a picture of one of my favourite discoveries – a beautifully quirky bookshop we found in the city of Istanbul, which had art, beautiful old books and a big curved staircase which just made the whole thing amazing.

So here’s one of my happy places, being surrounded by books. I just need to find that library which had the huuuuge books in them, so I can stand on top and pretend to be a tiny person lost in Book Land…!

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Beneath My Feet…

I love boats and I love travelling on water, although it’s not something I get to do much. When my husband and I went to Greece a couple of months ago, we took a cruise around some of the nearby islands and were awed by the beautiful blue of the waters, the cool  breeze and the feel of the sea waves under our feet.

These days, we’ll have to settle for the ferry across the River Thames for some water under our feet, but here’s to hoping for another exotic boat ride soon!

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Journal Your Ramadan – Day #1: A is for Alhamdullilah

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.

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 5 & 6: Perissa’s Local Sights

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!)

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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!

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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!

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Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 4: Caldera, The Hot Springs, Volcano Island, Thirasia & Oia

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.

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Our view of the docks where we would board

DSC_4524We 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 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.

The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.
The spring were quite calm when we visited, but you can still see the sulpher and coppery stains.

TIPS:

  • 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!

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TIPS:

  • 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.

If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back
If you look closely you can see hikers all the way at the top, at the back

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.

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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.

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.

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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!)

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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.

View of Oia from the bottom
View of Oia from the bottom

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.

Oia Caldera Square
Oia Caldera Square

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.

This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings
This restaurant was decorated with flowers and butterfly paintings

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.

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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!

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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!)

TIPS:

  • 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!

Harlequin Travels in Santorini – DAY 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Santorini Day 3: Akrotiri and the Red Beach

Our first view of Akrotiri
Our first view of Akrotiri

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!)

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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.

TIPS

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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!

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