Boppin' the Beyoğlu Blues
Beyoğlu is where the locals mix with the tourists who are in the know and don't camp down in Sultanahmet. How refreshing it was to be away from the tourist beat. Here in Beyoğlu the streets are full of cafes, apartments, hotels and concentrations of shops which all sell the same products ~ much like in Vietnam... and musicians (as this snap was in the music store street... the LED street just didn't have quite the same feel.)
If you drop your cutlery at this restaurant, another is always handy... if one is sitting outside at least...
At the bottom of the hill... the fish market and the famous fish sanger. A visit to the store below proved to be a delight... She is packing a box of honey free TD for Georgia.
Keeping Up apPERAnces
The Pera Museum in Istanbul is a wonder. Nestled up the hill from the Galata Tower in Beyoğlu, it has a reputation for excellent art exhibitions and a few floors of rock solid local history on display. No wonder they call it a museum...
The Valdes Exhibition was three floors of marvellous (thank you Tony Greig) painting and sculpture art works.
Part of the permanent display is the area dedicated to Osman Hamdi. He is the man responsible for the establishment of the Archeological Museum and the creation of laws which protected the archeological assets of Turkey.
Osman Hamdi Bey (1842 – 24 February 1910) was an Ottoman statesman, intellectual, art expert and also a prominent and pioneering Turkish painter. He was also an accomplished archaeologist, and is considered as the pioneer of the museum curator's profession in Turkey.
His 1906 painting, "The Tortoise Trainer", broke a record in Turkey by being sold for the amount of 3.5 million dollars in December 2004. The painting expresses a sarcastic innuendo on the painter's own view of his style of work compared to those of his collaborators and apprentices, and is also a reference to the historical fact of tortoises having been employed for illuminative and decorative purposes, by placing candles on the shell, in evening outings during the Tulip Era in the early 18th century. The painting was acquired by the Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation and is currently on display at the Pera Museum in İstanbul, which was established by this foundation.
The Galata Tower in Beyoğlu across the bridge from Sultanahmet affords a 360 degree view across the port area burbs.
Munsch Before Lunch
Its Edvard's 150th something... and we buzzed by the Oslo National Gallery (ONG) and joined the par-tay. It was a scream of course...
Edvard seems to paint mood which is doom backward and that also might be appropriate. It was interesting to see room after room of his work and observe the development of his craft to its pinnacle (so some would say) of The Scream. That would be the technicolour version not the earlier black and white wood cut... which just to be contentious, I preferred.
The shrews in charge of the ONG wouldn't allow photography... So ONG OMG one can photograph the Mona Lisa... no problems.. but Eddie Munsch... or EdMu as Who Weekly might call him if he was a celeb today... the ONG says : "I don't think so".
Leaving the ONG, we ran into what I hope was a kinder excursion and not a family outing...
Oslo street theatre looks a lot like street theatre (perhaps?) anywhere...
The surprise of Oslo was the Operahaus. Its one impressive structure, that I failed to capture adequately.
Flim Flam... More than a Telegram
Flom as Flam is pronounced by the locals, is a little slice of Nordic paradise, a mere five hour express ferry ride deep into Sognesfjord... the "longest and deepest fjord in Norway".
It has a history that stretches beyond the 17th century and now is a farming and tourist town that has been supported by the Flam Railway or Flamsbana since the late 1800s, and of course the water based traffic.
We elected to stay out of town, and given the large cruise ship that was in port when we arrived, it was a good move. Apparently, at the peak of the summer tourist trade, 5,000 folk can descend in any given day...
...and we didn't enjoy it with 500 people there. Fortunately, the ship left that afternoon.
Our accom known as Flam Oppleving was two train stops up the mountain on the Flamsbana and was simply... well.. here is part of the view from the garden outside our room...
Our host Jorunn grew up on a farm just to the left of this snap, and shared many stories on and of the area. I snapped the smokehouse below (which belonged to her father ~ and others ) before I knew the story of it being originally built in the 1700s when all the houses surrounded the church and dangerous buildings such as a smokehouse and blacksmiths were located well away from the fire sensitive wooden homes. Whilst the layered stone base is one which can be thought of as 1700s building technique, I suspect the upper parts are a bit like the Granpa's axe that has had three handles and two heads but is still considered the same axe.
Seen my fair share of religiious edifi (sounds better than edifices and I don't care if its not proper English) over the last few weeks, but the church here in Flam (Flom) is pretty darn special. Harks back to the 1600s when your Flomites were keen on the pray and play concept. Drawings on the walls are from 1600 and 1700s when they really knew how to paint a reindeer proper.
Hall of the Mountain King...
The work of Edvard Grieg first came to my attention when listening to the Rick Wakeman's newly released 1974 concept album Journey to the Centre of the Earth. No prizes for guessing it was based on the Jules Verne novel of the same name.
I distinctly remember my mother exclaiming loudly as she passed through the lounge, "...that's Grieg's Hall of the Mountain King y'know. Well I didn't. But I soon sought out a Grieg LP from the oldies collection and had a good listen before returning to Wakeman, Hawkwind and King Crimson. As I think more about this, I do remember there was a time when Sunday lunch was a roast and after the compulsory listen to Gwen Meredith's "Blue Hills" ep (the longest running radio play in Aust at the time) and an ep of The Goons the 3LO radio station was replaced with classical music and Peer Gynt did get quite a run on the His Master's Voice Integrated Gramophone... :-)
I digress... Grieg sought the solace of nature and apparently many of his works reflect his love and appreciation of the natural world. His home outside of Bergen was in the boonies when he built it, and has gradually been surrounded by suburbia over the years... and an airport lies not too far away.
So blocking out the distant traffic hum and the odd plane overhead, the beautiful treed area is still filled with bird song and water views and one can imagine what inspiration it may have brought.
The whole area is picture perfect. Anne described it as 'chocolate box scenes everywhere' and this seems an excellent summation.
Train travel brings its own pace and peace. Its the rhythm, the view, the larger seat space... airline travel sucks in comparison.
The journey from Oslo was full of surprises. No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition... nor the snow capped mountains and semi-freddo rivers en route to Bergen from Oslo. We journeyed for five and a half hours through gorgeous pine and birch filled countryside with water & mountain views a near constant companion. As we climbed into the pass, the urge to pull on a pair of skis strengthened with every passing kilometre... until I came to my senses. It was freezing out there.
Bergen is a picturesque small city nestled amongst the rolling fjordland hills. Tourism and fish are BIG here... as is Viking history. There are museums that tell a rollicking good yarn at times. Not sure the travelling shoe exhibition did it for me earlier today tho'. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants narrative has it all over this one.
I overheard a guide speaking about the double seated toilet on display. She stated something along the lines of "today we go to a cafe to share news and gossip but back in the 1300s... okay, i'll take it over from here... it was a gossipy chat whilst on the communal crapper that was all the go.
Tourism... I did make comment today that if ever there was an interest in joining the cruise boat travel scene... I was to remember sharing the port of Bergen with the population of several cruise ships. Shoot me. Shoot me now.
Everything was a problem from not enough English translation in museums to total ignorance regarding basic elements.. like queueing up or respecting space.
Anne was slow in taking her seat in the finnicula... and almost sat on the person (from a cruise ship) who slipped in underneath her to claim a seat in the front of the finnicula carriage. Talking about the quick and the dead... I nearly died laughing!
Not too shabby a view from the top o'the hill.
So, the surprise meal to date has been at the Nine Dragons Chinese Restaurant here in Bergen. After all, there is only so much reindeer one can eat in one trip and it is a few steps away from our apartment. Normally when the menu lists asian meals from most of south east asia, its not a good sign. The Nine D ran counter to that. The Nine Dragons Special of crumbed scampi sushi was exceptional. Great presentation and superb taste.
The ways we have seen written communication occur over the past week has been many and varied. So this runic letter piqued my interest. Written in the 1300s it is apparently a business letter. Given the lack of shelter on the Viking ships... weather or rather water proof letters would be a critical aspect in effective written communication!
Go Slow in Oslo
Actually, it was go slow to get out of Helsinki where we were one of the last 10 peeps on the plane. It seems that queueing as a lifestyle is not just the provost of the communist countries, Norwegian Air actively encourages it.
Arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare was a blessing as Ellen's excess baggage dilemma meant that after queueing for a long time to check in, she then had to go to the end of a very looooong line to get the piece of paper that she could then take to the lower floor counter to then fork over some Euro to have her luggage already swallowed up by the baggage machine declared active rather than rest on its laurels on "standby" status. This lead us to the security queue... ho... hum...
Anyway, as is our want, we packed in a full day in Oslo once we arrived and placed our luggage in lockers at the Oslo S train station. The promise of the Viking Museum was too much to resist ~ especially as it involved a short journey... on a boat across the Oslo Harbour
The Viking Museum was a cracker and one can only admire the capacity of the V's to sail the high seas far from home without a ballroom or dining room at their disposal. How perfectly manly of them... or Vikingly perhaps...
The Open Air section of the Norway Folk Museum was impressive. Wandering through the re-constructed homes of yesteryear, the lack of central heating, microwave and running water seemed to be sympathetic with the fit-out of their ships...!
Estonia: no sense Russian
The cry of the gulls and the sound of the sea entered the psyche of Bilbo Baggins... and Anne Dwyer. Any chance to get on a boat and she is there. So the promise of a day cruise loomed as large as the ship that carried us to Tallin Estonia.
Tallin (formerly known as Ravel ~ ah you cry... of course!) is a two and half hour cruise from Helsinki. To the Helsinki locals, Tallin is duty free grog heaven. Evidence of which was clear on the walk from the tram stop to the terminal as Fins, young and old trundled clearly empty suitcases or carried gleaming chrome fold down trolleys with arcane expectation towards the Viking Line Liner. The return journey to the tram put any doubt to this reality as grandmothers and groovers alike nimbly guided or slam staggered their laden trolleys stacked high with slabs of beer and mixers or hauled suitcases no doubt hiding a cornucopia of alcoholic delights purchased at bargain prices.
To us, it was an interesting day tour that put us on the largest ship either of us has ever travelled... and a chance to see another walled city. The ship seemingly glided out of the harbour but in fact was setting a cracking pace in comparison to the boat we took to the island of Suomellina a few days earlier.
After a turn about the deck, we headed to our cabin for a glorious nanna nap that in my case lasted until we docked at Tallin.
After a short walk through the medieval streets, the call as made to re-fuel. Avoiding the crowds at the Epping Tower where all manner of medieval items of torture was on display, we elected to dine at a Russian-Estonian restaurant where everyone was pretending to be Russian but in terms of service... no-one was rushin'. In fact the arrival of food took an eternity, the drinks took only...oh... an age... But hey, we are tourists and what does time really matter ~ unless one is indeed thirsty and hungry...
Unseasonable heat has hit Helsinki and as I look at the warm jackets and thermal tops that clog my luggage I hold out hope for Norway to exhibit some of the cold weather we were told to expect.
25C+ in the capital of Finland is mighty pleasant and adds to the distortion of the internal body clock when 10pm is as bright as 11.00am in terms of sunlight. If one added in some alcohol the day and the night could slip by with ease.
It's been a delight to catch up with daughter Ellen and have her share her favourite haunts around the city ~ admittedly these have mostly been bars, but all the same... (No I jest... Ellen has shown us restaurants as well! )
A lovely trip by ferry to an island in the port that was the military base charged with the defense of Helsinki in early last century, had the added bonus of large gulls playing on the thermals created by the boat just off the stern.
The island was a delight to stroll around and provided lovely views of the harbour. It would seem that it is a place where the young folk come to picnic and sunbathe amongst the large rocks that dot the shoreline. The island has multiple cafes and restaurants and various other buildings relating to ammunition drives, barracks and the like dot the landscape... oh, and cannons of course.
We started our Helsinki experience fresh off the plane at a family dinner generously hosted by my father John and his wife Robyn who arrived days earlier on Ellen's birthday and stayed on until we arrived. The Finnish rather than the French Connection also joined us for dinner. Minna and her husband Wille, Minna's parents Marijutt and Arti, and brother Mikko all provided Ellen with many family moments over the last six months. For this we are extremely grateful.
The great shame is that we didn't have much time beyond the dinner to spend with the family who are clearly beaut people. Having said this, Wille found time to take us on Sunday to a new information centre in the national park area near their home in Espoo, some 30 minutes by train from Helsinki.
Istanbul... It's a riot!
So, we leave Istanbul and the whole place erupts in a riot...
The Western media describes Istanbul as "simmering with tension in the days prior"... well, in the immortal words of Daffy... not according to this little black duck.
It is almost with disbelief that we viewed the Taksin Square footage of heavy police response and rioters bleeding. The Istanbul we encountered was calm, friendly, incredibly clean and welcoming.
If tensions were simmering, such attitudes were well hidden or we are mega unobservant.
Fortunate to have the company of our new friend Osman who provided local knowledge and canny ability to avoid the queues (most times) we saw an Istanbul that demanded one become ensnared by its charms. Having done all the major items on the must see list... Topkapi Sarayi, Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, the Spice Bazaar... we also hit the mosiac museum and then on the last morning, the surprise package... the Archaeo Logical Museum (sic) where one strolled through so many artifacts from the Byzantine era and more... all within touching distance, wthout ropes, glass and guards... or significant cost.
The back story to the development of the museum itself is a cracker. Once again, an individual (in the late 1800s) had the foresight and capacity to push through the bureaucracy and slap dash approach to curation and ensure that proper buildings and display processes were instigated (in a logical fashion perhaps...?) and laws passed to stop the marauding Brits and Yanks from digging up anything of value and spiriting it back to their respective countries... How about you return the Elgin Marbles to Greece Britain...?
Osman and Anne walk the square prior to the riots...
The 72 TL (Turkish Lire) 72 hour museum pass which provided access for us to Topkapi Palace, the Harem, the Mosiac Museum, the Archaeology Museum and Ayasofya proved to be good value for us.
But let us go back to the beginning of the Istanbul leg...
WIthin an hour of landing we were in a Hammami or Turkish Steam Bath, being steamed, loofa'd, soaped and soaked. Built in 1777... yes 1777... the experience left us wondering about who had preceded us and did they too leave with skin that was rejuvenated to the point where the analogy of the posterior of a new born comes to mind.
This experience revived the body from a long day of travel from Bangkok . "A long day" based on our aim to not fly more than 10 hours in any one leg. Our tix are a "code share" with Thai and Turkish Airlines ~ which once again has been voted "Best European Airline"...again We have no complaints about the quality of service, seats, food or checkin procedures.