Posted by: lindsaygoes | September 10, 2011

Another travel novel

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From Split I joined another tour the next day (which means I only had an evening in Split, guess that will get added to my list of places to revisit!) and we headed out of Croatia and into Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our first stop was Mostar, where we had a walking tour. It was really interesting having a local guide who has experienced the war first hand, and some of his stories were incredible. The town itself was also lovely with an amazing old bridge, and we also had some Börek, which is a traditional filled pastry. It was also a good way to get rid of our left over Croatian money. We had some free time before going back on the bus, so a couple of us went into an art shop, but by the time they’d wrapped our purchases up we were running a little late. Ooops! At least we weren’t the last on the bus. From Mostar we had a bit of a drive to Sarajevo. Because I was running late in Mostar I hadn’t managed to get to an ATM so we went hunting for one near our hotel in Sarajevo. Easier said than done anyway. Our guide had said ‘There are some down there.’. When we’d walked for a bit and couldn’t find one we went into a tourist office and got the directions ‘I think it’s left and then right. But it could also be right and then left.’. That was helpful. The next tourist information office said ‘There are loads in the street parallel to this one.’. I wouldn’t have said loads, but eventually we found one. Even better, it worked. Then we headed out to a restaurant where Bill Clinton had eaten once (there was a picture and everything).

The next day we had a walking tour around Sarajevo with a delightful guide. She had some wonderful semi-English phrases like ‘hospitalitiski’ and ‘belovers’ and took us around some of the older (remaining) areas of Sarajevo, as well as some areas which had been affected in the war. It was amazing how much the city seems to have recovered and rebuilt though. We also visited the Sarajevo tunnel which had been built under the airport and supplied Sarajevo for several years when the city was under siege in the Bosnian War. It’s amazing the volume of supplies and people that passed through the tunnels throughout the siege. Then it was lunch where I had a local ‘burger’. Which turned to be a slab of some kind of meat on a plate next to a pile of raw onions and some pitta bread. I may have left some of it. Most of it even. But then we explored the old quarter and the shops, which was fun. I hardly bought anything. Honest. After dinner (must have been exciting, because I can’t remember a thing about it), I ended up running into a couple of people from my last tour, so I gave them my money. Well, the Bosnian currency anyway, which wasn’t going to be much use to me after that. I’m sure the good karma will come around…or perhaps it already has.

After Sarajevo we travelled to Belgrade. It was a fair journey with one of those random restaurants where we had to pre-order on the way. I think it was another meal which may have been chicken. We weren’t planning on asking too many questions. Then it was on to Belgrade where we were staying in a rather interesting hotel. It was built in the 70s as the hotel for the national airline and must have been built as an example of communist success. And then it was left to slowly decay, but is clearly genuine vintage. We had a walking tour around Belgrade, but I kept taking photos as we were walking around and getting up to the local guide as he was finishing his spiel at that point. So I don’t know a lot about Belgrade to be honest. But I’ve got some lovely photos (well, I hope so, I haven’t got round to the Belgrade photos yet). We spent much of our dinner time glaring at according players who kept trying to bother us and then failed to find the local bar street, known as Silicon Alley. Not for the computers.

After Belgrade we headed into Bulgaria, first stop Sophia. We had a walk around with our tour guide, who had to pretend he wasn’t giving us a tour. We had instructions that if anyone official started sniffing round, we had to start singing Happy Birthday. We didn’t get to that point. There are some lovely buildings in Sofia, and once again we had a hotel which was full of faded 70s grandeur. It had a breakfast room, a cafe, a restaurant and a snack room, as well as a pool, a piano bar, and apparently some kind of pole dancing bar (which was closed the night we were there). For dinner we went to a Gypsy night, which was lots of fun and had an enormous amount of meat on a platter to eat. We had Belly Dancers and male dancers dressed in Michael Jacksonesque outfits, and most of us ended up getting up to dance (including me, I got dragged up as well!). Once we were done at the Gypsy night we headed back to the piano bar, where things got broken. But not by me.

We had an explore of Sofia the next morning. There is one souvenir shop. It sells strange and slightly creepy statues of dogs. And a couple of different types of postcards. Don’t go to Sofia for the souvenirs. From Sofia we headed to Plovdiv where it was jolly warm. Because we had such a big group some of us got shifted to another hotel (apparently one of the best hotels in Plovdiv according to some random local. Actually it was pretty nice. It had a red phone in the bathroom. I’m still wondering if that was to call Batman. I’m sure that was a red phone? Maybe the red phone is some kind of presidential thing. Clearly I don’t actually know). We had a bit of a walk around Plovdiv, although all the historical sites seemed to be under construction. Which seems strange for historical sites, surely they were constructed some time ago? So instead of seeing old ruins we went into shops. That night we went into a restaurant which was built into the back of a hill and was a former nuclear bunker. When you went to the toilet you had to go through about four serious looking doors to get there. Then it was onto a bar. I got confused and thought it was the club we were supposed to be going to, until I got told we were leaving in half an hour and then it was onto a club. This club had been built up throughout the whole trip as being a bit gimmicky. We were told that the girls in the group would get a soft toy (which was as promised) and the boys would get to see tits on fire. They didn’t. But they did get very cheap alcohol. So I got to order non-alcoholic drinks (I ALWAYS have to repeat my order!) and watch other people drink a little too much. Perhaps a lot too much, there was some vomiting on the bus the next day. A few of us left early, walked back and arrived back at the same time as everyone else who had got a taxi. Although we left them to get what was advertised as ‘the worst hot dog in the world’ and went to bed. I think some people were blaming the hot dogs for their feelings of nausea the following day.

So the next day it was on to Istanbul and the last night of the tour. To be honest, we spent most of the day driving, with a not so brief stop at passport control. Apart from that we went to the Grand Bazaar with all it’s shiny things.

Our first full day in Istanbul a few of us went to some of the Turkish baths (which made us feel clean, but kind of naked) and then wandered around a bit more. So a nice relaxing day after our long tour. In the evening a group of us headed down to the Golden Horn (a body of water) and took some photos. I stepped in a rather wet gutter in my sandals. I really didn’t want to think about that one too much because it was quite close to some fish markets. Yep, ewww! But we had a big group dinner under the Galata Bridge after taking our time picking a restaurant (we were trying to get the best deal) and they’ve promised to put a photo of our group and their little chef (I think he was about 10 years old and rather shy) on a wall. Not quite sure if they’ll follow that one up!

The next day some of us headed to the Basilica Cisterna which is an ancient water storage area and it was incredible inside. They had amazing reflections of the columns, enormous fish and some wonderful Gorgon heads. We’d heard conflicting stories about how worthwhile the Cisterna was, and once we were done we realised that there are two in Istanbul. And one of them is apparently disappointing. So if you go, ensure you visit the Basilica Cisterna, and not the other one. After that five of us went on a boat trip. We were very quick and grabbed the middle deck for ourselves and spread ourselves over the table before having a tasty lunch. Then we did some swimming in the Black Sea, which was refreshing. Clearly the sight of four girls in bikinis and one guy sent out some signals and we soon had a group of American guys (oops, revealed the nationality again) joining us on our table. The pick up line they were using seemed to be showing us a pack of Turkish cigarettes with a cartoon of an unhappy couple in bed on the back and asking what we thought it meant. Associating yourself with impotence is not really a great strategy, and so when they asked if I had wifi on my phone I used the excuse that I was out of credit (ignoring the fact that I could get free wifi at the hostel), and another girl said her battery was flat. So we didn’t catch up with them that night. We did however go to Taksim Square and Beyoglu, the hip areas of Istanbul (who else cringed reading that phrase?), went to quite a nice restaurant and then several bars. The second one may have been a gay bar. It might not have been. The apple juice wasn’t very nice, particularly for £4, but that’s got nothing to do with what type of bar it was. The second bar had blankets and a lovely view of the Galata Tower, and the hot chocolate was yummy, so that was a bit nicer.

On my last full day in Istanbul a few of us went to Topkapi Palace (which I hadn’t visited last time) which was interesting, but pretty full of people, and then (as we had one guy from our tour staying at the Hilton) we crashed the Hilton Pool. That was nice, until my towel and sunglasses went missing. Which was odd, as my camera and kindle were still by the pool. Turned out they hadn’t been stolen, but had blown off my lounger. Which was a relief. Dinner was back in Beyoglu, only I’d had a dodgy kebab for lunch, so I was miserable. But no hospital this time. Yay!

And then it was back to the UK, and then end of my holiday.

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