Posted by inka on Nov 20, 2010 in Day trips
When you step out of the car in Saida, the coastal town some 50km south of Beirut, you tread on very ancient ground indeed. Together with Byblos and Trye, Saida was the third most important Phoenician city state and has seen wealth as a sea port and trading point as well as the conquest of many civilizations from the Persian to the Romans to the Cruisaders and the Ottomans.
Such multi cultural history has left its traces and a visit to Saida is a must for history fans like myself. Approaching on the road from Beirut the first thing you see is the Cruisader Castle of the Sea, located on an islet and built in the 13th century by the Knights of St. John. As far as cruisader castles go, this one is not very big but quite well preserved and it’s nice to walk across the narrow causeway, enter through the wooden gate and climb up a tower to enjoy a fantastic view over the Mediterranean.
Cruisader castle of the Sea
Of course, I couldn’t by pass the castle, but what I had really come to visit was the extraordinary medina of the old town of Saida. It’s different from all other souks and medinas I have visited in the Middle East and Morocco, because it’s entirely enclosed. A maze of vaulted alleys and walkways connects the different parts of the old town, higher levels are sometimes reached by ladders and shops and workshops are tugged into niches.
Shop in a vaulted niche of the medina
You better mind your head, because cables are hanging overhead and you sometimes wonder how people might be able to identify which cable leads where should there be a problem. And this is also where the first sweet smells waft out from the many bakeries which produce the crisp break called Kakka, consumed as a snack all day long.
Sweet smelling bread
I had come in search of a very particular place I had heard about: The Olive Soap Museum. I took a few wrong turns, but finally found it on El Shakrieh Street in the middle of the Medina.
Entrance to the soap museum
For centuries, the building was the location of a soap factory which was erected and modified on many levels. Thanks to the Audi family of Beirut, the structure has been restored and transformed into the thematic museum which documents the long history of outstanding soap in Saida. You enter through the glass doors and are immediately enveloped in the sweetest smells of the soap. The ingredients used here are olive oil, slasola kali, a plant from Syria, laurel oil and mi’a, a traditional perfume which is distilled from the resin of styrax, a tree which grows in Hermon and Turkey.
Interior of the museum
You meander through the many levels of the factory and can observe the different stages which are involved in soap making. Beautifully lit show cases exhibit the different molds in which the soap is pressed and towers of soap bars are everywhere which are piled high in an elaborate pattern to facilitate ventilation to dry the soap.
Tower of soap bars to dry the soap
The gift shop downstairs is simply irresistible. Soap in many forms and shapes, gift baskets, perfumes, essences, I could have bought everything. I loved the baby gift baskets and the soap shaped in the form of the traditional clogs worn in a hammam and a tarbouche.
My sweet smelling souvenirs!
Next to it is a cafe where I enjoyed a Lebanese coffee before plunging back into the vaulted maze which is the extraordinary medina of Saida. I have put the soap I bought into my drawers and every time I change my clothes I’m reminded of the sweet smells of Saida.
Posted by inka on Nov 17, 2010 in Istanbul sights
, Luxury hotels
When traveling the world, you are bound to come across weird and wonderful stories. I love to collect them, sometimes turning them into a short story, more often relating them in my travel blog for the enjoyment of other travelers.
Enumerating facts about a place is all well and good, even necessary, but the true essence of travel is to look behind the scene, find the local lore and gossip and aspects, no guide book will ever tell you.
A case in point: the legendary Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. Being a traveling glamour granny, I could of course not resist the urge to pay one of Istanbul’s most luxurious hotels a visit.
In the 1800 when Istanbul was the final destination of the Orient Express, a fashionable crowd was drawn to the mystic city. Sadly, she lacked a luxury European style hotel to accommodate the writers, journalists, artists and other well heeled travelers and that’s how the Pera Palace was conceived.
Overlooking the Golden Horn, the hotel opened its doors in 1892 and boasted the first electrically operated elevator in Turkey as well as hot and cold running water, but only up to the second floor. The upper floors were reserved as quarters for the maids and man servants.
Elaborate art deco furniture, fixtures and fittings were of the highest quality and many a flute of champagne was consumed in the Orient Bar, by the likes of Hemingway, Atatürk, Churchill and…Agatha Christie. The first ever fashion show in Turkey took place in the Pera Palace in 1926.
Pera Palace lobby
Agatha loved the place and always insisted in being given ‘her’ room, number 411. It was in this very room that she wrote one of her most famous crime novels: Murder in the Orient Express. During recent years, the Pera Palace has undergone extensive restorations and finally opened its doors again to the public in September 2010.
Agatha, typing away at a new mystery
I was fortunate to have been given a pre-opening private tour conducted by the hotel’s PR and that’s when I learned the amazing story about Agatha’s key. In 1979, Warner Bros. decided to make a movie about Agatha Christie. Naturally, like everybody else who is an Agatha fan, they were intrigued by her mysterious 10 day disappearance in December 1926.
She left her home in England in her car which was later found damaged and only surfaced in a hotel in Harrogate 10 days later. Agatha never revealed where she was and what had happened and speculations ran from temporary amnesia to a nervous breakdown to a tryst with a secret lover. To shed light on the circumstances, Warner Bros, reverted to Tamara Rand, a medium and clairvoyant based in LA. She went into a trance and described that she saw Agatha Christie traveling to Istanbul on the Orient Express. She was sitting in her compartment, writing in a diary, then locking the diary with a key and putting it in her bag.
Clipping of Tamara Rand and her vision
On arrival she walked along Mesrutiyet Caddesi, which is the address of the Pera Palace pushed open the door, went up to room 411, took out the key and proceeded to hide it behind a lose floor board.
After cutting through much red tape, Warner Bros. got permission to search the premises and, to everybody’s surprise, a 3inch key was found in the exact place Tamara had seen in her trance. Unfortunately, this is where the story ends, because it was never discovered were the key fit nor was Agatha’s diary ever found. So, the queen of suspense managed to create yet another mystery surrounding her own life and the Pera Palace has a great story attached to it.
Room 411 has been redecorated in black and burgundy and, in case you feel like searching a little more or just want to feel the aura of a great writer, it’s now available to guests.
Check out the hotel’s website: www.perapalace.com.
Pictures courtesy of Pera Palace.
Posted by inka on Nov 16, 2010 in guest posts
Two days ago we had an interview with Maralyn D. Hill, definitley a traveling glamour gran. Today Caz Makpeace of yTravelBlog fame gives us her entertaing and sexy views on our bunch. She is certainly no granny, but the love for travel unites all and a touch of glamour is found at all ages.
Glamour Grannies don’t snatch back time, they re-invent themselves!
“I want to remember us as we are now”
Benjamin Button stood in front of the mirror with Daisy, his greatest love, hoping to capture in time this pure moment of bliss when his outer body reflected the true age of his inner, and he could finally live the love he had felt for years. Up until this point he had been a very young boy in a very old body and from that point on he would be a very old man in a very young body.
He had it all topsy-turvy to the rest of us mortals. But despite the mismatch between his outer and inner appearance was the one thing he always knew to be true:
Age does not have to define who you are, what you can learn, and what you can do.
He lingered in front of that mirror to take as much in as he could of the time of his life when he could best express himself. He lingered because he knew that it would not be long before that very image would be gone and his life direction with it. He lingered because in a moment he knew he would have to let that image go.
Most people spend their lives trying to hold onto this image not realizing that in order to live fully you must release who you were in the past and the age limitations your mind, not your body, places on you.
A couple of wrinkles here and a saggy bottom there should not be the death of life; it is just life in a different form. Life maybe cruel, in the fact that all those years of experience and accumulated wisdom is wasted on body that shrinks, hips that click, and boobs that droop.
But as we saw in Benjamin Button the years of accumulated wisdom reverted back to the clean slate of an unknowing young child–a child who could not remember nor think lucidly. Proving to us that the adage, “Youth is be wasted on the young and wisdom on the old,” is not really relevant. Life has a cycle that you cannot fight or wish away, you must learn to change with it.
All that matters is what you are doing right now with what you have. Your age and what you do with that is an attitude more than a number that represents your years of vitality.
And so how does this relate to travel and Glamour Grannies?
Well, now you have no more excuses to wither away in your darkened room, reminiscing about how good it was in the old days when you road horses to school. Those days are long gone. Leave them back in the mirrors of yesterday.
Let’s face it there are not too many days you have left. This is something I also tell those that possess a vibrantly youthful body. Your life is not over just because you are a granny or a grandpa. Life is just beginning no matter what your age is.
The “I’m aging” doldrums are gone and the glamour grannies of the world are back. Dust off your old Loius Vitton suitcase; throw in your new one-piece bathing suit, and your vintage scarves. Just think how wonderful it is that you no longer have to compete around the pool for the attention of all the hunky men by exposing a little of your flesh. We know no one wants to see that now. You don’t have to sleep on the hardened floor of a tent, or squish your creaking knees into an Asian-sized seat on a local bus.
You now have an excuse to travel in a more refined and luxurious way. As a matter of fact, that sounds quite tempting to me. Can I be a Glamour Granny too? You don’t have to worry about other travelers looking down on you as a fake, they are actually now looking up at you as an inspiration.
Be a young yet old Benjamin Button. When his youth began appearing and he realized his time was coming to an end, he made a decision to leave his love ones so he would not become a burden to them with his soon to be crippling condition of “youthing”.
He realized that it was not too late for him to explore the world, live out his dreams of travel, and continue to learn. Death had not grabbed him yet, and until it did he was determined to live fully and to live out loud.
My wish for you Glamour Grannies is that along your new adventures you run into that man that snapped his favourite moment in time in the mirror. And as he warms your bed at night may you let all the vibrancy of your youth shine through with his.
You get the picture?
Now that is one dream I’ll never stop having no matter how saggy my boobs get.
Bio: Caz Makepeace has been living and traveling around the world for over 10 years. Life is all about the memories, so she travels to create many stories to tell with her husband and 3 year old daughter. You can follow their stories at y travel blog or become part of their fanpage community.
Posted by inka on Nov 14, 2010 in interviews
Interview with Maralyn D. Hill
Maralyn B. Hill
Maralyn, I’m on the lookout among my female fellow writers for ladies who fit the label ‘Traveling Glamour Grannies’. Without having to give it much thought, you sprang to mind. You have always been very kind and supportive of me. Therefore, the first interview for my new blog, Glamour Granny Travels, belongs to you.
You have a long and distinguished career as a travel writer who not only specializes in fascinating locations, but also delights your readers with the discovery of mouth-watering recipes and tales about food and wine.
Not only are you the president of IFWTWA (International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association), you also run the extremely popular blog, ‘Where and What in the World’, and have co-authored several books, among them ‘Our Love Affair with Food and Travel’ and ‘Success, Your Path to a Successful Book.’ You had a TV show, are the judge of many awards and competitions, and are a tireless sponsor of aspiring travel writers. In short, glamour galore!
Inka: You have a family and you are a granny, so tell me, how many grandchildren do you have?
Maralyn: I’ve one beautiful granddaughter, Alecia, who will be twenty-one this year. She is a joy and I delight when she calls or sends me a message on Facebook. After she took Japanese for 4 years, I took her to Japan, Singapore and Thailand on points. We went top class. Norm joined us there. Recently, she had her first photo of a flower published in a coffee table book that sells for $85. So I’m quite proud of that accomplishment. More than that, I just love her.
Inka: Going back to the title of one of your books: How did the love affair with travel and food start?
Maralyn: Well, this will be a two-part answer.
My first train ride was at 2 weeks old on a Pullman car from Chicago to the upper peninsula of Michigan. In the morning, the man who had the top berth put a $5 bill in my hand and told my mother she had a good traveler. I grew up with car trips and trains. As my father worked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, we had passes. After college, I was a flight attendant.
In those days, one had to stop flying when she got married. After my two children, Lindsay and Eric, I started my own business. It was first advertising and marketing and later expanded into meeting planning, writing incentive programs, etc. In any case, my travel was limited while my children were growing up, but half of my clients were hotels. As a result, I made lifetime friends.
Once my children were grown, I was back traveling. I was working on my Masters at the University of Massachusetts while running my Connecticut business, and took a class in Southeast Asia. When I returned, I had to go into New York to meet with a hotel client. I was tired and my staff insisted I take a new bus service. On the way back from the city, I met Norm. Remarrying was not on my agenda. But I’m glad he came along, as he respects my independence. So my travel continues and increases at a steady pace.
Growing up, I was surrounded by great cooks. My grandma was terrific and did wonderful baking without measuring. My aunt made delicious caramels, fudge, and taffy apples, and my mother did everything fancy. Presentation mattered. For our birthday parties, we would have pinwheel sandwiches. The bread would be cut lengthwise with the crusts cut off and spread with peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese, or egg salad (nothing expensive). After being rolled like a jellyroll, refrigerated, and sliced, little roses from a pastry tube would be put on top. For adult parties, it would be decorated sandwich loaves and fancy finger sandwiches. She also decorated all the wedding cakes in the family. We gardened, canned, froze, picked wild berries, everything.
In addition to relatives, our next-door neighbor was from Italy and taught us how to make pizza. We enjoyed pizza before there was a pizza heading in the phone book and only two pizza restaurants in Chicago. At one point, my mother owned a restaurant. I waited tables and cooked. I never had a desire to own one.
As young adults, my sister and I took a series of cooking classes that were many steps above what we had experienced. We loved it.
I went on to explore cuisine. While planning hotel-marketing events, I attended many and was exposed to wonderful chefs preparing the best they could offer.
As I negotiated contracts for incentive or meeting planning clients, I rarely took a standard menu. I would always meet with the chefs. I’d tell them my budget and ask for their suggestions as to what could be cut so they could offer the best of their seasonal features. It worked like a charm and my appreciation and friendship with chefs grew and continues to grow.
Inka: Is there a type of cuisine you like best?
Maralyn: Each new experience awakens different senses and likes. As a result, I can’t pick a favorite.
Inka: Do you always try out the recipes you discover yourself?
Maralyn: On occasion, I will. Usually, I can tell from the ingredients the taste and flavor. When I do try them, I’m usually on target.
Inka: Do you have plans for another book or another TV show?
Maralyn: Brenda is ready for us to do two or three more books. I like the concept of all three, but I don’t see that happening while I am President of IFWTWA; maybe when I’m past president or off the Board. As for a TV or radio show, I’d do any if the opportunity arose.
Inka: Could you tell me what the concept of glamour means to you?
Maralyn: There are many definitions that come to mind. But I like to think of it as a state of mind where you have the time to fulfill your dreams the way you want to do it. For me, travel is one of them. Some means of transportation are not glamorous, but the culture and people, the end result is if you have fun and enjoy the journey.
Inka: Do you agree that many women of our age need encouragement to venture out and see the world?
Maralyn: Certainly. It has been my experience that you need to push yourself, discover and fulfill your desires. You may have a few disappointments along the way, but I think they will be minor. I take difficult situations and say, “What’s good about it.” I have noticed, they either love travel or hate it. I love it despite lost luggage, delayed planes, missed connections, so what? I don’t like those inconveniences, but that is part of life and worth the end result—meeting, learning, exploring, and discovering different cultures.
Inka: Do you sometimes travel alone and if so, do you find it a challenge?
Maralyn: Yes, I’ve travelled alone a lot. The more you do it, the more comfortable you become and the less you pack. When I am at dinner, I usually ask what the chef or the waiter recommends. Frequently, the chef will come out to talk with me. I generally photograph every meal. A few times, people have asked about it and asked me to join them. I’ve met so many interesting people along the way.
If you are frightened of having your passport stolen or something similar, register critical items with www.AccessMyID.com. They will back up everything for you. Keep your passport on your body. Put a copy of your passport in your luggage and purse or backpack, and split up your money in several places. I’ve always been fortunate, but I know others who haven’t. But I’m the queen of delayed luggage and have learned to pack with something suitable for casual or dressy with a scarf. I also carry on medications, clean underwear, toiletries, and a bathing suit.
If someone absolutely does not want to travel alone, there are great tour companies in every budget to most every destination imaginable.
My advice is to try traveling and enjoy the journey!
Posted by inka on Nov 13, 2010 in Middle East
In case you wonder: Sharjah is a small emirate close to its much better known sister Dubai. Never heard of it? Neither did I, until a writer friend of mine decided to spend some time there and invited me over from Beirut for a weekend. After only one night I have already fallen under Sharjah’s spell.
It all started with a certain spirituality and much food for thought. I flew with Air Arabia, a relatively new low cost airline which had the great advantage of a direct 3 hour flight and a really affordable ticket. We boarded, settled down, started to taxi and before the usual safety instructions came over the speakers, there was a pause and then the pilot announced that we would start out journey with a prayer. And that was exactly what followed.
I was sitting in an aisle seat and next to me, by the window, sat a Lebanese gentleman whose fingers never ceased to glide through the beads of his rosary and caressing the cross. His lips never stopped murmuring . On my left, across the aisle, sat another gentleman, clearly a Muslim, holding HIS beads and doing exactly the same as my neighbor to the right. I’m sure you can see why this situation was thought provoking.
Whether it was the prayers or the pilot’s skill or both..we arrived safe and sound. The Arabian Sea, the desert and ruler straight roads appeared below the wings as we came in for landing. Sharjah has a small easy to negotiate airport and I whizzed through immigration warmly welcomed by the official.
Once outside I found a taxi, driven by a lady, extremely smartly turned out in a sky blue uniform with a white veil and wearing white gloves. That came as quite a surprise. I didn’t really expect a female taxi driver in the Emirates, but, as she pointed out to me with a sweet smile: “My male colleagues still stare at me all the time, they aren’t used to seeing a woman drive a taxi”. But drive she did, like the devil and with a lot of stories along the way.
I am staying in the same apartment building where my friend has settled for the time being. It was evening and a Friday, therefore very quiet and many shops closed. This area of Sharjah is mostly populated by a vast Indian and Pakistani community, so I saw more saris than Arab garb. Interesting.
First order of the day, or rather the evening was to get some food into our stomach. We found a little restaurant with outdoors tables and ordered what thye called an Arabic platter for two. The dish turned out to be one of the best rice, meat, chicken, salad combos I have ever tasted. There was so much, it could easily have fed three and all for about $12.
Arabic platter for two
Fortified and with night falling, we made our way along the Corniche which borders the Sharjah creek to the old souk. And that’s where the real magic started. Massive, centuries old stone walls encircle the area and heavy, carved wooden doors mark the entrance to the shops.
Outer walls of the Old Soukh
Soukh alley on a Friday
As I said, this was Friday and what we experienced was a normally thriving and bustling market place…. nearly empty and abandoned. Our footsteps resounded on the marble floors echoing off the thick walls as we walked along the tiny alleys, only watched over by a lonely guard perched on his stool with his eyes half closed. A very few shops were open and displayed enticing merchandise, among them ancient musical instruments.
Ancient musical instruments
The entire atmosphere was unreal and eerie, to the extend that we, involuntarily, started to whisper. Then we broke out laughing: ‘Can you imagine this? We are whispering in a souk!!!”.
A half moon, lying on its back added to the dreamlike scenario, making my first night in Sharjah an unforgettable experience.
Now, I’m going to look at it by daylight to find out if the magic continues.