My favorite bazaars

My favorite bazaars

Naturally, a glamour granny loves shopping. I certainly don’t sneeze at some of the world’s most beautiful shopping malls which by themselves  often are architectonical works of art like you find in Milan or Istanbul. If and when I need a new pair of Manolos or a Louis Vuitton travel bag, that is.

Otherwise there is nothing more colorful and entertaining than a Middle Eastern bazaar, not only because of the merchandise but because of the whole atmosphere, the smells, the noise,  the haggling people. Nothing gives you a better insight into local culture than putting on your comfy flats, stuff your money in your (zippered) trouser pocket, don your sunglasses and mingle with the Alis, Ahmeds and Sevgis of the world.

Here is a selection of my favorite bazaars.

Grand  Bazaar/Istanbul

Everybody who visits Istanbul is bound to spend at least a few hours in one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. Opened in 1461, the complex consists of more than 58 covered streets and alleys, housing over 4000 shops, countless restaurants, two mosques and two hamams. Best of all, it’s not only a tourist attraction, but the weekend shopping place for the citizens of Istanbul as well.

Look what’s on offer.

Soukhs/Sharjah

One of the smaller emirates right next door to Dubai, Sharjah  has two shoukhs, an old one and a modern one. What I found so absolutely fascinating about the old one was a total opposite to the usual hustle and bustle which you encounter if you happen  visit on a Friday night. Can you imagine a bazaar with nobody in it? Eerie and somewhat otherworldly.

Byblos/Lebanon

The emphasis of this very picturesque bazaar in the ancient coastal town of Byblos is on art and craft. It’s quite small but crammed full with hand made clothes, painting, carvings, jewelry and embroidered pillow cases and bed spreads.

Essaouira/Morocco

Nostalgia reigns in the ‘Windy city’ on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, reached by a ruler straight desert road from Marrakesh. Located within the mighty walls of the fortress, Essaouira’s bazaar still reflects the hippy past of the city. Forget the shouts  and pushy merchants of Marrakesh, here the shop owners and stall keepers sit patiently in front of the premises, watch the visitors go by, drink mint tea and guard their exquisite wares of painting, embroidered clothes and slippers, hand tooled bags and belts or colorful jewelry. If you really insist, they might even condescend to show or sell you something…or not, depending on their mood.

Each bazaar in each country reflecting a different life style and attitude and each one is  a unique experience. Which one is your favorite?

 

Breakfast habits of the world

Food is an essential part of any culture, but what never fails to fascinate  me is what different countries think necessary to consume for their first meal of the day to be ready to take on what lies ahead of them.

The varieties are endless and so are the individual habits. From skipping breakfast all together, to a coffee and a cigarette, to something close to a 5 course meal, not to mention a  decadent  Champagne breakfast, breakfast habits and traditions are some of the few food related topics that I can  never discover enough about.

Here is one thing which always makes me laugh and that’s the so called Continental Breakfast many hotels  offer  to justify their outrageous room rates because said breakfast is so generously included. What it mostly turns out to be is a limp piece of what in the respective country passed for a roll or two, with a tiny tub of butter and an equally tiny tub of jam and a cup of insipid coffee or a limp tea bag. I have yet to find a European country where that kind of disgrace is actually consumed for breakfast.

As I mentioned the continental breakfast first, let’s take a look at some real breakfast in Europe. Germans ( and I’m one of them, at least my passport says so), like a hearty start to the day. Which includes: a big bread basket with crusty rolls, often covered with poppy seed, nuts or cereal, a boiled egg, cheese and sausage, butter, honey and marmalade. The drink of choice is filter coffee, but tea is also popular, preferably not of the tea bag variety.

The French wouldn’t dream of even saying ‘bonjour’  before they have had an oven fresh croissant and a big cup of café au lait.

The Spanish and Italian like a sweet start to the day too. My absolute favorite is a pastry which comes from Cataluna and is called ensaimada, puff pastry soft and light as a cloud and covered with castor sugar.

The British need a lot of fuel to get ready for the day. Fried bacon, eggs, mushrooms, fried bread, tomatoes, make up the basics of an English breakfast, In addition there is porridge, kippers (smoked herring), kidneys all washed down with a huge quantity of strong tea, which they like to drink with milk instead of lemon.

Leaving Europe, let’s turn to China. Of course it’s a huge country and habits differ from province to province, but a basic staple is congee, a watery rice gruel which resembles porridge, but is made more interesting by the addition of chicken or mushrooms and any kind of sweet things too. Dipped into congee are crullers, which are deep fried, twisted strips of dough.

No Turkish  breakfast is complete without olives, cucumber, tomatoes, cheese, a hard boiled egg, bread, butter, honey and many, many glasses of tea.

Lebanese breakfast consists of all the above but with the addition of labneh, a creamy yoghurt and manoushe, a very thin pizza dough freshly  baked and covered with either a mixture of thyme and salt or cheese.

Add to this the countless brands of cereal, yoghurts, egg dishes, pancakes  and fruit and you can experiment with your own breakfast composition for a month without repeating yourself.

So, what does the glamour granny have for breakfast? I am very health conscious and constantly afraid to put on weight which does have something to do with vanity but much more with a fear of getting diabetes the older I get because, unfortunately, that terrible disease runs in my family. My breakfast is always the same:

At least three different pieces of fruit, sliced and dusted with ground black pepper (brings out the flavor of any fruit) dressed with freshly squeezed lemon juice and topped with a handful of nuts and a healthy piece of goat cheese, sheep cheese, whatever is at hand, but low fat.

A glass of orange juice, plenty of coffee…and I’m ready for the day.

My usual breakfast

What do you have for breakfast?  What I the weirdest breakfast habit you have encountered in your travels? Let’s hear about it.

My personal 7 Wonders of the World

Lately, listings seem to be all the rage in the travel blogging world. 10 the best of this, 10 the best of that, cheapest here and most expensive there, and of course, compilations of the Wonders of the World, man made, nature made, ancient or modern, the variations are endless.

Looking back at my travels over the last two years, I vividly remember the occasion when I experienced the well known ‘Ohhhh’ effect, which comes when you just stand, look, and think: this is really a wonder of the world. So, I’m hopping on the listing wagon and tell you about my very personal Seven Wonders of the World, some well known, others not, in alphabetical order, hoping that you will be enticed to go yourselves and be enthralled, or, if you have been, relive the moment whilst reading this post.

Amasya/Turkey

When seeing ‘Turkey’, you might think I would write about Troy, Ephesus or Istanbul but no, my strongest ‘Ohhh’ effect occurred when I happened upon the lesser know town of Amasya, about 100km inland from the Black Sea city of Samsun.

Glued onto and into a sheer mountain cliff are the sites and monuments of 3000 years of history, one piled on top of the other,  with a wild river tearing along below. I have never seen anything like this. Right on top stretch the fortifications of a  massive citadel with 2000 year old water channels, 1000 year old bridges and secret underground passageways.

Below, and hewn into the rock, are several tombs of the Pontus kings (3rd century BC) which are illuminated at night, heightening the effect.

At the bottom of the cliff and along the border of the Yesil River you see many beautifully preserved traditional  Turkish mansions  with their distinctive black wooden beams and white walls dating from the Ottoman period, many of which have been converted into quaint hotels or restaurants. An example where breath taking nature combines with outstanding human achievements to create my personal first wonder of the world.

Tombs of the Pontus kings and Ottoman houses

The citadel

Baalbeck/Lebanon

The Jupiter temple complex of Baalbeck, located approx. 85 km northeast from Beirut accumulates superlatives by the handful. The biggest temple complex ever built during the period of the Roman Empire, Baalbeck features the tallest columns ever erected, the largest stones ever used in construction of the period and statues and stone carvings of unequalled quality, many of which can be admired in the Baalbeck museum near the exit .The display is so fantastically arranged, that I spent two hours in the museum alone.

The Jupiter temple of Baalbeck

The six remaining columns

Of the originally 54 columns only 6 remain standing but they are enough to give an impression of what the complex must have been like in its heyday. Small wonder that a treasure like this forms the natural stage for the famous yearly Baalbeck International Festival which attracts artists and visitors from all over the world.

Burj Khalifa/Dubai

It just so happens that the world’s tallest building is next to Baalbeck in the alphabetical order of my personal wonders of the world, because this structure is another accumulation of superlatives. At 2717 ff it’s the highest man made building in the world, constructed at a cost of 1.5 billion $ and comprising 3.333.100 sq ff of floor space. It was completed on Oct. 1st 2009.

I nearly toppled over backwards trying to look up at the very top and Burj Khalifa is a sight to behold which cannot be left out here.

Everglades/Florida/USA

I simply can’t get enough of the Everglades. Contrary to popular belief the wetland is not a swamp but an extremely slow moving river, emanating from waters of Lake Okechobee, 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long, flowing south into Florida Bay.

The vegetation and wild life make the Everglades a truly wonderful place where ‘gators cross the Tamiami trail at leisure, rare herons swoop across the vast expanse of saw grass and century old mangrove trees bath their roots in the shallow water. Add to this settlements of the Miccosukee and Seminole Indians  and the wet and wonderful adventure of an air boat ride and you will understand why this nature paradise is a wonder of the world for me.

Hiking path in the Everglades

Miccosukkee John explains a totem

Jeita Grotto/Lebanon

Another wonder of nature, albeit of a very different kind is the Jeita Grotto in the Lebanon. Located at approx. 11 m north of Beirut and in the Nahr-al-Kalb valley, the Jeita Grottos are a compound of two interconnected karstic limestone caves which, in total, stretch over more than 5.5 miles.

Divided into an upper and a lower cave and inhabited in prehistoric times, the lower cave was rediscovered in 1836 and the upper as late as 1958. The lower cave is part of a subterranean river and can only be visited by boat, but what a boat ride that is, gliding silently through a nature wonderland of stalactites where you often have to dug your head.

A footpath leads along the upper gallery where stalactites soar as high as 390ff and form the most wonderful natural sculptures. Jeita Grotto  is competing  to officially become  one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. You access the upper gallery by a little cable car and the proceed on foot to the lower level and the boat ride.

Outside are several intriguing statues, among them the time machine and a little outdoors museum.

View from the upper gallery down to the lower

Lower cave

Sculpture the 'Time Machine'

Pictures from the grotto with permission of Pierre Zariffa.

Jerash/Jordan

I love history and I can climb around for hours in temple and settlements ruins, imagining the people of thousands of years ago walking around and attending to their every day business. A place where I could indulge in these fantasies to my heart’s content is the ancient town of Jerash, located approx. 30m north of Amman and considered the most important and best preserved  Roman city outside Italy.

The complex is vast and its most dramatic landmark is the remains of a triumphal arch erected between 129 and 130 when emperor Hadrian came to visit. Of political and economic importance in antiquity, Jerash was a flourishing city with temples to Artemis and other Gods, a hippodrome and public baths and everything else you would find in a Roman city.

In 749 AD a major earthquake destroyed much of the city, but luckily the ruins were covered in sand which is why they have been preserved in such a fantastic state.

Excavations are ongoing and you have the rare opportunity to watch archaeologists painstakingly digging , dusting and cataloguing their latest finds. A bit of entertainment is to be had too. If you are so inclined, you can watch a chariot  race in the hippodrome, performed by modern day ‘warriors’ in garish period costume.

Hadrian's triumphal arch

Temples up the hillside

Petra/Jordan

Petra doesn’t need many words of explanation. Everybody has heard about Petra and/or seen pictures. But, you need to be there and see for yourself to experience the unique ‘Ohhhh’ effect which comes when you walk through the narrow gorge, come to the end where it opens out and get the first glimpse of what’s known as ‘The Library’. A truly unforgettable moment which concludes my personal list of world wonders.

Coming out of the gorge

The Treasury

But, there is a very personal wonder #8: that at age 64, after many ups and downs in my life ,illnesses, accidents and broken bones, I’m still standing, going strong and ready to continue roaming the world in search of my next 7 wonders.

Traveling for a nip & tuck?

We travel the world for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is to enjoy other countries, submerge ourselves as far as possible into different cultures and to broaden our horizon. Then there is travel purely for R&R: to recharge our batteries, doing as little as possible, resting, eating, drinking and having fun.

The opposite is the business traveler. No rest there, it’s airport, hotel, meetings and back, often fighting jet lag and, sadly, seeing next to nothing of the fabulous sites which just whizz past our limo windows whilst our noses are buried in our laptop and the details of the next business deal. I know all about this, I have done it for years.

And lastly, there is a fast growing section which vaguely falls under the heading ‘medical tourism’. From hip transplants, to dental surgery, from tummy tucks to breast implants and face lifts, more and more exotic holiday destinations offer those in need of a certain amount of refurbishment the possibility of a luxury holiday combined with plastic surgery.

Among those countries are India, Malaysia, South Africa, the Philippines, some Eastern European countries and South America. The most important attraction of ‘medical tourism’ is that any kind of intervention costs a lot less than the same surgery for example in the United States or in the UK. Add to this a VIP treatment in a 5 star hotel and the possibility to use what little holidays a working person has to combine  relaxation with coming back looking years younger and the whole thing seems to be a no brainer. But….

By definition, a glamour granny has developed wrinkles, some flab and is slowly but steadily submitting to the forces of gravity. Equally by definition, she wants to look her best and therefore is determined to do something about it.

I write this post from my personal experience and point of view and therefore freely admit that I am in favor of a facelift. What I would never contemplate are breast implants and a tummy tuck. I have seen implants go terribly wrong and the idea of having a strange object inserted into my body terrifies me. Diet and constant exercise will go a long way of keeping flabby arms and a sagging tummy in check, but, let’s face it, there is no way of disguising wrinkles.

10 years ago, I just hated the wrinkles on my neck and the waddles under my chin and had a partial facelift. I loved the result and am still happy because it holds up ok. I lived in London at the time and did serious research into where to go. In the end I settled for a surgeon whose main specialty was restoring hands and faces in the burns unit of a leading London hospital. I reasoned that if he excelled in something like that he would be able to iron out a few wrinkles.

And this is exactly one of the points why I would never opt for plastic surgery in a foreign country. Only at home can you do proper research, go for more than one prior consultation and, as happened in my case, speak to other patients who kindly agree to talk to me.

The next point is the medical care during and after the operation and the moral support of your nearest and dearest which you should never underestimate. Even a partial face lift is a surgical intervention and there are always dangers with anesthetic, possible infections etc. Again, I can talk from my own experience. The operation went fine, I was in an excellent private hospital, but two hours after I woke up, I had a sudden crisis. My blood pressure dropped and I nearly lost consciousness. It didn’t last long and had to do with the anesthetic, but doctors and nurses stayed with me  until the crisis was over. I could never be sure that this would happen in a foreign country where the nurses may not even be able to understand me.(How do you say: I think I’m dying in Russian? Or Hindi?)

Sure, it cost a fair amount of money, but I went into the whole experience well prepared, was looked after properly, could recover in the comfort of my own home and go back for after care and treatment of the miniscule scars whenever needed.

Facelift on the beach somewhere exotic? Not for me. Should I ever feel the need to have ‘something else done’ , I will save until I have enough  money and be nipped and tucked on my home turf.

10 years later it still looks ok, no?

Why I love Gonomad

If there is one travel ezine I love to write for outside my own blog, it’s www.gonomad.com.

It features great and livley stories about the most interesting places on the planet and gives valuable practical advice about all aspects of travel too. Max and Steve, the boss men, reply to queries for contributions fast and have alwys an open ear for new ideas. They support their writers and I’m extremely happy to announce that I have just been given my very own ‘Inka page’.

Take a look and enjoy the great stories and fabulous pictures. Get inspired to plan your next trip.