Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Spain September 2019

Just back from a budget 4 night break to Spain.  We stayed at Melia Benidorm (collecting loyalty points) and flew with Easyjet.  This is the view from our floor into reception - all the 'gardens' are of rooted, living plants on each floor and are maintained by a daily gardener.  Our hotel is on the 'New Town' side which is full of lively bars and sky scraper hotels and where the original 'Benidorm' TV series was filmed (we visited Neptunes bar and The Palladium on our first night).


Our sons joined us and enjoyed the night life in the 'New Town' area, but we all preferred to spend time in the much prettier 'Old Town' which is full of little tapas bars and narrow, winding streets with rickety houses.



The weather wasn't great, there was torrential rain/lightening on arrival at Alicante and that evening we learned that Spain was experiencing the worst weather since 1978 with floods in Alicante and nearby areas although Benidorm itself was fine.  The Government issued a red alert so all the hotels that had trees were forced to close the pool and grounds due to potential storm damage, ours was therefore restricted for the best part of our stay and also the beach was red flagged so no swimming - the sea was very rough.  On our last day, Sunday, the red alert ended and we had sunshine all day and were allowed out to the poolside.

pool area closed, balcony was nearest we could get!





Below was a very pretty house with garden next to the famous Carrero del Gats
(alley of cats) I have tried but unable to find why it is called this! we only saw 2 cats here and they weren't telling.  It's right next to a lovely Dutch bar and seems to be famous not for cats but for giving a view of both beaches (Lavente and Poniente) if you stand in the middle of the alley and look left then right.







If you can't see the video below of the firework fiesta, I have uploaded one on Youtube here
(you will need to copy and paste the link below)






We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see a local fiesta of fireworks, it hadn't been advertised (the main Fiesta in Benidorm is not until November).  This started at 2am when tourists were scarse and appeared to be for locals only, police were present and also  Red Cross but it was peaceful, although you wouldn't get this close to fire in the UK.  People strap homemade metal contraptions to their backs and tape the fireworks on so that when lit they are like human catherine wheels with sparks flying out everywhere, there is much running and jumping in and out of fire along the route.  The procession went on for over an hour with pipers playing all the way round winding streets and ending in a spectacular display at the Centre of Old Town.  We joined the procession through the town, it was very smoky which is why some people had covered their heads/faces - I went to bed with my hair smelling of smoke and my arms smarting from stray sparks!





The reason for the fiesta was hard to fathom, the locals said it was 'Drunk Fire'  rooted in history of  the battles between the Moors and Christians, which took place over control of Spain in the 13th to 15th century.



We came to Benidorm in 1982 for our honeymoon, my inlaws came too (and also my 'boss' from work and his family!).  My in-laws were regular visitors over the years and liked this bar (Tony Moran's Bar Rumbo) in the Old Town - so of course we had to put in a visit once again - and here we are - 37 years later with our boys visiting for the first time to carry on the tradition, we got a very warm welcome as the original owners son still runs the bar!



These kind of bars are plentiful in the narrow streets of this area and known as Tapas bars as they offer traditional Spanish snacks like spicy meatballs, olives and crusty bread. 




This spectacular door is to the church of San Jaime and Santa Ana and is the oldest church in Benidorm, 18th Century.  Inside lies theVirgen del Sufragio, so called due to her intact discovery among the ashes of a ship in the year 1740.  In November the church door is surrounded by a halo of flowers.




So, a lack of pics of the beach due to the unexpected weather! but we still had a good time.  Here's the view from the Old Town looking across the beach to the New Town.


p.s.  I decided to keep my other blog Betty-thewoodfairy going after all for all things mostly un travel related :)




Sunday, 1 September 2019

Cape Verde


 It takes a long time to become young:  Pablo Picasso


We visited Cape Verde for a week in February 2019 to celebrate my 60th birthday. Travelling from the UK it is a short. direct flight, guaranteed sunshine and complete relaxation, a treat from hubby to feel totally pampered on my birthday we stayed a week, which is enough, if you have itchy feet like me!



Cape Verde is in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Western Coast of Africa close to Senegal and Gambia and approximately a 6 hour flight from the UK.   It's  amongst an archipelego of islands forming the crossroads to Europe and belonging to the Macaronesia Region.




When we visited, it was the beginning of the International wind surfing championships, but you would never have known (no promotional leaflets/info from the hotel) many professional surfers were there for the  GKA Championships.  The sea was, literally, ferocious, some parts of the beach were out of bounds to tourists with waves as high as houses.  We were disappointed that we were not able to swim in the sea at all (although at the public beach down town the locals were fearlessly doing so).  Nonetheless, the championships took place further into town and many coloured surfboards could be seen daily from our location as the championships went ahead.  Infact, on a visit into town, it became apparent that the locals from age 6 are more than capable of handling the waves and the public beaches were full of youngsters practicing their moves on surf boards - they could definitely promote Cape Verde as a destination for extreme sports!!! 


the beach at Sal. not safe for swimming Feb 2019







We stayed in Sal, where there is very little vegetation and considerable poverty outside the hotels.  Food is imported, mainly for the tourist palate.  Our hotel would get a container shipped in fortnightly and the contents would be mostly unknown, so the chefs had to devise a menu around what came in.  Outside the hotel they grow little more than a few vegetables over 11% of the land for their own domestic comsumption (corn/casava).  The island is volcanic and barren.  We had plenty to eat being rich tourists, but it weighed heavily on my conscience, as there is a stark contrast between the reality outside and the luxury of tourism within our hotel, it's very tangible. 



 
the road into Sal












That said we had a wonderful holiday on sandy beaches in an all inclusive environment, cared for by staff who were attentive, all of which we signed up for on this trip.  This was not much of an adventure, just total relaxation.







 

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Istanbul

 Hi folks, this blog is all about travel plans and adventures past and future, hope you will enjoy it.  Come and join me (use the follower button) leave a comment so I know you are there, thanks!


 🛪


Here is a link for you to cut and paste that takes you to Youtube.com and a very brief video of what we saw in Istanbul, Turkey. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vV2wNoxPqo&list=PLMDXD-Fgw64_Qk9wpeSwaLkR6iLYfuVp6

 ''We' is always me with my hubby, who is mostly in charge of the camera (and the budget!).



We flew to Istanbul during Ramadan.  Everywhere was crowded, especially the park around the Blue Mosque, where many families came in the evenings to eat dinner after sundown.  There was a fabulous atmosphere as in the late afternoon/evening the park was packed with thousands of people.  Lots  of interesting food was being set out on huge sheets, toys for children, cushions and blankets. The women spent ages arranging place settings, fruit and water on the picnic sheets while more and more people arrived.  We stayed quite late watching as our beautiful little guest house,although tucked away, was within walking distance of the Blue Mosque.  We were aware that there had been a previous terrorist incident here and I honestly did not even think about this, everything was very peaceful although police were very visible.



We  stayed at Yusuf Pasakonagi in Istanbul  very near the Blue Mosque.  The staff there are extremely friendly (so are the local cats).  It's next to a fish restaurant but there is no odour, just a lot of friendly cats wandering around looking hopeful. As a veggie I didn't eat there but it was popular.



A gem tucked away down a cobbled road, neighbours were little old ladies in wonky wooden houses and a duck with his own paddling pool.




We ate in local cafes, sometimes outdoors, we ate baclava in the rain under plastic covering, snacks in the market and main meals in cafes (no alcohol mainly, most places are unlicensed unless you go to tourist restuarants, which we avoided).  Some cafes had blankets on the chairs to snuggle up in, it was chilly when the sun went down.  Below is some street food we ate next to the tramline in a busy place where there was a long queue at a canteen style place opening on to the road, we were seated at basic metal chairs/tables on the pavement alongside trams whizzing past! you had to keep your elbows in!


Below was a 'sandwich' I enjoyed which was a cheese filled pastry, it was just the job for a quick snack.  Everything, no matter how small, fast or simple, was served with care and presented nicely wherever we went.


Below is a Turkish pizza (we call it Turkish slipper!) and in the background some lovely crisp, hollow bread that was hot and delicious.




After rain for 2 days  our last day was gloriously sunny.  It was a celebration of Attaturk that weekend and all public transport was free.  We took the tram and then the ferry over the Bospherous to the other side of Istanbul to explore the food market. To see more of that you need to go to my video link at the top of the post.  In the markets we found a whole road would be devoted to each product, so you would get a road of dried fruits, a road of pots and pans, a road of nuts and pulses, and so on.  The colours, smells and sounds are intense, the vendors want to invite you in to buy and are persistent, but we like this and don't mind at all.




window of blue mosque (photographs prohibited within)
 The blue Mosque looked more of a soft grey to my eye but I can imagine in certain lights it would appear blue.  It has presence, you can feel it is there, even without looking at it. It is, indeed, a special place and I can understand why so many faithful flock here. It is undergoing extensive rennovation but its beauty was accessible.  Inside it was cool and calm, photography was discouraged and not allowed at all during prayers though, so I only took a snap or two of the fabulous stained glass, it was very dark in there.  It smelled of wood, you take your shoes off and walk on soft, red carpet.    The exquisite tiling inside and stained glass windows were worth the long queue to get in.


Inside the Basilica

The Basilica was cool, a great place to go when you are overheated.  It was crowded though and I had to wait a long time to get this lovely pic of Medusa washing her hair.  It was drained of the water when we visited as undergoing repair/rennovation, but that did not detract at all from it's beauty.  In fact, it enabled us to see in detail the various chambers. 


We visited the spice market twice, because we love the atmosphere, smells and sounds.  People are so friendly and interesting, young lads keen to direct you to their family carpet shops just cant be ignored, learning multiple languages to engage with us tourists, we felt they deserved our attention, we didn't want to buy carpets but we appreciated their efforts.  They will happily walk with you chatting for some time in the hope you will return to them.  Some are from rural areas (a tulip farmer,  sheep farmer and a chap from the Atlas mountains) visiting just like us tourists for the Summer and not seeing their families for months.



We discovered delicious pomegranate syrup to drizzle on salad,... turkish pastry filled with potato and spinach, fresh hummus served with flat bread and olive oil, home made lemonade and a dish called teste, a kind of stew slow cooked in an earthenware pot of delicious vegetables, caramelised with intense natural flavour, warm and filling.  There are various meat versions too.

We used the public tram and ferry to get across the Bosphrous.  It's crammed but fun.  The weekend we visited there was free travel on all transport (we still had to get a ticket but people were very helpful, no problems at all).


More food!  kebabs in the market and below people preparing to break their fast at sundown during Ramadan, it gets dark after 9pm but long before that thousands of people are here with their picnics spread out, preparing to eat together, there is music (men only) and everyone is very happy.



in the market, nuts and pulses

in the market, spices



We like fairly active holidays and did lots of exploring, but still had time for calm evenings watching the cats outside our hotel and sipping a cold beer.  I would stay at the same guest house if I returned, mainly for it's proximity but also the friendly staff, it had a traditional bathroom where you wash over a bowl with running water.



Bed was comfy and breakfast was delicious (continental, help yourself).  What shone the most was the staff, young people, mostly University students, working very hard but always with a smile.

traditiional shower facilities





Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Hong Kong



 We spent four nights in Hong Kong at the Harbour Grand Hotel, this was our fourth trip but we had not been since 1994.  We found a new airport, many new buildings and the disappearance of red, British, post boxes (presumably due to the hand over to China).  Not much else had changed.



Star Ferry


We used the MTR (mass transit railway) to Central and then the Star Ferry across Hong Kong Bay to Hong Kong Mainland - Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry. The main shopping area is known as Kowloon and most places of interest are on or near Jordan and Nathan Roads.


We took a nostalgia trip to Chunking Mansions on Nathan Road.  According to  Wikepedia over 4,000 people live in this block and it is 'nearly the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong'.  This tower block is somewhere you would either steer clear of or go out of your way to find depending on whether you like small, crowded spaces that smell strongly of curry and spice!  We expected to find it had been demolished but were ecstatic to see it looming in all its shabbiness as we love exploring in there and have enjoyed curries there on previous trips.




It is a hive of activity. The upper floors have a variety of rooms/rentals, middle floors are restaurants and lower/ground are a warren of small Chinese/Asian shops and booths selling fast food, electronics, household, haircuts, toiletries, shoes, clothes, anything and everything in a very compact environment.  The traders, predominantly Asian, call out and do their best to engage, asking what you are looking for and assuring you they or someone they know can provide it.



From here we had forgotten the way to the Bird Market and had heard from some locals that it may have closed down due to bird flu scares so walked up to the police station for reassurance and directions.  Just one stop on the MTR to Mongkok and we were there.  It had been modernised slightly with new seating and hanging space for cages.






Some of the older local men take great pride in their birds and bring them along to compete in their birdsong, hanging the little wicker cages up in a row and sitting down to admire and socialise.  This is also where song birds are sold and tiny newly hatched birds can be seen hand feeding from vendors.  The cages and pretty china feeding bowls are also sold here and the live food for the birds.





Next is the flower market, very close to the bird market, where wholesale and retail shops take over a whole road, crammed with every kind of floral bouquet, display and houseplant you can imagine.  Orchids are very cheap here and I saw varieties that were new to me.  In particular, tiny little yellow ones.  Elderly street vendors sell ribbons and gift cards.


yellow orchids


The Ladies Market is just off here and is full of cheap clothes and trinkets, visited by a large mix of locals and tourists.  About a mile walk from here is the Night Market which is similar but much bigger and also has fast/live food (frogs, fish, etc) and small street cafes with communal tables outside where we drank beer and observed what the locals were eating (noodles,meat and vegetables in a clear broth).  










Back in Kowloon we found the famous Sam's tailors (suits made for royalty and stars) and then sought out what is locally known as 'Bhuddist Food',  vegetarian restuarants that offer meat substitute dishes made from taro which is similar in texture to soya or quorn protein and shaped/flavoured to look like just about anything.  Meat eaters could be confused as the menu will state the dish the taro resembles and it is very authentic : i.e. chicken, fish, liver, beef, pork.




We had sweet and sour 'chicken'  Here the dessert was a goodwill freebie but we had no idea what it was and nobody could tell us!  Meals in this type of place are around £7 a person for a main course with rice, shared side dish of vegetables and a pot of Chinese tea.



unknown dessert




Back at our hotel we had a luxurious room with a bath and shower, view of the Harbour (extensive building works going on) and a sunny spot by the pool.  We only ate breakfast here but it was substantial: vegetable and lentil curries, a variety of croissants and pastries, cereals and full English breakfast to choose from.  Just round the corner there was a kiosk where we ate falafel, salad wraps (standing up booth) for a few dollars and a supermarket where we stocked up on bottled water, crisps and made cheese sandwiches up in the room for late night snacks!





Street food:  I saw a queue of locals at a stall for what I thought was tiny donuts being deep fried, placed on skewers and smothered in chocolate sauce (I asked for lots of sauce!), having eaten half of mine I asked some youngsters what it was and they couldn't stop laughing when I told them I'm veggie as it was fish balls in gravy! not pleasant to my taste but all part of the experience! I finished it off with good grace :)




fish balls in gravy

Hong Kong has something for everyone.  There is a tram ride to the highest point (The Peak) for fabulous views over Hong Kong) and Stanley (small beach area) but we ran out of time and luckily had seen before.

That's it ... until the next trip!.....