That’s Bosphorus!

Enter Istanbul into google search today, and you are met with news articles and images of protests. Here’s a different story I would like to narrate of this wonderful city. One that it told me itself, through its colours, its smells, its streets, and its people.

So last month I visited Istanbul with a few friends on mine. We pre-booked an inexpensive apartment near the Galata Tower and the apartment owner also organised a pick-up and drop off to and from the airport for an additional cost. The ride took us through narrow lanes and lovely tiny shops that seemed to be open at 11 pm. So we asked the driver till what time the shops around here were open.

He turned, nodded and said “Yes yes”

That was that. We realised he spoke no English, and went back to minding our own business (which was quite a noisy affair given we were four girls). All of a sudden, when the road couldn’t get any narrower or darker, he came to a sudden halt before two scrawny, pierced and tattooed men. One of them went up to the driver’s window, they exchanged a couple of words in Turkish. He then came to the back of the van, swinging open our door and grinned at us in a very ‘Stan Shunpikey‘ manner.

Stan: He said you had question

We: Erm…till when are the shops around here open, you know, like for shopping?

Stan: Yes yes. Shopping; clothes, spices, everything (remember again, this was 11:30 pm)

We (tapping our wrist): Till what time. When shop close?

Stan: Yes yes.

We: Okay thank you

Stan: And if you want tattoo, you know where to find me

We: *slam van door*

We were relieved when we safely got into our apartment.

The dark narrow lanes…

ImageOur home sweet home for four days

ImageNext morning, we woke up the explore the city. The location of our apartment was perfect. Its streets were filled with eclectic boutiques, galleries and shops: where traditional met modern. The cafe we chose for breakfast had the most adorable setting and looked almost Parisian. The waiter there was friendly, a bit too friendly at times and kept referring to us as Michelle Obama, Angelina Jolie, Lady Gaga, and …I don’t remember the last one. But the ambiance and food won us over, and there we went every day for our dose of morning caffeine.

ImageOur wandering further took us up the stairs of the Galata tower. A bright sunny day and no cloud in the sky. The city of Istanbul spread out below in all its glory. The very amateur photographer in me went berserk.

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Later it was the Grand Bazaar. It’s not just the best place to collect little trinkets (and fake luxury goods if you are into that), but its a great place to experience some bizarre salesmanship.

Scenario – An English friend of mine of Indian descent walks into a scarf stall. The shopkeeper turns to her and starts bobbing his head from side to side and asks her in what I can only guess to be his sorry attempt at an Indian accent, “Yes yes lady. Follow me, follow me. Cheap scarf, good price.” You guessed it, he did not make that sale.

But once you take the craziness in, its truly a shopping haven. Just do not forget to brush up on your bargaining skills before you get here. The array of colours and scents only add to wonderful experience.

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The walk further took us to an architectural marvel – the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Blue Mosque. Bring a scarf along to cover your head if you want to go inside the mosque, or buy one of the pretty ones so cleverly sold just outside the mosque.

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Neighbouring it, is the beauty Hagia Sophia – formerly and church, then a mosque and museum.

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The waters of Istanbul are not one to miss. It entices you with its beauty and captures you by its elegant movement. We had two encounters with the waters. One, a short tour through the Bosphorus river (This name has really stuck with me. I do hope it becomes an adjective one day) and a journey to the Prince Islands.

If you do decide to do one of the tours, it may be a great idea to completely switch off and take in the lovely sights of nature.

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ImageLife on the bridges

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Gastronomy tales – The food is finger licking good! Try kebabs, fish, or continental cuisines. The array of fancy terrace restaurants, local food stalls and cafes will keep you coming back for more. The Turkish tea and coffee is not to be missed at any cost. Just don’t be surprised if the waiter at the cafe suddenly inverts your coffee cup andย  starts reading out your fortune to you. (this could actually take up to an hour, so start thinking of excuses to get away without seeming rude). Two places you must check out simply to relax and have a good chat with friends are 360 and Midpoint.

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ImageImageSome seafood on Prince Island? Hell yeah!

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Never-ending nightlife – The people know how to party. Luckily for us we had two local guides. I had met two people from Istanbul during my travels to Valencia, Spain, and they took us around to some of the coolest pubs and clubs. The club seems full? Not an issue in Istanbul: they will just get their speakers out on the streets and start partying there.

ImageWalk the streets – Every little street, lane, path of Istanbul has something to offer. Be it a hidden art gallery or brazen graffiti on the street corners. Istanbul is a mesh of culture, colour and creativity. The people are very friendly and helpful and you will always feel welcomed here. So pack up and head there, but remember to pack light, as you will not return without filling your bags with much more than just Istanbul memories.

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Water water everywhere

The sun seems to be up for some fun. It’s been playing a game of hide and seek for these past couple of days.

Today, it decided to be a little kind and share some of its warmth with us. So as I was lounging around my balcony with a book, I felt like a cold beverage. I did not care much for juice, but was longing for something refreshing without too strong a flavour.

I then remembered the time I was invited to my colleague’s place for dinner. She has a lovely apartment in the midst of a quiet neighbourhood. Though the house and the food was great, what really caught my eye was the water jug. Strange, I know; but don’t you feel like there are times when nothing quenches your thirst like a glass of water? And water is supposed to have all these health benefits going with it as well ๐Ÿ™‚

She had thrown in some pieces of fruits in it and the taste was lovely. So while on my balcony, I thought to myself, well, why not?

I picked up two flasks or bottles (well, what’s in a name). In one I threw in some raspberries and in the other, limes. It adds flavour to the water without making it artificial. And if you pick the right flasks, they make for lovely home decor pieces and look great perched there on the dining table.

So the next time you have guests, why merely serve them just plain boring water? Just fruit it up ๐Ÿ™‚

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Dangle all the way

You know those times when you have tried taking one tiny thing from a shelf and you are greeted by an avalanche? It’s happened to me to – with cans, jewellery, books…argh – nightmare.

One of my major banes has been small space and too many shiny, blingy, dangly objects. All those bangles, bracelets, necklaces, scarves, belts – what does one do with them when they are not being worn? I tried jewellery boxes; but they prompty take it upon themselves to entangle anything that goes in. I swear I can hear a sinister laugh every time I have opened a box – “Ha you just try taking out that lovely earring.”

Well, one day I would love to have a Chronicle of Narnia-esque walk-in wardrobe where everything would have its own special place. Till then, I had to discover some make shift DIY organisational ideas.

DANGLE ‘EM…

1. For bangles, I had first made a jewellery tree from some twigs I found in the garden. I then bought this lovely bangle stand from an exhibition. It’s so simple, and I love the colour of the wood.Image

2. For my necklaces, I first tried suspending them from a clothes hanger. Not overly convenient. I then took a simple pin-board, bought some lovely wallpaper and board pins. Easy to use and instantly adds a pop of colour to the room ๐Ÿ™‚

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3. Belts – my my my. What does one do with them? I quite like to stow them away in my wardrobe and not display them from tie-racks on doors. Again, I tried a coat hanger, but the moment I tried pulling out one belt, the whole pile of them would fall at my feet. I then found this really strange looking hanger. I still don’t know what it’s actually meant for. But it’s just so simple to slip in those belts and hang them in the wardrobe. Each belt now has its own separate place.

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4. At first scarves went into drawers. And then I found this really inexpensive ringed hanger. Fits easily in the wardrobe too.

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So these are a few of my favourite things – well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. But there’s some ways to organise things in a tiny space. Trending without spending anyone?

Polska dots

Easter time across Europe. And days off work. yay!

Spring however is no where to be seen. Wind, snow and rain have joined forces against the sun to ensure that the sky is kept grey at all times. You would think that one might choose a lovely warm place to travel to at this time. Well, nope. We chose Poland. Was it cold? yes. Was it grey? yes. Did we regret it. Nuh…uh. and here’s why…

Wroclaw…pronounced as ‘vrษ”tอกswaf’ (ha, now try saying that) is a lovely place tucked away in Poland. Our decision to head here was based on mere chance. For those who do not already know, a great way to travel around Europe is carpooling. It’s also a good way to get some inside info, if it’s a local that’s driving you down. We found six seats to take us to Wroclaw, and that was how the destination was decided. Our chauffeur for the day was a sarcastic, chatty, friendly Polish person (who also accompanied us on our pub crawl later)

Accommodation is not that expensive either. Our abode for four days was Hostel Wartislavia. Helpful staff and a clean, friendly space.

Say hello to our leggy roomie ๐Ÿ™‚

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An easy way to acquaint yourself with the city is to join the free walking tours. The walk took us through many enchanting lanes and sights. Awe-inspiring architecture, breath-taking bridges, cool graffiti, and not to forget the mysterious gnomes that keep appearing around nooks and corners of the city.

Concrete tales. Tall and proud. What news from the past?

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Red, yellow, green. A new world that remains to be seen.

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Mysterious gnomes. What mischief have you been up to today?

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The world’s your canvas – Street Art

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So that was the planned, touristy bit. When in Poland, be prepared for randomness, and for this local acquaintances come in quite handy. On our second day in Wroclaw, our ride from the previous day, called to let us know that he is coming to our hostel to take us to a ‘cool’ pub he has never visited and an ‘alternative’ concert from a band he has never heard of. Well, why not.

The pub was pretty charming, especially the window, which was a pane covered with a raincoat. The music was…alternative. It revolved around the musicians throwing sticks and plates around, while screaming into the microphone at regular intervals. You grow into it after a while, really, you do.

The streets too at times reflected this randomness that I have come to associate with and like about Poland. (Don’t be surprised if you ask a local for something and their answer – just to sum up – reflects, “Maybe, may not be, we’ll see.”)

Randomness

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There are also a number of cosy places to grab a quick bite.

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A lovely set-up for cup cakes and ice-cream (and yes it was cold, brr)

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Candy earrings anyone?

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Wroclaw was truly two worlds – tall, old churches and screaming graffiti. Grey unadorned blocks and elegant ornate buildings. An unexpected journey, laughter, card games, quiet walks, fun times, crazy friends, – all one needs is to point to a place on a map. Wonder what the next destination should be. Any thoughts?

Nature holds the answers

Moving to a new place?

Now if moving isn’t a great ordeal in itself, imagine coming home to empty white walls and a hollow echo. It’s those first few days of moving into a new apartment. Even if it’s a furnished place, the place is just so not….well…you, right?

What did I do when I first moved to my new home (it’s not that new anymore); I took a walk. There’s a nice little park by my place, and that turned out to be the inspiration for my first few wall decors.

Take a look.

I needed something pretty near the bed. Autumn said she’d help. She gave me some dried leaves and grass. The flower came from a chocolate box, and the butterfly from some old packaging. Doesn’t it make the wall picture perfect?

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Yellow simply brightens up a place. And those shadows form a lovely pattern…

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And the best part, they look the same forever. Easy, elegant and not a penny spent ๐Ÿ™‚

Interpretations

Pictures – they speak a thousand words, or so people say. What is it that pictures try to tell us then? What was going on in the mind of the artist, the photographer, or the creator of a picture? Is it just memories, or some deep dark desires so closely entwined with emotions; there comes a time when one can only stop and bewilder: is reality plain imagination, or imagination the sole reality…

How long is the wait
Are hopes in vain?
The light shines bright
Even through the pain

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Many faces
Single
soul
A thousand pieces
To complete the whole

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A soft cage
Rise strong
Thorns can’t hurt
Being born, being born

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Dance if you will
Look
fear in the face
The cat will stare
Just own the space

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A fallen angel
A risen devil
With nothing you come
Nothing shall you take back

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Hidden revelation
Mysterious openness
When the eyes do the talking
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The search ends
When the true journey begins…

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Colour
Black and white
So much is concealed
When wisdom is revealed

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Words are just runes, lines, curves, dots…so easily torn, so simply removed. Erased, washed off. After all words are pictures too – designs, symbols. A widow, open it if you dare…open it if you care…

From Barca with love

February – crazy month at work. I knew if I had to pull together the few strands of sanity I had left, I needed some days off. So off I went to sunny Spain. I have a couple of friends there and another friend from Sweden came down as well.

Is March the best time to visit Barcelona? Hmm….debatable. But it’s never the wrong time to visit people whose company you really enjoy now, is it? So the first week of March it was.

Beware of pickpockets they said. You could get robbed they said. Well, they didn’t, and my wallet did get stolen on day 1. An earnest tip – Beware of pickpockets. Though a slight setback to what could have been an exciting start, I was ready to welcome the city with open arms. (Though now I always walked with a hunch, holding my precious bag in a tight embrace.)

So, Barcelona – I was there for four days amongst decent sunshine, good food and great company. The public transport there is fairly simple. And if you are the typical tourist, you could happily hop onย  to one of their hop on hop off buses that takes you on two routes, comprising an hour each.

We walked or rode the metros.

Some impressions…

First stop – police station ๐Ÿ™‚ It was situated at the Catalunya metro station. The view above it was ace though.

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Next we randomly passed by a poster for a photo exhibition. Self-portraits of Alberto Garcia Alix. Fascinatingly disturbing…

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Our wandering also took us to a fish market. Imagine trying to maneuver through the crowd, when a person just runs past you with a dead skinned pig propped on his shoulder. No bag for the pig. No gloves for his hands…#shakingoffdisgust

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The lovely, lonely lanes beckon. Would you dare?

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Waters blue, still and quiet, peaceful… dangerously peaceful

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A new city, a new perspective

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Street artists are no novelty in Barcelona. Some want to paint themselves and pretend to be stone. Others embrace movement.

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Do they ever have this place without scaffolding?

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Ooh…and the food, lovely. You would never run out off tapas places. Tapas and Sangria…that’s life. We also visited a Chinese restaurant where some of my braver friends tried frog legs and pig intestines. Be prepared for some chilled out service though. The word hurry does not exist in the Barca dictionary.

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Sunshine and beaches. We then took the train down to this beach called Sitges. As it was not peak tourist season, it was not crowded at all. Wasn’t warm enough for a swim, but sunny enough to sit by the sea and read…

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The nights were occupied by pub hopping, and I am pretty sure we did go clubbing at some point of time. Great place to have a good time.

To sum it up, a great time. Would I go back there anytime soon…doubt it, but only because there are so many other places I am absolutely dying to see. But fear not Barca. I do really like you. I am sure we will meet again pretty soon