Sunday, 23 September 2012

Valencia, where glamour meets grunge

I arrived in Valencia ears popping and slightly dizzy, the fast train from Madrid ticked along at around 300km an hour ... enough to make me as woozy as a glass or three of local sangria.

I checked into the fabulous Home Hostel in the old quarter then hit the streets. I only had two days in this city so wanted to squeeze as much in as possible.

After Madrid, I wasn't sure what to expect of Valencia (I'm undecided about Madrid so am parking that post till I get back there). Being the third largest city in Spain, I didn't expect Valencia to have the 'in your face' appeal of Madrid or the edginess of Barcelona .... but it had all that and more.

My first stop was the local market, Mercado Central. An amazing building full of glamour and old world charm and also full of colours and smells. I gave the fish and offal annexes a very wide berth and headed for the fruit stalls.

I walked through the centre of town amazed, so clean, so ornate, so grand. So many statues.

I was impressed.

I then headed across Jardines del Turia. This amazing series of gardens and parks running through the town has been built on the bed of the former Rio Turia. The course of the river was diverted in the '70s after the town was once again devasted by flooding. I think I even spotted a gum tree. Is it??

What I found across the park was something quite out of place with the rest of the city. The Ciudad de las Artesian y las Ciencias, or the unfancy name of City of Arts and Sciences is a series of stark, contemporary buildings. All very white and shiny really.

The buildings have fancy new age names, but basically there is an aquarium, a concert hall, an IMAX (called Hemisferic would you believe) and a science museum.

The architecture of these buildings is truly amazing and many believe that they have given Valencia the contemporary edge it needed, but to me it felt a bit too over the top, a bit too try hard even. So I headed back to the old quarter for a rest from the bright shiny things.

The Cathedral stands grand and proud over the Plaza de la Reina. The building is a combination of roman, gothic and baroque architecture.

The Cathedral is home to what is claimed to be the Holy Grail, the chalice which Jesus drank from at the last supper. I was so in awe ... or maybe a little busy amusing myself with memories from Monty Python, that I didn't take a photo. Oops.

Anyways, it was time to dig around the back streets of the old quarter. Paved windy streets full of funky little cafes and shops, people laughing and happy to be living in this place.

The people in this city are very cool in a relax kind of way. And they party. Things don't really get going until around 11pm, and that's just dinner.

And the coolest thing about this grand city is the street art. Every shop roller door, pulled down during afternoon siesta, is an artwork. Valencia really is glamour meets grunge at it's best .... and none of it is try hard.

Posted from somewhere round the world...

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Saying goodbye to Istanbul

I decided to leave my visit to Topkapi Palace to my last day in Istanbul. I wanted to say goodbye to this amazing city in style.

This palace has a history of colorful stories and was the home of my new hero Selim the Sot. Why is this dude my hero ... well besides the very cool name, he managed to drown after drinking a skinful of champers. There are much worse ways to go ... gotta love a bubbles drinker.

Work on the palace commenced in 1453 and it was home to a whole load of sultans until the nineteenth century when they built somewhere better can you believe.

The palace is enormous and is made up of four courtyards. The first courtyard was open to anyone, the second to people visiting on business, and the others to the sultan, family and staff. The courtyards get more opulent as you move through them.

My favorite section was the Harem ... the hang out for the sultan when he wanted to party.

The eunuchs, poor dudes with their lopped off bits, had their own area within the harem but it wasn't half as fancy as that of the concubines.

The buildings within the third courtyard were built in the 16th century and were plush indeed.

The fourth courtyard is uber plush and has very cool views.

You've gotta love a place that is full of decadence and good times ... and these guys were masters of both.

Posted from somewhere round the world...

Saturday, 15 September 2012

I've woken up on another planet

Another night, another overnight bus. Somehow when I was making my travel plans around Turkey, I thought night buses were a good idea, I would save money on accommodation and buses in Turkey are way better than buses in India ......

Anyways, it's stupid o'clock and I've crawled off my overnight bus from Antalya onto a shuttle. I've no idea how long this trip is, so fall straight back to sleep - even with the crazy Aussie dude full of head cold parked beside me.

Next thing I hear a weird low hissing noise, so I open my bleary eyes and am amazed. The sky is full of hot air balloons drifting over a moon-like landscape.

If I didn't know better, I would assume I've woken up on another planet.

The town of Goreme, my home for the next few days, is like nothing I've ever seen before. I just kinda stare around with my jaw hanging open. I'd read about this place but no words can prepare you for the amazing sights of Cappadocia.

I settle into my cave room, yep that's right, my home for the next few days is built into the rocks. It's very cool, in both senses of the word.

The amazing landscape was formed by various volcanic eruptions with the underlying rock softer then the top so caves were formed.

There are houses built in the rocks everywhere and even underground towns, thought to be built by the Byzantines and fleeing Christians between the 4th and 11th centuries.

The colours of the rocks and formations are different across Cappadocia.

There are loads of fairy chimneys, rock formations created by layers of lava and loads of erosion.

I had an amazing adventure exploring Cappadocia, made even better by exploring with crazy new friends.

Posted from somewhere round the world...