Whenever we go on an adventure, I always pack my sketchbook. This one is nearly full. As you can see, Lottie added her version of the trip. I unfortunately don’t remember the unicorns. Oh to occupy her imagination. It would either be completely magical or incredibly horrifying (seen through adult eyes).
Awhile ago, my little Swedish friend Anna and I went on an adventure to Istanbul. The trip was full of gorgeous scenery, amazing architecture and food that made me change from ‘Mexican is my favourite food’ to ‘give me mezze! Mezze! Mezze!’ But no baclava. I ate so much of the stuff whilst I was in Turkey that my stomach now turns when I catch sight ofthe gooey mess of syrup at my local Turkish restaurant.
Unbeknownst so us (can something be ‘knownst’?), the part of the city Anna and I visited, the Spice Bazaar and the area surrounding the New Mosque, were that very day being used to shoot scenes for Skyfall. Our first clue was when we spied the heavies and their 007 security badges. Initially, we thought it was a very unimaginative security crew, naming themselves after a British institution. When we ventured towards the New Mosque, this is what we saw:
It seems that months and months have passed while I have waited in antici…pation to see where Istanbul featured in the new Bond flick. The throngs of people and the buzz of the streets were brilliantly captured in the movie. The fact that it starts with Istanbul then swoops over the hard cut hills of the highlands of Scotland firmly placed this movie in my top three of the Bond franchise. It didn’t even need to have a plot. The settings did it for me.
Ghent. Or Gent. Depends where you’re standing and which sign you’re looking at. It’s in Belgium – a fact that I learned hours before embarking on another adventure. For some days I had thought Ghent lived in The Netherlands. Oops. My geography isn’t so good, which isn’t very surprising when you consider from which nation I originated.
And so. The days went splendidly. They mostly circled around jaunts up and down cobbled streets, drinking Bavik, eating Frituurs of many sauces supplied by Josef, sifting through indie clothes stores, and eating Belgium chocolate. Is there really anything else worth doing when one is surrounded by all these pleasant things?
Although Ghent in itself is super fabulous to visit, our journey took us to the Brooderie, where Jimmy’s pop up exhibition was coming to a close. The tale of how this exhibition came about is a wonderful story; one which I’m not going to tell here as I feel it is up to the artist to weave his/her own interesting tales. This is the artist’s display on the fine walls of that splendid establishment:
Our visit happily coincided (without plan and love it when that happens) with the Ghent Film Festival. The strand of many days and nights showing films galore ended with ‘The Sound of Belgium,’ a short trailor of which you can see by clicking on the word: technofabulous.
The story unfolded with a very concise history-of-s0rts of Belgium and its changing names and borders throughout the years before it finally latched onto its current name and dimensions in 18, uhm, 30-something. A European country younger than the states?! I’m astonished. *Note – I barely passed History, so if there are several more countries of this description, please just pass over the previous statement and pretend it never happened.
The video was screened in the Vooruit, which is this gorgeous monster of a building, standing tall on a hill, looking down at the side streets and shops and possibly thinking ‘Yeah, whatevers. I’m so much cooler than you.’ The Vooruit is also within striking range of the Book Tower. Look on and be amazed!
As for our digs, we stayed in a furniture store. This wasn’t just any furniture store – this was a furniture store with a difference. Big, broad wooden floorboards lead into three different levels. The banister must have been hundreds of years old as it felt smooth and warn and was at one point braced for stability with the use of a medal rod. The offerings in-store were of a sought after vintage variety. Popping red upholstery on beautifully made wooden chairs. Massive posters in frames. Lamps for floors and ceilings. It was brilliant. I was taken back to my childhood as I grew up in my parents’ furniture store. My fondest memories involve me drawing inside a refrigerator box. Said boxes are massive when you are ten and have crayons and time on your hands.
There is so much more to say and show. I think it is certainly worth exploring for yourself.
This is your happy little travel guide signing off.
Portugal. It’s a destination I have wanted to make happen for quite a number of years. First plans to take steps on that soil were devised back when I was visiting my good friend Seraina in Switzerland over ten years ago. We had schemed. We had plotted. But alas, it wasn’t a trip meant for my Swiss Miss friend and I. Portugal as destination resurfaced a couple of months ago and it was to that blessed sun baked land where Jimmy and I found ourselves having a smashing good time.
The second I felt the dry heat hit my face when I left the aircraft, I thanked all the things that I believed in for making this trip happen. Thank God. Thank you to Jimmy for making it happen by acting on ideas, turning them into plans then adventure. Thank whatever string of events that took me there. Thank a fluctuating work schedule and a overly hectic last few months. I was happy. Although I have an affinity for Edinburgh (you dark, brooding beast of a city with your sturdy architecture and inspiring skylines) it was nice to vacate the darkening premises and seek some heat and sun.
Hello Peniche and Baleal, surf camp central. I had never gone to a surfers destination before.
I am happy to report that I did not die in my attempt to boogie board. Let me lay it down like this: The first time I saw the ocean was on a family trip to California when I was 8. The second time I saw the ocean was when I went to the east coast at the ripe old age of 22. When I moved to the UK ten years ago, the fact that I could see the sea so easily and frequently nearly made my head explode from the possibility. My trip to Portugal was perfect opportunity to not only step out into the ocean, but to try to swim around in it a bit. And perhaps flail about on a board and hope for the best. Attempting to upright myself on a broad spear of death (surfboard) was a bit too much for this midwestern girl, so instead I attempted the body board.
Jimmy developed a 3 step programme to help me to come to grips with the waves that, when viewed from the beach seem beautiful and calming, but when standing in the water watching them approach with force seem anything but peaceful. After a couple of days of swimming through waves and torpedoing through the water, I was ready to wet suit up and get on that board. I was taken down, spun around like I was trapped in a washing machine on super spin cycle, but every time I popped back up. I did have one good day of boogie boarding, happily being washed up on shore after riding moderately impressive waves. Go me. Go surf lingo. Unfortunately, the ‘swell’ was too ‘gnarly’ on my last day. I was battered around a bit then retreated. No shame in it. I’m still learning.
To aid in mobility, we rented for ourselves a groovy little scooter from Wildside Surf rentals. They were ace and you should go there for all your moped and surf gear needs. Oh, how that was a game changer for our time in Peniche. Instead of it just being time in Peniche, it was also time around the rocky coastline of the peninsula where Peniche is nestled, over to Baleal and its sandy causeway, on inland to the medieval town of Obidos, complete with castle, through forest and through village. It. Was. Ace.
Usually when going away on holiday, I try to think what I can take back with me when I return to normal life. I try to tune in more to the new surroundings, try to take in as much as a wee little tourist can, try to take in the weather of it, the colour of it, the flavours and the feel. The buildings were often painted in zinging lemony yellow shades, fresh greens, or decked out in tiling that seemed to be reminiscent of patterns from the 70s. Perhaps tiling your house was THE thing to do in the 70s there? I don’t really know.
I wouldn’t say that the food in Peniche was a culinary delight, however, I am using this space to give a shout out to a favourite seafood cafe, makers of fine seafood toasted sandwiches. Marisqueira-Bar-Grill was a provider of such sandwiches as well as a view of a family of dolphins swimming in the bay one fine day. Ferral (which leads on from Baleal) is home to a fine Italian restaurant Cantina. The MOST delightful discovery, however, was that of the pastelerias. They must be a local delight as well because those babies are everywhere. Baked goods to make you drool and so many choices that you will need weeks to attempt them all. I also befriended the espresso shot, which I may have had too many of and nearly caused myself a permanent twitch from too many caffeine highs.
Thanks to Jimmy’s brother, Alistair, for the heads up on Portugal’s surf capital of Baleal.
So here we are now, back in Scotland. I feel well rested and ready for the next string of challenges and adventures. Come on Edinburgh, let’s see what you’ve got.
Last week I had the good fortune to spend all of those days mooching around the beaches of the south coast, with my delightful sidekick Josey, the entertaining always-with-a-song-in-his-head Jimmy and his sidekick Seal. There was joy. There was fun. There were exceptionally beautiful days in the sun.
To be honest, I had never really rated Bournemouth. I’d never considered it so when we did rock up to that fine coast, I was very pleased to see that there is quite a lot kicking about down there. Standing on the beach, right in the middle, you can see the coast sweep up around you on both sides, looking like a rather wonderful big ole hug from the sky and the sea. On one evening, the moon loomed large over the water, moon looking large and orange and glowing. It looked like a ‘Harvest Moon.’
As we had the dogs in tow for this adventure, we did spend a lot of time entertaining them. Trust me, it was equally entertaining for us to take the two Labradors on outings to the coast, to the beaches of Sandbanks on one side and to walk to the farthest point on the other side. Sorry. The name of it escapes me. We walked them through small parks perched on top of high cliffs. We walked them through parks and played fetch for hours. Oh to be so entertained as they with their activity of running, catch the ball, run back, drop the ball (or pry it from Josey’s death-grip jaw clench). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Ball throw #2385 was just as enthusiastically chased after as Ball throw #1.
Jimmy and I did spend some time chasing down the trail of Robert Louis Stevenson. As he was a son of Edinburgh, with links to Bournemouth and the states, it was interesting to track down his life through reading ‘Across the Plains’, finding plaques in a gorgeous valley (or chine) in Bournemouth as well as ask a local bookseller about RLS and his dealings with the Shelly family in Boscombe.
Incidentally, I love the first lines of the chapter ‘The Plains of Nebraska’ in Stevenson’s book:-
It had thundered on the Friday night, but the sun rose on Saturday without a cloud. We were at sea – there is no other adequate expression – on the plains of Nebraska…It was a world almost without feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and back, the line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a cue across a billiard board; on either hand, the green plain ran till it touched the skirts of heaven.
Apparently, Stevenson had visited Boscombe to convaslesce. He eventually found his way to the states, through the states, in pursuit of love. For his short 44 years, the man sure did get around.
Anyway, I found my own little excursion necessary. It was good to leave town, leave all manner of work, and explore a new space that was unfamiliar. The days slipped by lazily enough, entertaining enough, well-fed enough and all with excellent company. Recently I have heard that to survive living a long time in Edinburgh, you need to go on plenty of trips. I completely agree especially on days like today because my God, the weather here is shit. (Not always. I’m just getting annoyed that it’s May and it’s cold and has been raining for days).
I couldn’t leave this blog without a post about the brilliant patterns I saw on my tour around the city of Istanbul. The Harem at Topkapi Palace was resplendent with colours and patterns. Every room seemed to be more detailed, more grand than the last.
The Hagia Sophia also had beautiful colours – that amazing blue found everywhere in Istanbul, married with a warm deep yellow-gold. As there wasn’t much light in the Hagia Sophia (not enough to take good quality photos with my crap quality camera), I was not able to bring back very many good photos of the details.
I may have gotten a little excited about the patterns and colours when I purchased far too many scarves at the Bazaar. I’ve only the one neck so why did I need to buy five coverings for it? I must now go and learn new ways to tie these things or I shall never bring them out from my closet. You know what it’s like when you’re on holiday. Everything looks amazing when you’re there, but when you bring it back you suddenly realise you have no use for shoddily made flawed pottery in garish colours.
I have returned from my great trip abroad. With me I have brought my new travel companions Cold and Earache. They are not welcome and I’m hoping they take the hint and take a hike.
Did Istanbul meet my expectations? you ask. Good question. It was very much… itself. The first day my friend and I saw the Hagia Sophia and I tell you, that inner space is breathtaking.
It was always such a relief to see Hagia Sophia’s warm terracotta pink and orange form whenever we were making our way back to the hotel after a tiring day of seeing the sites. As our hotel was situated in a small street tucked away behind her, it was a wonderful landmark to show us that rest was just around the corner.
We of course saw the Blue Mosque, situated just across a couple green lawns and a street from the Hagia Sophia. The person that commissioned the Blue Mosque wanted to have a building made that would rival the Hagia Sophia. Yes, the minerets are big and the tiles inside cast a beautiful blue hue over everything. With that said, in the Hagia Sophia you feel embraced with the warm golds and glistening mosiacs. In the Blue Mosque I felt cold, but impressed by the details.
Not only were the sites wonderful to behold, the food was amazing. I am sure my teeth our now riddled with cavities as I ate obscene amounts of baklava. Anna and I opted for Turkish cuisine at ever turn. We ate pancakes with spinache, mezze, Malti (ravioli with minced lamb, spiced sauce and a dollop of yoghurt), corn baked at a stand, and breads and tea from one of the many food stands dotted around the city.
Navigating our way through the narrow streets was sometimes hectic, claustrophobic and after awhile, the calling out of Turkish men shop owners and workers at restaurants did get a bit grating. ‘Where are you from?’ was the phrase of choice to hook you into conversation. Or they would guess. ‘You sisters?’ and then to me ‘Are you French?’ which I took to be a ginormous compliment. To be mistaken for looking French? Heck yeah, I’ll have that. Sometimes rather inventive things would be said to us. Anna received a ‘Are you real or are you dream?’ and I the ‘You dropped something; you dropped my heart.’ Puh-lease. To be honest, I kept my sunglasses on most of the time and put on my I’m-not-listening-to-you harsh expression and pushed my way through the crowds. I must say, though, that on the day I ventured into the town alone, not one person bothered me. So, I suppose there is a certain level of respect for the lone woman traveller. Maybe they realise it isn’t nice to be hollered at when you are on your own. Or perhaps it was Anna that was getting all the compliments :).
What we didn’t expect was to inadvertently wander onto the set of the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall. Apparently, they had been filming around the Grand Bazaar and the New Mosque. We arrived on the scene either before or after, as we did not see the dishy Daniel Craig in the flesh. There were ‘Polis’ cordons, crew vans, and fake stalls complete with painted sponge items that I think were supposed to resemble some kind of edible item, like a fruit or something.
On our final day, we took the Tramway across the Galata Bridge to visit the other side. We took a tour through the Modern Art Gallery where I saw a very beautiful video of dancers, precise, strong, moving to a soundtrack that I wish I could get ahold of. We then took the Fernicular up to Taksim Square. One of the streets linking Taksim Square to the Galata Tower is supposed to be amazing for shopping. As we weren’t really there to shop, we instead people-watched from a couple coffee tables, enjoying the variety of faces and clothes, teas and coffees.
I did spend quite a lot of time drawing and painting on site. As I’m still a little new to painting watercolours on site, I’m not entirely pleased with my results. I tried to not only capture the buildings, but also the feeling of warmth or energy or light. Hopefully, within the next couple of years I will actually be able to do all of those things. With that said, here is a photo of some of the works I created whilst in Istanbul:
Inside the Blue Mosque, your eyes are drawn to the beautiful blue tiles that cover every surface except for the floor. You can feel the soft carpet through your socks and for some reason, that feels very comforting. There are crowds of people to navigate through and around and on more than one occasion, I lost my little friend Anna.
We spent a good amount of time in that mosque, heads covered in scarves out of respect for some one else’s religion. In a way I did feel like I was trespassing or that I was looking in on someone else’s faith as a form of entertainment. I am thankful for the opportunity to have been able to experience such wonderful architecture and beauty.
And so, the rest of the day was spent walking, seeing Turkish and Islamic artworks, painting and sketching on location at a coffee shop them back to the Spice Bazaar.
When we returned to the hotel we were asked ‘Have you decided?’ This was in reference to asking about booking a treatment the previous day.
‘Have you decided?’, when out of its original context, is such a powerful question. I mean, while going through the motions of living your day, aren’t you always pondering something? I’m always trying to decide something and mentally rifling through the options, pros and cons. Do I take this course of action and if so, here is the list of things to consider.
‘Have you decided?’ stopped me in my tracks and I immediately knew the answer.
My friend, Anna, and I have been on sensory overload since stepping outside Ataturk International Airport yesterday.
The architecture, the food, the offerings of ‘something nice for you lady, maybe you want silver’ and so on and around the corner, up hills, down streets, colour colour colour wherever you look.
Our favourite lines so far:
‘You dropped something.’
Me, looking confused.
‘You dropped my heart.’