Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Madrid - Turkey - Bulgaria

We're back on the road again! Or rather, in the air and riding the rails. Madrid, Spain is a bustling city full of life. No one eats dinner before the sun is set and everyone closes up shop between 1:30pm and 5:00pm for Siesta.Madrid was a nice city to walk around and enjoy the Spanish architecture. A cathedral and palace were the main attractions. We also visited the famous Prado Museum to see some notorious art pieces by Goya, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Rafael among others.

Our hostel was beautiful. It was a restored 18th century palace filled with amazing stained glass and decorative ceramic tiles. Regardless of how nice it looked, the noise in the dorm rooms from the central courtyard was unbearable. We got very little sleep the two nights we stayed there.

Only two days in Madrid then we caught a flight to Istanbul, Turkey. We were greeted by a modern subway and tram system which took us into the centre of the old city from the airport. We immediately walked between the beautiful Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya at sunset to reach our hostel. We met a couple of guys from Boston in our 30-bed dorm and joined them for a couple of beers and an apple flavoured hookah! A great fun introduction to Turkey.

We spent one full day in Istanbul to tour the sites and mosques. The Aya Sofya was absolutely gigantic inside. Quite impressive and old and therefore unfortunately had the largest interior apparatus of scaffolding that we had ever seen! We enjoyed fast-food kebabs for lunch and had a walk through the Grand Bazar. We also walked to the train station twice trying to work out our train ticket to Selçuk and were unsuccessful.To get to Selçuk (the closest town to the ruins of Ephesus), we wanted to take a ferry across the Sea of Marmara, carry on by train to Izmir, then finish on the bus to Selçuk. We went to the ferry docks at 6:45am without tickets in hand and were luckily able to get one for the 7am crossing. We were also able to carry on by train and bus without problems. It's a good job that it isn't high season.

Our hostel in Selçuk was one of our best yet! It was called the ANZ Guesthouse and it is owned by an Australian/Turkish family. Everyone was very friendly and they had a lot of great ideas to make yourself feel at home. They cooked a fish and chicken dinner on the BBQ for everyone and we had a nice chat with a couple from Victoria, BC.
We had a beautiful day for walking around Selçuk and Ephesus. Ephesus was fantastic. It is the largest Roman ruin site east of Italy. There were two amphitheatres (one that could hold up to 24000 people), a tonne of ruined columns, a large housing complex, and the famous library facade. It took a couple of hours to walk all the way through, fighting our way amongst the hordes of tourists. We stopped at the Artemis Temple (all of one tall column with a stork nest on top of it) on our way back into Selçuk and admired the views of the castle that overlooks the town.

Back in Selçuk, we visited the Ephesus museum which contained artifacts from the Ephesus area that could not be left at the site. We also took a stroll through the Saturday Market and wandered the streets a little. It is a very nice little town, fueled by tourism, but still manages to hold some charm.
We spent a full day travelling back to Istanbul in the reverse order that we came. We had 5 hours in Istanbul to sit on the internet and eat some dinner before catching the 10pm overnight train to Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria. We shared a 6-bed cabin with a Finnish couple and we all went to bed almost right away. We had to get off the train at 3am to get our exit stamps leaving Turkey in a sketchy looking train station and had to wait for a good 40 minutes before the passport office could check us through. Thankfully the entry stamps into Bulgaria were done on the train from the warmth of our beds.

We arrived in Veliko Tarnovo shortly after 11am and found our way to our hostel in the middle of town. VT is nestled in amongst rolling hills with cliff outcroppings, making it a quite scenic location. It rained much of the afternoon so we watched Juno on the computer while enjoying a self-cooked pasta lunch. When the rain let up, we ventured out to get a beer, then enjoyed some yummy cheap pizza at one of VT's many pizza establishments. Jason was in heaven.

The next day was beautiful and we enjoyed a nice walk to the Tsarevets Fortress which towers over the town. The walled hill yields great views of the surrounding hills while hosting a castle that is being rebuilt and a small church on the hilltop. The artwork on the inside of the church was quite cool. It was modern religious art which looked almost haunting. They charged you for taking pictures though so we don't have any. We continued our walk down to the Yantra River for some scenic photos then carried on back up to the hostel again. We spent the evening relaxing, watching Charlie Wilson's War and Beowulf on the computer.
We caught the 3-hour 8:45am bus to Sofia today. There wasn't much to see here aside from the beautiful golden domed Aleksander Nevski Church. A short walk around was all that we needed. We spent a lot of time on the internet and planning our time in Greece. We head to Thessaloniki in northern Greece tomorrow to meet up with Tim and Daneille, who we'll travel with for a week and a half while they are on vacation. We're quite looking forward to having some company.

Pics: Madrid | Istanbul | Selçuk & Around | Veliko Tarnovo | Sofia


At May 18, 2008 at 2:58 PM , Anonymous Mom said...

So great to see Ephesus again, through your eyes. We saw the same stork (White Stork) nest, being used by House Sparrows back in October. Different sights in different seasons.

At February 12, 2011 at 7:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one eats dinner before the sun (it's true) is set and everyone closes up shop between 1:30pm and 5:00pm for Siesta (it's not true, only old people can do it, Shops are always open) Did you see "El Escorial", "El barrio de las letras"? it's cool!


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