Tblisi – Georgia’s Capital and Crowning Glory

Veranda and Fort

Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, is stunning.  Dramatic cliff faces plunge into its meandering river, while others staunchly pierce the blue skies above, crowned with steepled churches and rocky forts.

Modern arty structures blend with old wooden cottages.  The crumbling, grapevine-strewn, latticed verandas create a picture frame for ancient mosques and bath-houses, solid super-sized Soviet buildings, and gondolas floating through the air.

A synagogue stands forthrightly where it has for over a century, a modern wine shop nearby celebrates Georgia’s proud wine-making tradition, and restaurants boast food from the Caucasus, the mountainous and disputed area to the country’s north.  Strings of grapejuice coated walnuts and other combinations hang in windows and make good snacks on the go.

Museums and art galleries, snowy parks and Christmas lights going up all around complete the scene for our early December visit. Warm sticks of bread for breakfast start our days of happy wandering.  A priest in a hillside chapel spontaneously gave us a bottle of wine… perhaps to hurry us on our way! The candle-lit sanctuary was a warm break from the cold outside!

Overlooking it all is Kartlis Deda, aka Mother of Kartli – a buxom, statuesque woman holding “a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand [… ] a sword for those who come as enemies.”  (Wikipedia)  Her aluminium frame stands 20 metres tall and she was erected in 1958 to celebrate the city’s 1500th anniversary (although the region is believed to have been inhabited since the 4th Millenium BC).

Standing on the east-west trade routes between Europe and Asia, Tblisi not only has a long history of strategic importance which continues to this day, but also a charming mix of cultures, cuisines and constructions, coupled with a hearty hospitality which makes this town a real gem not to be missed!

Portrait View of River and New Buildings

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Kartlis Deda, Mother of Kartli (the historic name for this area)

 

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Say no more!

 

Some related posts and sites:

More pics here on the Facebook page.

Georgia – Lesser Known Food and Wine Paradise

Goats on the Road – Tblisi

Go to Caucasus – Tblisi

Tempted? 🙂

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101 Reasons Not to Leave Home without… a Sarong!

Sarong Curtain

Long long ago, one night in a dorm after lights out and a few too many tequilas, idle chatter in the darkness began this slightly silly list…. here it is again, updated! Can you help us get to 101?

1.  A curtain.

2. A wall – hung off a travel clothesline or bit of string tied across a small dorm room – great divider!

3. Swimming togs. Wrap one side round waist and tie at front. Bring rest through between legs, up front (optional tuck through waist tie), then over boobs and tie corners at back. Tahitian togs!!

4. Wrap around skirt or dress or pajamas – is that three uses? Ginny Love Moore (yes, I know!) convinced me that this is at least three items with her “My Simplicity Quest” Sarong Series. Something else!

5. Towel – beach or bathroom.

6. Bag – hand held by putting stuff in middle and tying the corners together at top – or over shoulder or back bag.

7. Universal sink plug – yes, I have stuffed the corner into a sink hole, and stuffed and stuffed, until it held enough water in the sink for me to do some laundry.

8. Hammock for baby. Do not try this at home. No liability to attach to the writer of this article for loss or damage caused at home or elsewhere!

9. Sunshade.

10. Head scarf – for churches, mosques or Islamic countries – or to protect your ‘do’ when the top is down! 😉  Or more likely on the back of a truck or motorbike.

11. Dust cover – see latter use in 10 above.

12. Over the shoulder boulder disguiser…in other words, hiding your goods when the top is just a bit low for the place or person.

13. Camera cover – hanging loosely round neck and down front, it hides a fairly large camera and camera neck strap, for quick snapping and disguise.

14. Mop e.g. when you hit what you think is the ‘flush’ button on a funky electric Japanese toilet and it turns out to be ‘bidet’ squirting you (standing) and the entire room with warm (luckily clean!) water!

15. Picnic blanket.

16. Floor protector and ‘cut and throw’ – when a dorm room becomes a make shift hair salon.

17. A washing line – twist, tie between to fixed points, throw over clothes.

18. A whip – with a quick flick of 17.

19. A sleep sheet/bed cover – throw over pillow and sheets on those beds that just seem bed-bug-ready.

20. A hanky. Or similar…

21. A triangle bandage – arm sling.

22. A tourniquet.

24. A tow rope.

25. Pashmina – for added warmth or sun shade.

26. Neck scarf – elegance!

27. Mosquito net.

New additions:

28. Dress (brought down from 4 above)

29. Pajamas (brought down from 4 above). Thanks Ginny!

30. A baby carrier on your back.

29. A fridge.  Wrap around beers or wine, then tie ends to a tree or secure under rocks on the edge of an icy river or swimming pool, dunk and leave!

30. A Gazebo – tied between four trees or points.

31. A sleeping bag – folded in half and tied together at the corners and perhaps at a mid-point also. Snuggle on in!

32. A sleigh/sled for small kids or animals – probably pulled by a tired adult or small donkey?!

33. A sand blocker at the beach – tie low to the ground between two sun umbrellas, unused cricket wickets or other stakes in the ground.

34. A signal – wave hard at passing planes when lost in the bush. A good reason to have a brightly coloured sarong!

35. A helicopter landing pad – once you are found!

36. Hand cuffs – for when you make a citizen’s arrest of course!

37. Blindfold – for surprises!

38.  Animal trap – lie it on the ground with strong twine attached to each corner running up to a central point. When your furry friend walks onto the “trap” to eat the yummy morsel resting there, pull!

39. Muslin for making paneer or other soft cheese.

40. Strainer for tea.

41.  Smoker. Wet the sarong and lay over food on embers to hold in the tasty flavours!

42. Smoke Dispenser – flap widely between burning toast and blaring fire alarm!

43. Smoke mask. Used wet.

44. Face mask for smog or when you are spluttering. Used dry.

45. Smoke Block – Wet sarong and place across the gap under the door to block smoke from coming in – at least for a while!

46. Insulator. Reverse effect of 46. Keeps heat in!

47. Hand protector – wrap around hand several times before breaking glass with fist!

48. Shoe – if you’re walking across hot sand or coals and have nothing else!

50. A flag – backpackers are here!!

51. Nappies. For the long bus ride with no imodium handy? Eeoouuww.

52. A toilet cubicle… self or other held, for those times there are no amenities except the side of a road. Trust me, it happens!

53. A sleep mask to block out light.

56. A tea towel, for dishes.

57. A conversation starter – yes, my sarong was bought in Rio!

58. A travel sickness bag.

59. A table cloth.

60. …

Let your creativity run wild! And, don’t leave home without one!

Word of Advice: It is recommended where possible to wash your sarong between uses!

Ladies, while you think about it, you might want to sit back and enjoy some tropical music and some great ways to tie your sarong….

What item could you not travel without?

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House-sitting – A Pup, Some Rabbits and… Google!

Home for a Month

My New Home for a Month

Daisy and I ran after rabbits today. Squirrels darted up trees. We jumped mole hills and rabbit holes and sniffed nervously at fox burrows. I’m sure one of us would have caught something if we weren’t attached to each other by a lead.

Every day we move around the garden wetting down the strawberries and the new lawn seed. We sprinkle water gently onto tiny, almost see-through green tomato plants and turn them daily to help them grow up straight, with sun on all sides.

I now know how to deadhead daffodils, look after a dog on heat (not that she is yet thankfully!) and how not to clean a self-cleaning oven.

It’s vital to jot down your homeowners’ instructions as they race out the door to their waiting holiday, but when push comes to shove, its Google to the rescue!

Housesitting is a learning opportunity. It’s also a rare chance to live cheaply (usually for free), in often incredible homes, lovely settings and interesting countries all around the world. There, you can be alone if you want to be or intermingle with the neighbours and community.

“Aren’t you just being a scab?”, someone asked me, meaning taking unfair advantage. That had crossed my mind too at first…but when Daisy is scratching at your bedroom door at 6 in the morning, it’s not just a one-way street.

It turns out that some sitters even get paid! Often with pets you can’t leave the house for more than an hour or two at a time. A pet sitter is much cheaper than a cattery or kennels and less unsettling for our furry friends! In other words, a pet sitter can be worth fighting over!

To add to my peace of mind, and in the hope of a re-sit or good testimonial, I also try to do little extras to make sure the arrangement is win-win.

You might agree to do certain jobs around the property anyway.  Imagine coming home from holiday to a freshly stocked fridge and spring cleaned home, firewood chopped or overdue quotes obtained.

But regardless, doing a little something extra like cooking a dinner for the owners’ first night back, cleaning the windows or picking some flowers to welcome them home can add that touch of magic!

So, Daisy and I feel quite fine about things thanks! A privilege for me definitely – hang on, its time to feed the cats – but hopefully good for the owners too.

I’d hate you to nab all the good spots, but if you want to try housesitting, or to find a sitter (and there’s none among your friends), websites like http://www.trustedhousesitters.com and http://www.mindmyhouse.com are good places to start. Some countries also have local agencies for paid sitters. You might just love it!

Toodles! Rabbits to chase, poems to write and curtains to draw shut!

Adventure awaits!

Adventure awaits!

Hurry Up - There's bunnies in them there bluebells!

Hurry Up – There’s bunnies in them there bluebells!

Daisy, Puss, Beer and View

Sitting on my knee – when do we get to go again, and how do I get that cat?!

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Georgia – Lesser-known Food and Wine Paradise

Georgia Cheese Pie Khachapuri

No way was I missing a country that does cheese pies like this! Khachapuri love!

Georgia, where Europe, the Middle East and Asia meet…

Georgia, the country, why don’t more of us know it?

It hangs in the Southern Caucasus mountains just above North East Turkey and below South West Russia. Handed between the Ottomans and Russians over recent history, it finally gained its current independence in 1991 but not without ongoing troubles with successionist areas and clashes with Russia to the North.

Georgian bread, cheese, honey and vegemite

Fresh bread for breakfast? (Can you spot the kiwi imposter here?)

Georgian culture and the country’s ethnic mix reflect its history and the region.  Rugby playing, Christian officially (one of the earliest Christian nations) but with a minority Muslim population, it’s part European part Asian and sits on the border of the two continents.

Mentally for me, “Western Europe” and “Eastern Europe” had always spanned from Spain to Poland, loosely divided by the old Cold War boundaries but now I realised there was a lot more “Europe” further East – Ukraine, Western Russia and Georgia among others!

Georgia is a member of the European Council (a human rights organisation) and has expressed in the past an interest in joining the EU.  The tug of war between West and East is played here too.

Man's mind after wine sign in English and Russian Vinomania Tblisis

Signs on a wine shop – English and Russian (which have nothing on beautiful Georgian squiggles!)

… and create fabulous food…

Influenced over the years by Europe, the Middle East and Western Asia, Georgian food is divine. Think eggplants (aubergine), pomegranate seeds, walnut pastes, deliciously-naughty pastry boats oozing with cheese and egg (Khachapuri), soft juicy wontons that burst with broth as your tongue hunts out the meat or herbs inside (Khinkali) ….  Wahoo!

Eggplant, Walnut and Pomegranate seed salad

Walnut Paste, Eggplant and Pomegranate seeds…. mamma mia!

Georgian wonton meat herbs broth

I can feel a wont on!! These things are magic!

and wine!

But wait, there’s more! Houses across Georgia don’t have vines growing from their balconies and garden alcoves for nothing. This country has been making wine since as long ago as 6000 BC, making it one of the earliest wine producing areas of the world!

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UNESCO has even listed an ancient traditional Georgian wine-making method using Kveri clay jars as an Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Georgian mineral water also tempts with a taste all its own.

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We didn’t wait a moment to get stuck in! After a month in Middle-Eastern Turkey, I felt like I had suddenly been teleported to Southern Europe with warm, hearty people, long-missed wines and a deep love of food!

If you haven’t wilted with hunger already, check out this blog of deliciousness and recipes to save the day! – http://georgianrecipes.net/

There’s a few extra pics in the album here too.

What foods or cuisines have taken you by surprise? 🙂

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Batumi, Georgia – When Good Beach Resorts Go Bad!

Water front and Georgian Alphabet Tower

Water front and Georgian Alphabet Tower

With a December average high temperature of 12°C, and average low of 6°C, we were looking forward to defrosting in Batumi.

I also couldn’t wait to discover the pumping vibe of a city newly peppered with eye-wateringly futuristic architecture and neon to die for!  Plus, bring on the sea!

Smug in our coming warmness, we crossed into Georgia through the impressive border post and jumped into a share taxi van to Batumi itself.  It was a grey day, making the rundown streets of the town seem dull and grey too. Still, the main drag would be amazing, I was sure!

Georgian Border Crossing - Hopa Turkey to Sarpi near Batumi Georgia

Georgian Border Crossing – Hopa Turkey to Sarpi, near Batumi, Georgia

After the long bus trip from Kars the day before, we spent our first day relaxing, enjoying a long leisurely graze of the delicious food and wine on offer (another post).  We walked part of the seaside strip heading home at dusk, keen to see the sites, but cold and a light snow was setting in and it took discipline to remove hands from gloves for photos of hazy buildings. Never mind, tomorrow.

Famous Ferris Wheel Building!Ferris Wheel BUilding

That’s when the fun began!  Jolted awake, we huddled in our upstairs hotel room as howling wind smashed against the windows from all sides.  Lightening flashed viciously into the room and glass threatened to smash.  Thunder roared through us. We counted between each spark and growl waiting for the storm to pass.

Morning felt like Christmas. Pulling back the curtains, we found snow banked up on the window sills, piled on roofs and balancing precariously on pine needles. Cars and people headed to work across an unfamiliar white carpet and in far-too-light clothes. From up above, all seemed calm and magical.

Unsuspecting, we headed out happily to explore (in every item of clothing we owned) and to complete some chores. Soon the snow began again and the cold bit. We marched on determined to sort out visas and then arrange a quick exit.

Batumi Town under SnowBatumi Town under Snow

At the travel office, the electricity suddenly cut out.  How long would it be? Who knew?  I waited, waited and waited.  Huge hunks of snow thumped from the roof to the ground outside shaking the windows and making us jump.

Buses were not running. Trains? Without power, they couldn’t issue tickets – only option, wait it out or go to the station. 

Outside, Batumi’s gutters overflowed with freezing melting snow creating pools of icy water from one side of the road to the other.  There was no way to tell shallow from deep and, in our light sneakers (double socks and plastic bags), our feet were soon saturated and unidentifiably sore.

The fact that two of us also had no coats, just scrunchable waterproof jackets, did nothing to add comfort.

By the time we were at the train station, having waded through calf deep ice streams, I actually thought we were in serious danger of losing our feet for good. The pain was unbearable and crying seemed a good option.  All I could do was hop from one foot to the other, over and over and over, nearing real panic.

Brainwave as we headed back to the hotel to get our bags – shoes off in the heated shared taxi to thaw our feet – we needed boots! Yes, “brainwave”!

We jumped out at a market near to our destination and, in a particularly evil twist, one of us couldn’t get her shoes on fast enough and landed deep in slush in only her socks! Aaaaagggh!

Well, you can bet your soft cosy fireside feet that we were not the only people at that market buying gumboots (wellies).  Wellies were flying everywhere and this was war!

Diving between the tarpaulin overhangs that stuck out from the front of each small shop, Dads, Mums and kids pushed and shoved and threw boots around as they tried to find any pair that would fit.  Shopkeepers struggled to keep track of what was where and as more and more people desperately forced their rock-solid foot-shaped ice sculptures into these rubbery boots, chaos reigned.

It took more than an hour for us all to be booted at last and to feel a wiggle of a toe once again. It seemed like a revelation! We pranced off much more happily for another meal (in the dark!) before our train.

Batumi had been battered with over a metre and a half of snow overnight and 150,000 homes still lacked power three days later!

Our feet luckily lived to travel another day.  I just wish I managed to take more pictures of what I ‘m sure is one cool town!

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What’s the freakiest weather you’ve been in? Let us know in the comment’s box below.

Related Links:

http://dfwatch.net/150-000-households-still-without-electricity-in-georgia-84331

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23082790 (Article and Video on People and Politics)

Related Blogs:

http://travellingartist.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/batumi-1-break-of-day/

http://upcloseandpersonalstories.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/georgia-batumi-press-cafe/ (Lots of stuff on Georgia on this Blog including the ultra-cool Georgian alphabet!)

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Kars, Turkey – Coolness, Culture and Kebabs

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Low expectations

Kars was a kinky little surprise that we hadn’t been expecting.

We knew we were up for a gruelling, winding, 9 hour, two bus, trip into the mountains from Trabzon to see Ani, but we figured it was worth it – Correct!  We also figured that the scenery on the way in, and later out, would be spectacular. Correct!

Little did we know though that our base town might just trump the lot!

A long trip made longer

We arrived at nightfall and decided to ask the bus company lady about the best way into Georgia for a few days’ time.  Soon we were waiting for “someone who speaks English” to arrive.  After a wait that felt like ages after 9 hours on the road, four people turned up all ready to sell us a grand tour around Georgia! Um, no, we won’t be doing that.

When you’re tired and grumpy, its easy to feel like someone is trying to take advantage of you rather than helping. Grrrrrrrrr.

No problem!

We set off to our hotel, feeling the biting cold and altitude, and were greeted by an earnest fellow who was in charge in the boss’s absence. “No problem” he said, which turned out to be his only English.

“No problem!” he said as he refused to return our passports unless we paid in advance in full despite us not knowing how long we would stay.

“No problem!” he said as he bounced ahead of us up the steps to our fourth floor room and we hunched under our heavy packs.

It was “No problem” when the heating in the room didn’t work (it was coooold!), “no problem” when there was no bread at breakfast to have our yummy Kars honey and cheese on (Kars specialties), and “no problem” when he handed us the unwanted phone call from the uninvited English speaking guide who had found out about our arrival almost before we had.

“Yes, Proooblem!!” became our catch cry for our stay!

To No-problem’s credit, all non-problems were always duly fixed in their good time.  And, we soon decided after some quick calculations to use the damn guide, who turned out to be great!

The best kebab ever

Coming back to Kars the next day after the high of our trip to Ani, we found the biggest cheapest juiciest kebab yet experienced and nothing but joy existed in that moment! We hoed in!

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Our hotel breakfasts were moreish too with fresh Kars honey, cream, cheese and fresh warm bread.

Winter Paradise Surprise!

We had planned to skip country the next day but the bus didn’t leave until the morning after. Thank goodness! The extra day here was one of my favourites on our trip.

There is something about the cold and mountains that is in my blood. It reminds me of my hometown in New Zealand’s Central North Island. The day was freezing cold but sunny which I love.

A fortress on the hill provided the perfect lookout over the town which nestled on a plateau in a cradle of surrounding snowy mountains. A partly iced, and very photogenic river, weaved among old hammams (bath houses), churches since turned into mosques, and new mosques with minarets reaching for the sky like Mexican waves as far as the eye could see.

At the same time, the wide boulevards, Russian architecture and proud Soviet monuments reminded of that country’s time here.

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People, Border Changes and an Awesome Video

The town is an incredible mix of cultures and history – Turkmen, Turkish, Azeris, Kurds and Russians, including many descendants of Caucasians (Dagestan and Chechnya, for example).

According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, Kars was once an Armenian capital (before Ani), and later held by the Russians and then the Turks.

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Sunni and Shia Muslims live side by side here with each other, and the rest of the community. I felt a bit dumb and hoped not to cause offense asking our outgoing bus company who the not-unattractive man with the battle-ready look and dark far-away eyes in the picture on the wall was. We saw him often and would see him a lot more later in Iran.  He was Martyred Shia Imam Ali. I had a lot to learn.

Overlanding is Awesome – and that video

One of many great things about overlanding is that you get to see the merging and changing landscapes and peoples and how they fit together. This creates one vast picture stretching (in this case) from Beijing to Europe and the Southern tips of Malaysia and the Arabian Peninsula to the Arctic. No seas here protecting one group from another and borders are man made lines which change with the tides of power and don’t live in people’s hearts or reality.

I loved this amazing video featured by the Huffington Post (here – which I’ve tweeted before) showing years of European border changes set to music. A must see! Watch this area in particular, on the far right, you might be tested in later blogs!

As noted in their article, this also puts new context on the current issues in the Crimea!

A Cup of Tea on a Hilltop

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We finished on the terrace of the fortress having a delicious Turkish tea among the icicles and marveling at the incredible view and the incredible world we live in. Extra photo album here again.

What do you think? Don’t we live in a complex but amazing world!

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Paris – A Day in the Life of a Francophile Dreamer

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The Glass Triangle in front of the Louvre

This post is real time – why not mix it up with a bit of “Back to the Future” in amongst the ongoing trip report!

Bus, Train and Tunnel from London – Simultaneously!

“What time is your Eurostar train?” everyone asked. “Oh No!” I replied, “I’m on the bus! £34 return!” Go hard!

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Paris here we come people!!!

The bus was luxurious: heaps of leg room, great seat recline, toilet and wifi on-board and a personal power point for charging phones and laptops.  A second lever increased the gap between adjoining seats. Wow!

The trip was overnight (saves on accommodation costs!) and I was lucky that the girl beside me moved to two empty seats giving me two whole seats to spread out over also.  I had a fair sleep! Except, I had to stay awake to watch our bus, board a train, to go through the underwater channel tunnel. Mad.

1.30 am – time to sleep with the subtle rocking of the bus on the train.

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The Bus driving onto the train ready to go through the Channel Tunnel

A Coffee, a Man and a Newspaper

7 am – Paris arrival. Decide not to use the toilet at the bus station – 50 cents and I have no change. Walk to a café to use their toilet and have coffee. The café bar was crowded with guys having their stand up shot and croissant before heading out into the rush hour crowds.

“There’s someone in there”, said an older man, as I made my way to the loo. We soon were chatting over coffee (the merits of rugby versus football, travel versus being happy where you are, you know) which ended with an invite to his village 180 km away. Definitely one day Jean Louis! It was great to know that I could still make some sense in French.

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“Pain and Chocolate” or “Bread and Chocolate” – You choose! 🙂

8.30 am – Off to the metro. Collect free newspaper at entrance (in London, it’s the “Metro” in the morning and the “Evening Standard” in the evening…. Here its “Direct Matin”). I felt immediately like a local, living my dream, at least for one week, of “living” in Paris!

The Francophile Dreamer Admission

I found my mother’s old “Teach Yourself French” book when I was about 7 and around that time also discovered that the old red box in the laundry room, which happened to be a record player, also had shortwave radio. If I twiddled the knobs carefully, I could listen to French radio from New Caledonia or Tahiti, among other languages. I used to try to understand or guess what languages they were. My first love, languages (and some would say talking too much!), grew from there!

From wandering the farm as a kid imagining living in Paris, staying up all night in smoky bars with philosophers and revolutionaries… and/or living in a French village, marrying a sexy Frenchman and having bilingual kids… (Oh my God, am I admitting to that??!), here I was at last.  Previous trips had been great but this time I was on my own, just me and my daydreams. Heaven.

A Chat and a Promenade

9.30 am. Checking in. Free upgrade from 10 bed dorm to 4 bed. Speak French again with the (it turns out) Swedish receptionist. Speak Japanese with some guests. My dream international life!! Have free coffee (more!) and croissants. Charge phone. Viber a few people to confirm my safe arrival.

11 am. Free map of Paris having been reviewed, I set off. I walked all day until 7.30 pm or so, except for a half hour in a café when I needed to re-charge my phone, camera. Ceasar salad. Unfortunately due to my late start, I didn’t complete the full journey, out there again tomorrow!

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Boat on the River with the Louvre in the background

I love the old shops and cafes, the millions of independent little book shops, the canal boats on the river, the historic buildings dripping with ancient Greeks, Romans and brazen hussies, flower markets, the law school and court buildings emblazened with “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, packed cafes with people enjoying creamy sauces and wine for lunch, oozing tones of the French language, and all the other people and languages here too. Aaaaah!

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The Eiffel Tower!

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A Crazy Market

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School of Law – Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!

A Chocolate, Cream (and Wine?) Finish

6.15 pm – Finish at Sacre Coeur, the Basilica up on a hill overlooking Paris and just a block from my hostel. No sunset tonight, bit hazy. Cannot say “No” to a hot chocolate sauce and whipped cream combo with a chocolate coated marshmallow and caramel sauce on top. Mmmm.

My first view of the Sacre Coeur – from my hostel’s street!

Hot chocolate sauce, cream and a marshmellow on top! Mix!

7.30 pm – Back to hostel. Blog to type up and emails to do. Someone has a whole bottle of wine at the next table … think they might be my new friend!

More photos here.

Paris is romantic for sure! What springs to your mind when you think of Paris? Where’s your favourite romantic place? 🙂

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Ani, Turkey – Opposing Views and a Lost City

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Breathtaking Journey

“There is no way we could have done it. We were too busy fighting the war in the West and the South and everywhere!” said our guide adamantly.

We were cruising along in his car, funky slightly belly-dancerish music blaring, and if the ground outside wasn’t a vast plain of snow we might have had wind in our hair too.

I love moments like this – interesting discussion and nothing to do but enjoy the scenery, sounds … and to realise in a sort of out of body experience that you are here!

Turkey’s North East and Ani

Turkey’s North East. Up in the mountains and the daily high was around -7 °C.  It was our first taste of real cold and, where we were going, it sure wasn’t going to be our last! Three of us now (my sister, a girl friend from home and I), we layered up with all the clothes we had, literally “double socking” it then adding plastic bags inside our puny thin sneakers for extra protection.

We were heading to the long ago deserted, and disputed, former Armenian capital of Ani (map and info here).

Ani virtually hangs off the border between Turkey and Armenia on the lip of a deep gorge.  Once with an estimated population of 100,000 to 200,000 people, and the capital of an ancient Armenian Kingdom between 961 and 1045, it was rival to Damascus, Baghdad and Constantinople (Istanbul). Following a devastating earthquake in 1319, all that now remains is a vast spread of ruins.

Armenian-Turkish Relations

Our guide was referring to the alleged “Armenian Genocide“. Around World War I, an estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed, and many suffered abuse, rape and forced marches, at the hands of the then Ottoman Empire. Some claim this was the first ever genocide, and the second most studied genocide after the Holocaust.

Turkey denies genocide and considers it all part of the overall picture of WWI.  However, under pressure in some cases from Armenian lobby groups, many countries have now formally declared the tragedies “Genocide” and some EU states have also pushed to require Turkey to acknowledge this “Genocide” as a criteria for entry to the EU.

Mt Ararat

The views were spectacular as we drove along and we strained into the hazy horizon for a peek at snow-covered Mt Ararat, where Noah’s Ark came to rest in Bible stories.

Armenia, the first ever country to declare Christianity as its state religion, reveres this mountain which watches over its capital city Yerevan and appears on its Coat of Arms.  Yet, Ararat, Ani and a swathe of other territory were lost to Turkey after WWI and remain in Turkey.

Our guide for the day was at pains to point out the Seljuks, Turkish and many others had also contributed to Ani at one time or another, as can be seen from its mixed architecture, and that the town was not only Armenian.

Poignant and Beautiful

Hearing my sister’s experiences in Armenia from earlier in the year, and with the fervour of our Turkish guide, the strength of feeling hung in the air.

It seemed surreal to stop on the way at a comparatively small roadside monument of remembrance, for Turks who fought the Armenians, with some of the words haphazardly erased.

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Ani turned out to be stunning, set against a backdrop of snowy mountains on the edge of its dramatic gorge.  Foundations of old streets and houses, towering churches (often later used as mosques) and Zoroastrian temples stretched out before us as we crunched around shifting from foot edge to foot edge in the cold.  

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A beautiful, early 13th century Armenian church, with their distinctive scrawling script and colourful Bible story frescoes, seemed to have sidled down onto the rocky edge of the gorge gazing mournfully but proudly at its homeland across the way. Armenian border posts were clear to see and we were hesitant not to step into any of the no-go areas as we climbed down to it, feeling watched.

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A sign pointing the way along the “Silk Road” seemed out of place.

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My hands stung with cold as I tried to capture it all, torn between taking photos and preserving fingers for the future!  I had to take my hands out of my gloves to use my smartphone camera and then would desperately shove them back in banging them together repeatedly to try to recover feeling. I later discovered that a small woolly hole opening up just at the base of my index finger worked well for phone access as long as I didn’t need to zoom!

When time was up, we virtually ran for the car! Mt Ararat appeared in the rear view mirror as we headed back to Kars, our base, and we all agreed that the long and windy (but incredibly beautiful) bus ride we had taken up here into the mountains, well out of our way, had given us one of our top travel days yet!

More photos here. I’ll tell you about Kars next time!! And we’re going to Armenia too!

Despite the difficult history and politics here, this was an amazing place to visit.  Do you have moments when you suddenly stop and realise just how lucky you are? When is that for you?

Or, have you been personally affected by this conflict? Would you share with us? You can leave comments below.

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An 82 Year Old Wrong Finally Corrected

The magical power of blogging strikes again! New international connections made!! Fantastic write up Karen – better than any of the newspapers you were also featured in!! 😉

Do Svidanya Dad

I have returned from my journey to London, which was for the ceremony to honor Louis Brennan, my first cousin four times removed. Without exaggerating, this was the best trip I have ever taken. I had been aware of the plans to honor this Irish inventor for many years, but I had no expectations whatsoever. Was the grandeur overstated by my liaison in Ireland, Brian Hoban, or was this event to be as well-attended as he had promised?  Would the arrival of my husband and I even be noticed and, if the ceremony drew a crowd, would we find a seat?

Thanks to Facebook, I had no difficulty locating Brian when we arrived at their hotel in London. Within a short time, we were introduced to the contingent from Castlebar, who had arrived on the Sunday prior to the unveiling ceremony. I was surprised that they all knew who we…

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Makes me smile every time I read it – how awesome are bumblers?

Another person that holds Bumblebees dear to their heart. 🙂 I love the pic too!

alltheness

Makes me smile every time I read it - how awesome are bumblers?

When my Dad passed away his mates at AirNZ said that they thought he was like a bumbler as they’re “the hardest working bees, always the first up and last to go to bed” and now I always see them and smile as it feels like a wee sign from the heavens.

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