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Day thirty-six - the journey home begins

Tuesday 1 October 2019

sunny 29 °C

Funicular fun

With a day to kill before getting the overnight train, I began with a leisurely start to the day, making sure everything was packed. Ironically, being in a smaller room made it more likely that I’d overlook something in the clutter. My plan was to get my bag down to the station to leave it in the left luggage lockers so that I was bag free for the rest of the day. Before getting the Tunel funicular, I stopped for a coffee and was besieged by a friendly cat who seemed to think my bag was great fun.


Taking the funicular down and then the tramway to the station made it a smooth journey but when I got there, all of the lockers were full, upsetting my plan. When I’d looked at left luggage options earlier in the week, I’d found a site called BagBNB. I needed another coffee so found a cafe with WiFi and booked my luggage into a hotel close to the station. BagBNB site is a start up and I have to say, their business idea saved me from a hideous day of dragging my bag around. Also the people in the hotel where I left the luggage where very helpful.


Baklava and ice-cream

Once free of luggage I decided to do a bit of public transport hopping, starting by going to the tramway to Kabatas as there is another funicular that goes up to Taksim Square. I rewarded myself with lunch plus a baklava with ice-cream at Sutis at the top of Istikial Caddesi. I practically rolled down the street after such indulgence. Although it’s great that the street is pedestrianised, it’s also incredibly busy and full of the larger chains including familiar names such as Mango and H&M, so less interesting. Diverting off into the side streets you are rewarded with small interesting shops and cafes as well as getting a slice of Istanbul life as people sit on doorsteps or shout to each other from balconies.


Beyoglu to Sultanahmet

Hopping on the train from Tophane to Sultanahmet means that you enter a very different type of district. The houses here have a distinct style and many of them are wooden with overhanging upper floors. It’s less frenetic in this part of the town once you get away from the main tourist spots by the bazaars and mosques.


It’s tempting to keep on the move when you are on a trip like this but it’s also good to find a quiet, shady spot to read and rest. Gulhane Park is large with lots of seating and shade.


As there are no refreshments on the overnight train or at the station, I bought snacks and water to keep me going whilst en route. Basically, it’s a 12 hour journey with several stops for border control. The man in seat 61 https://www.seat61.com is a mine of information about train travel and the availability or more likely, unavailability of food is high on the list of essential information. The train leaves Halkali station at 21.50 but it takes one hour from Sirkeci to Halkali via the Marmaray line. To be on the safe side, I thought it best to give plenty of time despite Halkali sounding rather lacking in facilities. I collected my luggage from the BagB&B hotel and headed out.

The Marmaray line to Halkali

The lift down to the Marmaray line has a long queue because it can only take about ten people, less if there is a wheelchair or luggage. It’s meant for disabled access, people with buggies or heavy luggage but the queue was actually full of overweight guys who obviously couldn’t be bothered to use stairs. It seemed strange that they’d queue rather than walk.

The Marmaray line was busy but there were less and less people as the train went further away from the city. It took less than an hour but I was still glad that I gave myself loads of time. I hadn't quite recovered from the taxi incident. Once at the station there was absolutely nothing to indicate which platform the train would be going from but when I asked someone in the waiting room, I was told we had to wait until called.

Overnight train to Sofia

Eventually, about 40 minutes before the train was due to leave, someone came to collect us and we dutifully made our way down to the platform. Luckily there are lifts at the station for those of us with heavy luggage. A bit like the Tbilisi to Yerevan train, there are stewards who show you to your compartment. It turned out that I had the space to myself which was great. This was a far superior train to the previous overnight one - comfortable beds, a sink and even a fridge with water, juice and biscuits. Although I knew I wouldn’t have the perfect sleep, it was definitely a pretty pleasant space to be in. There was also quite a camaraderie built up with fellow travellers as we chatted in the corridors before the train started.


Quite a mix of people but from what I could tell from the people in my carriage, again, I seemed to be the only person from the UK.

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged trains parks istanbul Comments (0)

Day twenty-five - last day in Yerevan before tour

Friday 20 September 2019

sunny 30 °C

The start of a new day

I’ve developed a pattern to my days - get up, take medication, shower, hot water with lemon followed by Armenian coffee. After a lot of faffing around, I finally leave the apartment at about 10.30am.


Coffee and cafe toilets

My goal for the day, apart from packing, was to buy some handmade soap, body lotion and if time, explore Kond a bit more. Started with a walk down Amiryan Street as I hadn’t been down there since I’d arrived 6 days ago. Stopped at Tap Station for coffee, it’s a cafe attached to the Republican Hotel. There seemed to be a helluva lot of noise - a woman shouting like a fish wife and children’s voices. I then realised the cafe was next door to a school and the waiter’s station looked straight into one of the classrooms. The kids seemed to be very boisterous - the waiter shook his head resignedly when I asked him about it. Anyway, I had to use the hotel toilets - they were very plush. In fact the hotel itself looks really nice. Talking of toilets, I’ve found, like Cyprus, the upmarket cafes have really classy toilets. Santafe cafe from yesterday and Amar from the day before also had very clean and toilets with stylish decor. On the other end of the scale are the squatter toilets found at roadside cafes. Functional but definitely not aesthetically pleasing.


Shopping spree

From there I walked to Republic Square and then Abovyan Street for a spending spree. Began by buying things that weren’t on the list: a scarf for wearing when I go to religious sites - will be particularly good when I go to Istanbul and a bag, On Abovyan Street before reaching the circular park found Adele’s where I bought some bars of handmade soap.


Jengylov Hats

It was now lunchtime and realised I was near the cafe that sold Jengylov hats - a flat bread stuffed with herbs and greens. The sign for the place is in Armenian but I recognised it from when I went with Hasmik 9 years ago. It’s very popular and does a brisk business. There is no menu as that’s all they sell. I ordered two, one to eat and one to take away. They are pretty filling. I’ll definitely buy one from the market in Stepanakert when I’m there. Apparently that’s their regional dish.


A walk in the park

Walked through Poplavok Park which is part of the circular park that stretches from the cascades in the north of the city to st Gregory the Illuminator in the south. There is a small man made lake with pedalos and amusement park. Schools finish around 1pm so there were already families taking advantage of the amenities.


It was Independence Day the next day and flags were appearing everywhere around the town.


Body lotion purchase fail

Walked back along Mashtots in a fruitless search for body lotion. All the labels are in Armenian or Russian and not all shop assistants can speak English. Thought I’d look up the Armenian words for body lotion and try again over the next few days. Too tired to traipse around Kond, I settled in for the night, particularly as I had to pack. Being in an apartment has meant that my belongings are all over the place so I needed to take time to make sure that nothing is missed.

Posted by Cath_Greig 20:58 Archived in Armenia Tagged parks shopping coffee yerevan Comments (0)

Day two - getting around Tbilisi

Wednesday 28th August 2019

sunny 32 °C

Woke up earlier than my travel companions so went for a stroll. It was getting hot at 8am but the streets were quiet, no-one trying to sell day trips. Found a coffee place that was open but no Turkish coffee which is what I was hankering after. Once I was back at the apartment, the others were stirring. They are still winding down from work - something I’m not having to deal with.

After breakfasting, it was nearly midday by the time we left the place to explore. First stop - find out from tourist information about recommended tours and then take the funicular up to the radio tower. The funicular is very long and involves a stop off point halfway where people can get off to visit the nearby church. At the top of the hill which is 710 metres high, there is a Park called Mtatsminda. We hadn’t researched it so didn’t realise it actually had water slides, Ferris wheel etc at the top. It was so hot we decided to go on the log flume as we thought we’d get splashed a bit. In reality, we got absolutely soaked. My dress stuck to me like glue & it certainly cooled us down. No wonder we were told to put our bags in a locker. It was fun to watch other gullible people getting on not knowing what was going to hit them. Nick and I did the ghost train- usual stuff - and the Ferris wheel was great but quite scary as it was windy and the noise was off putting. Great views though. Tickets for the rides had to be bought individually from a box office close to the start of the rides.

Once we returned via the funicular it was time to get back for lunch and a siesta, booking a tour to Kazbegi for the following day. We were seemingly still running on UK time - 3 hours behind Georgia - so it was nearly 8pm before we ventured out again. Our destination was Fabrika via a craft beer bar called Crafted. Very friendly staff & knowledgable - the bar was off the pedestrian area of David Aghmashenebeli Avenue. This was the first street that we’d walked down where we were harassed by staff trying the get us into their cafes. It was pretty relentless and a relief to get into the relative quiet of the bar.

Fabrika is an interesting place, part hostel, part shared office/artist space, gallery etc. It was chock full of trendy young people of all nationalities. We managed to grab a table but realised it wasn’t the best place to have food so had a beer in the outside courtyard soaking up the buzzy atmosphere. We made our way back to a restaurant that we’d seen close to the Saarbrucken Bridge called Tiflis restaurant. The food was great but we managed to over order - we’re not quite used to portion sizes here yet.

Walking back at after midnight we suddenly started to gather a pack of dogs. It started on the bridge where one of the mad dogs was chasing any car that came over. No idea why it was doing that but it was really dangerous. As we walked along the river they started to follow us so we had six dogs in tow. We think they were attracted to Nick - the dog whisperer. We finally shook them off as they dropped off one by one until there were only two by the time we got to the Peace Bridge. One dog gave up on the stairs but one kept going, luckily for us, it started to follow a couple as we turned into our street. We had a vision of waking up and finding the whole pack outside the front door! It’s morning now and we haven’t checked yet so you never know...

Posted by Cath_Greig 22:00 Archived in Georgia Tagged parks tbilisi Comments (0)

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