Today is our last full day in Nice. I know, you’re feeling really sorry for us right now. Your heart will bleed when you realize we are toying with the idea of taking the train into Paris tomorrow once we land at De Gaulle. Our flight arrives at 11:15 a.m. and we don’t fly out until Saturday afternoon, so pourquoi pas? We are staying at an airport hotel and that just doesn’t sound like much fun.
This morning we had petit dejeuner on the beach. The Mediterranean waves were kicking up and it was lovely. I always find it difficult to say goodbye, even if it’s just to a place. Today we will pack up, making sure our suitcases are no more than 23 kilos apiece (thank you Michael for schlepping a bag of stuff home for us).
Yesterday was the day of truth. You probably know (since I have already ranted about it) Covid tests to return to the States. Since we are vaccinated, we could get them up to three days out, and we decided to do it as soon as possible just in case. After a bit of a brain tickle, we both came up negative, so we are travel ready according to United Airlines. Woo hoo! After that, we headed over to the Musée de Photographie. It featured exhibits by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, an environmental activist is known for his aerial photos, but who started his career documenting the lives of a family of lions. We loved it. In the gallery next door, we were reminded of how (rightly I believe) the the human rights record of the United States is viewed in other counties, through an exhibit of photos by Florent Meng that depicted the toll on humanity of U.S. border policies. The photos were taken in the desert at and around the border between Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona.
In case you were desperate for another Mediterranean Sea pic, here you go. You’re welcome.
After lunch Wednesday, Steven sat down at the computer to work and I went for a wander in the rain. Mostly I was drinking it all in, taking some more photos and enjoying the sound of the sea.
We also had our final salad, baguette and wine dinner Wednesday night. We will definitely miss the bread, the wine and the sea. We were very comfortable here. It’s familiar enough that we can figure out how to get things done and our pitiful French usually elicited English in return (although sometimes we asked for French for practice). I would say we have acquired enough French to successfully shop and order at a restaurant (mostly).
It’s going to be weird to be in a place where everyone speaks English, we keep saying to each other. Won’t it be nice to ask a question and get an answer we understand at least for a couple of weeks. I am hoping to really get to improve my French in Morocco, where their fourth (!) language is English.
Friday was yet another beautiful day on the French Riviera. We took an excursion to another island just off of Cannes. This one is called St.-Honorat and is the home to a monastery and Cistercian monks. They make (and sell) wine and one a month they offer a tour and wine tasting. To get there, we took the TGV from Nice to Cannes, which was cool even though it didn’t get up to high speeds, then boarded a ferry that took about 15 minutes. Once we were there, we wandered around the island for about an hour before the tour. The tour itself seemed very informative; unfortunately it was in French and we only understood a smattering of it. One person on the tour was using Google translate to get a better understanding, but we looked on this as an opportunity to practice our French and get what we could from the explanation. After the tour and tasting, we wandered around the island, had a picnic lunch and generally enjoyed the peace and quiet.
We caught the ferry back to Cannes and the train back to Nice, and that would normally be the end of the day’s adventures, but Le Flick (the police) had other plans. We had not been asked for our train tickets when we boarded nor on the train. After we exited, Le Flick were checking tickets in a doorway on the way to the exit. Unfortunately, they seemed to be doing it in typical French fashion, meaning no organization at all. Just a couple of guys standing in the doorway with scanners. Imagine a rugby scrum with more people and less order. Anyway, after a minute or two we got to the front and Sue showed our tickets and we were free.
On the walk home, we stopped at the boulangerie for our daily baguette and decided to get an apple tart for dessert. The very nice lady behind the counter let us know that there was a weekend special, which we understood to be buy one get one free, so we added a second apple tart. Well, it was actually buy two get one free. But we had already committed to the weekend special, and that is how we ended up with the lemon tart too. (Steven thinks I didn’t understand that, but I really wanted the extra dessert.) Oh, the trials and tribulations of learning the French language.
Saturday, we decided to go see Èze, a small mountain village just outside of Nice with stunning views of the Mediterranean. It is at about 1,400 feet perched on a sheer cliff. We took the local bus which dropped us off just outside the old portion of the village. We trudged up the last couple of hundred feet, explored the village and visited the exotic gardens. It is a lovely village and Sue took tons of photos, some of which are shown below.
After a couple of hours of looking around, we had a quick lunch and discussed how to get home. We had two choices: Take the bus back the way we came (cheap, easy, relaxing, and we knew how to do it) or hike a mile and a half down the Nietzsche footpath dropping 1,400 feet to sea level and take the train home (more expensive, no idea how hard the climb down would be, the village is set on a sheer cliff, and there was only a little information about the trail down). Apparently Nietzsche lived in Èze and they have commemorated that by naming the walking path after him. There are a number of signs with his poems along the route – not sure that if I was a resident Nietzsche is who I would want to be known for…but that is their call. Of course, we did the hike – at this point I would like to blame Sue for the decision, but in good conscience I have to let you know that she left it up to me (I wanted to do it, but deferred to Steven’s fear of heights. He turns out to be pretty brave.) and I foolishly thought the hike wouldn’t be too terrible. Actually, it was not terrible at all. It was a fairly steady downhill with only a few very exposed cliff drops (most of which I didn’t realize until I was past them on the lower portion of the switchback). There were, once again, tons of beautiful views and dappling of shade and sun so it wasn’t too hot. It was excellent choice. We arrived down at the station cooled our heels (and the rest of our bodies) for about 40 minutes and the train arrived and took us home. No drama this time at the train station!
At some point in our wanderings of the old town in Nice we found a 24/7 automated pizza machine. Pizza from a vending machine! When we found it, we knew we would have to return and try it out. Saturday night we did just that. It is pretty cool. We used a touch screen to select our pizzas, paid and then Voilà! Trois minutes plus tard the pizza appears. We walked home and sat down to watch a movie, drink wine and eat reasonably good automated pizza. Apologies for the quality of the video and editing.
Oh Covid. Aren’t we all sick (no pun intended) of you!?!?!?! We have been traveling, so we’re clearly not in the overly fearful category of Covid-living, but we’re also vaccinated and respect the wishes of those around us. We wear masks on public transportation and in stores (and I don’t mean chin straps), but we also eat in restaurants.
As we prepare to head back to the States, I am confronted with the irrationality of how we’re all coping with this. Everyone has a reason for behaving the way they do in the face of this illness and everyone else thinks the reasons are, well, a little kooky. You wear a chin strap, but use hand sanitizer 100 times a day? OK for you. You won’t go to a restaurant, but you went to your friend’s party, I get it. You won’t fly, but you take the train? Whatever gets you through.
I’m sure many people would say Steven and I are nuts for traveling(amongst other reasons?). My latest confirmation on wacky thinking is the regulation that we need Covid tests to get back into the States when all the places we’ve been have stricter rules (pass sanitaire or an HES tracking code) and lower or similar Covid rates as the U.S. OK, whatever. Now our biggest fear is a false positive!
Anyway, this week we’ve taken it easy. We took the tram uphill to the end of the line (it was rainy) and walked back down the hill (Steven’s idea). We’ve strolled along the beach and up to the cemetery again (the people there were still dead). Speaking of strolls, we switched phones today as an experiment on the whole step-count debacle. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here. So, here are our results:
Notice that we have slightly different step counts, the same stride length and wildly different mileage counts. What’s up with that?
We have been making up for all our walking with … eating! I had socca (a chickpea flour pancake) on the recommendation of my friend (thanks!). Then, we had a delicious Mediterranean (OK, Italian) meal complete with crazy delicious desserts at La Voglia. Steven had a creme caramel that was the size of a bicycle wheel (no he didn’t finish it)(it was about 2cm in diameter) and I had a chocolate, hazelnut, peanut tarte. Yum! Today we had crepes at La Vieille Crepe. We had this bonne idée to have a dessert crepe and then not eat dinner, but we were too full, so we are going to have dessert for dinner instead! Gotta eat like the Nicoise do. I still haven’t had a salad nicoise sandwich, but I am wondering whether I should leave the memory of that perfect meal alone.
I know I have said this before, but everyone has been very accommodating about our very limited French. They will even help us learn new phrases. Today we learned, “Je n’ai pas de place,” or I don’t have room. In other words, non dessert pour moi, merci.
In case you think we’re not gloating enough, here are today’s Mediterranean images.I’ll save the city views for another day. You can thank me later.
If you’re still reading, just a reminder that we will be in Chicago from Nov. 13-20, soooo we’d love to see you if you have some time. Drop us a line. We really do miss our friends and family.
What have we done so far this week? Do we have to do a lot here? Nice is compact, which means we can walk wherever we need to go. The Mediterranean is a few blocks away, as are beautiful hills. We have spent our mornings strolling along the Promenade des Anglais and marveling at how very lucky we are. Then we say things like, “I could see us renting a place here for 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 months. Aaaaah.”
We truly do miss our family and friends, but we figure if we offer a place in Nice someone might visit, oui?
We have also been a little obsessed with our step counts. Although Steven and I pretty much walk everywhere together, it seems we are walking different distances. I get that we have different gaits and, therefore, somewhat different step counts, but why is our mileage off? We are thinking it depends on which pocket our phones are in when we walk, but if you have a better idea, let us know. (little does she know that I lie to her when she asks me about my numbers…;-))
A couple days ago I walked up one of the hills to a gorgeous viewpoint. All the viewpoints are gorgeous, BTW. I wandered amid the ruins (and the snack bar), took in the view and then tried to head over to the Jewish Cemetery and Holocaust Memorial. The cemetery was closed, but I did get to see the many many names carved into a marble wall. Sadly, I think we need to remember this now as the world gets more nationalistic and tribal.
My favorite store, the Monoprix (AKA the French Target) (gives new meaning to the C’est Targetsaying), is nearby, but even closer is the farmer’s market. We are even becoming semi-capable of conducting a food-purchase conversation in French (for me – emphasis on semi), but what has really made me feel French is the realization of a dream I have had since we first got to Paris: I bought a breton! OK, I bought two bretons and I am soooo excited. OK, it’s likely that no French people wear bretons but I don’t care.
We have Abi here, which has been great (as her belle mere, I have to say that but it’s true). We’ve mostly been cooking, but to keep in the spirit of no French food in France, we did go out for Thai at Le Banthai in Vielle Ville (old town). The menu was limited, but the food was delicious.
I also got the opportunity to meet a coworker who happens to live here. That was great fun. One of the weird things about remote and distance work is that I have never met anyone I work with except one person I knew before. Mostly I like not having to deal with office politics and gossip, but I guess I do miss having colleagues to go get a coffee with every now and then. My colleague and now friend apologized for the weather because a couple of gentle raindrops fell from the sky when we met. I’ll take that any day, but I know from having lived in California that it’s very easy to get weather spoiled.
We’ve gone from the frenetic excitement of Istanbul to the gentle waves of Nice. I can’t say we thought it through, but the contrast between the two has worked out very well.
We settled into the slower and all together more comfortable pace of Nice. The fruit and vegetable market is open almost every day and the Monoprix has wider selection of foods that we recognize. On Friday, we worked in the morning and then decided to go to the Marc Chagall Museum. It was a 20-minute walk that was thankfully mostly flat. The museum was created by M. Chagall so it represents those things that he felt were most important. It was originally envisioned as holding only artwork that was related to the Bible but has since expanded to cover all phases of his work. They have an audio tour that we could access from our cellphones and that made the tour immensely informative. Unfortunately, some of the rooms were closed, but we were able to see quite a bit of his work, and we had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
Sue found a day cruise that would take us to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lérin islands off Cannes. The prison that held the famed Man in the Iron Mask sits in the middle of a fort on the island. However, that cruise was not running, but we could get to the island from Cannes. So, Saturday morning we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the train. Forty minutes later we were in Cannes, we walked over the quai got our tickets and boarded the ferry. The day was gorgeous, about 22ºC and sunny. We sat outside on the back of the ferry and enjoyed the view of Cannes receding for the 15-minute ride. The island is only 3km by 1km and we decided that we would first walk the perimeter. Once we covered about half the walk, we settled down on some rocks on the shore and had our lunch. After lunch, we completed the walk and then visited the fort that holds the prison. The prison is quite small, it has only about half a dozen cells. The island is gorgeous, with lots of secluded coves and nice walking trails.
Once we had our fill of the island we hopped back on the ferry and headed back to Cannes. We wandered around a little bit, but truthfully, it was just more shopping and restaurants. It was much more crowded and after a day of peace and quiet, it didn’t seem fun, so we hopped back on the train to Nice.
When we arrived back at the Nice train station, we found that we were locked in. There was an anti-Passe Sanitaire protest march outside, and the police had locked the station. We hung around for about 10 minutes and then one of the doors opened. We think someone just opened it, but it is possible that it was opened by security or the police. Either way, we all surged toward the door, and we headed for home. Another beautiful and fun day over.
A quick shout out to my older (much much much older) brother who celebrated his birthday on Saturday. Happy Birthday Phil.
Today (Sunday) we headed east to Monte Carlo. Phil suggested we take a helicopter from Nice, but we rejected that for four reasons. First, helicopters really scare me. Second, helicopters are even worse than a boat for Sue’s motion sickness. Third, it would be really expensive (250€ each way). Fourth, by the time we took the tram to the Nice airport, and then took the helicopter – even if we timed it perfectly – it would take longer than the train. I will admit that the train isn’t half as cool, but it is less than 10% of the cost of the helicopter. So, no helicopter.
Once again, we walked to the train and rode the SCNF. Monte Carlo is interesting. First, it is all hills! Yes, of course we want to walk up and down hills again. Although it was only 35 floors today, down from the 50s in Istanbul. But I get ahead of myself. We took the train after lunch and wandered from the train station down the waterside. As we crossed the main port, there was a carnival. It was exactly like the type of carnival you see in the States in every town during the summer. Same rides, same games, and mostly the same food. (American Skeeball!) It seemed so out of place, yet so familiar. We walked past it and up (many many many steps) to the fort, through the gardens, took in the stunning views of the Mediterranean and admired the statutes. It was beautiful and calming. Next, we headed to the Palais Princier de Monaco square and strolled up and down the alleys. We stumbled on the Cathedral of Monaco and while we were there we found Princess Grace’s tombstone (and PrinceRainier, too). An unexpected famous dead person bonus. Sue took more photos in the palace square and then we headed back to the train. A quick 30-minute walk (up hill the whole way) to the train station and then a 30-minute train ride and we were home. Another beautiful and enjoyable day.
We returned to Nice Tuesday evening. Compared to Istanbul, the world seems familiar here. We can sort of understand things, systems make sense and there’s a Monoprix!
Before we left Istanbul, we had some last-minute eating to do. Turkish churros!(They were yummy!)
Leaving Istanbul was an adventure in itself. The van ride to the airport was uneventful since we knew to expect crazy road conditions until we got on the highway. We arrived with plenty of time. We’re too old to cut it down to the last minute! The first interesting encounter was that we had to line up to get our bags X-rayed before we even entered the terminal. OK, we thought maybe that was security so fine.
Then we had to figure out which of the lines to get in to check in. They were lettered A-G. The screen said F or G, but F was closed so off we went to G. The wait wasn’t too long but then the woman at the counter asked for our PCR test. Um, what PCR test? We don’t have no stinking PCR test! I showed my CDC card and she waved away the HES code we had gotten from the Turkish government, but she didn’t really say that was OK. She typed and typed and typed while Steven and I gave each other nervous glances. Then, my boarding pass printed and we breathed sighs of relief. Phew.
Next stop, security check part 2. This was the one where you have to take off your belt, remove liquids and electronics from your carry-on, etc. Pas de problème. As we waited, several people asked to cut the line because they were about to miss their flights. Go right ahead. But then, one guy behind us made a comment to a couple trying to squeeze by. Suddenly, fight! They started yelling. The wife of the guy who was late for his flight was begging him to just come on (she was through security) then there was a shove and the husband picked up a suitcase and threw it at the other man’s head. In the meantime, the Turkish TSA (or whatever they are called) just sat there. The man who got hit started yelling for the police, who finally arrived. The couple missed their flight while they were detained by the police, the other man got through security after telling his story and we all proceeded to our gates.
The Istanbul airport is new and the world’s largest. I guess that explains why we had to take a bus to the plane and then climb the steps up, but not really since there were tons of empty gates. The process was smooth, so we didn’t mind. Then, they fed us and gave us free wine (do you want Turkish or French? What do you think??(I know! I can’t believe Sue had Turkish wine. OK, not really).
We took the tram from the airport back to our AirBnB since that costs about 1€ and a cab costs about 30€. It’s really very convenient even if it takes a little extra time. As you loyal readers know, we had bought a cheap suitcase for our nephew Michael to schlep back with him. I am happy to say that it made the trip (a little worse for the wear). (I am not sure you can call the handle plastic separating and the wheels not working properly “a little worse for wear.”) Thank you, Michael. We had a nice dinner with him and he showed us a blackmail-worthy video of our brother-in-law Mario Greek dancing. (Unfortunately he was unwilling to send me a copy despite an offer of hard cold cash. I am so disappointed in my little sister, she has a raised a really nice young man.) They also have a blog so maybe the video will appear there.
Sue and I had a busy week with work and all, so we decided to spend this weekend doing nothing. We woke up late, sat around drinking coffee and watched TV for three full days.
Friday our plan was to have street food for lunch, then head for the Dolmabahçe Palace, then walk over to the Ortaköy Mosque and finish the day off with kumpir (potatoes stuffed with all sorts of interesting things) that you buy street vendors near the mosque.
We relaxed a bit in the morning, and then headed down the big hill to grab lunch. Sue had a takeout balık ekmek (fish sandwich) from a place right on the Karaköy pier and I grabbed a chicken dürüm (a chicken wrap), which we sat on a stone wall overlooking the straits and ate. Yummy.
We rode the tram to the Dolmabahçe Palace, which was simply amazing. It is huge and while it was only completed in the 19th century, so it isn’t old, what it lacks in age it makes up with splendor. You are not allowed to take photos in the palace (seems a little odd that taking pictures in mosques is OK, but not in the palace). (Also, I think we were the only ones following that rule.) It is situated right on the Bosporus Straits and views are incredible. My uncle David would describe the décor as early French brothel, but I would be a bit more generous and say it was decorated fashionably for the time. The chandeliers are incredible. The tour also includes the Harem; which I always thought was only for the women. In reality it is the private quarters of the Sultan, his wives, concubines and his mother. It was pretty amazing and along with everything else there is an audio tour that is well worth getting.
Once we had finished poking around, we headed to the Ortaköy mosque. Sue’s friend, Dana, recommended seeing the mosque, which is also built on the waterfront, and then eating kumpir from one of the food stands. We figured it was only a “short” 3km walk so we thought it would be a nice stroll along the waterfront. The walk was nice, but like everywhere in Istanbul, it was very crowded. We arrived at the mosque at about 5. .pm, went inside for a quick look and then decided to have a drink and a short rest. We bought freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from a stand outside the mosque and sat down on a bench. Neither of us was particularly hungry but the next thing on our agenda was to eat kumpir. We wandered around the town for an hour or so and then decided to head back to the AirBnB. We just weren’t hungry enough to eat and there didn’t seem to be a good reason to stick around for another hour or so.
Our plan was to catch a ferry. We had looked at the schedule the day before and planned taking a ferry from Ortaköy to Karaköy (which is just down the hill from our AirBnB). Unfortunately, we apparently misunderstood the directions because no such ferry existed. We put our heads back into our Trafi App (the official Istanbul public transit app) and found we could go from Ortaköy across the straits to the Asian side and stop in Üsküdar, then transfer to a ferry from Üsküdar to Karaköy. We smiled, knowing we had solved the problem and got on the ferry to Üsküdar. Once there we asked about the ferry to Karaköy; only to be told it was not running. We had somehow misread or misunderstood the directions. A very gruff, but nice man who was working the ferries, told us to wait for about 45 minutes and then there would be another ferry. Another ferry guy told us that there was a different Karaköy so we walked over to that, once again, to find that it was not running. But there was a ferry leaving for Eminönü in 20 minutes. Eminönü is just across the bridge from Karaköy. So we hopped that ferry, walked across the bridge and by the time we got back home, it was 8:30 so we headed out for dinner.
One day, 10.6 miles and the equivalent of walking up 65 flights of stairs. Whew.
Saturday we decided to only go to two places. First a museum call the Sakıp Sabanci Museum and then on the way home, we were going to stop at the Rumeli Fortress. Once again, we examined our trusty(?) Trafi app and determined that the only way to get to the museum would be to take a bus. We headed to the bus stop and waited. The bus we were supposed to be on did not arrive at all, so we grabbed another that would get us as far as Ortaköy. We quickly amended our plans, and decided that once we were in Ortaköy we would grab lunch. Sue could have kumpir (the loaded potatoes that we wanted to try) and I would have another dürüm, this time with lamb. My potato was delicious!
Once lunch was finished, we waited for the next bus. Once again, the one we wanted didn’t arrive, but another one that would take us to the museum did after about 15 minutes. Back on the bus and after about a 30-minute ride, we reached the museum. It was great. Sue enjoyed the art and furnishings, while I found the rooms on calligraphy fascinating. We somehow thought it was going to be small because it is associated with a university, but it was large and on beautiful grounds.
After a couple of hours in the museum we decided to walk about 30 minutes to the fortress. The walk was really pleasant. It was mostly flat (YAY!) and along the waterfront. The fort was the first incursion by the Ottoman Empire into Europe. It was built in 1452 in order to facilitate the siege of Constantinople. Amazingly it was built over a four-month period and it is situated in the narrowest point of the straits. The ramparts and towers were closed for renovations, but we wandered the gardens and climbed up to the top of the inside of the fort. The views over the straits were amazing.
Once we had our fill of the fort, we mapped our way home. We had two choices. First option: two buses that would take an hour and 10 minutes, if they came on time and if we managed to get on the right ones. Second option: 20 minute walk to the Metro then a 30-minute Metro ride. Seems like a pretty easy choice. HAHAHAHA! Well what Google did not bother to tell us was that the 15-minute walk was – you guessed it – uphill – all uphill – 400 feet vertical climb over 2km. The least steep portions were the stairs. As Sue led us on our latest death march, I reminded myself that I chose this option – and that I should check to make sure my life insurance was paid up. We finally reached the top of the hill, found the Metro and (I at least) collapsed into (my) seat.
Another 6.5 miles and 57 flights of stairs.
Sunday we really did decide to take it easy. We walked down the hill just so we could ride the funicular up to the top. We had lunch and then walked to the Dervish museum. It was well done, as all the museums we have been to here have been. We learned about the history of the Dervish and the philosophy. Once we finished that we avoided the draw of wandering through the adjacent cemetery and headed home for the day. Steven neglects to mention that we also decided to get some snacks for our upcoming plane ride even though Turkish Airways actually feeds passengers and we ended up with enough dried fruit and nuts to see us through getting back home in November.
The days here are long as we tend to get up by 9, head out for some sightseeing until 1 or 2 p.m., then home to work until 8 p.m. and then have dinner. We are generally getting to sleep between 1 and 2 a.m. Long, but really fun days. One thing to note is that Istanbul is built on a series of seven hills, however in a feat of geologic engineering, they have managed to make it so that no matter what direction we walk, we are going uphill.
Monday we acquired train passes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but if Kafka were going to design a way to sell transit passes, he would have used the Istanbul system as a model, perhaps even deciding it was too complicated and bizarre for one of his stories. It started Sunday evening when we wanted to ride a bus to see a mosque about 40 minutes away.
You can only buy single ride passes at the bus/metro/tram stops and they cost 6 T₺ (which is about $0.67each — the Turkish lira is about 9 U.S. cents). However, the machines only take cash and gives no change. Our smallest notes were 50 T₺ and that didn’t seem worth it. So, we asked the guard where to find the InstanbulKart, the refillable train pass. He vaguely waved in the direction of another tram stop about 10 minutes away. We went there. Nothing. We found a sign to a metro station and walked over to it and it had a tourist information booth. It was empty. (We assumed because it was Sunday evening.) There were machines that apparently sold the pass. However, the language selection function didn’t work and the screen would go blank after about 20 seconds. So we tried a few times to translate as we went and then gave up. We planned to return on Monday. As we were walking out we found a sign that explained that due to COVID you needed a code that registered your card to you and gave instructions (in English!) to get them. We went home, got the code, logged into the app and tried again. Nope. That did work either.
The codes in the app were limited to numbers and ours were alphanumeric. Which brings us to Monday morning. We returned to the station hoping that there would be someone in the tourist booth, but yet again, no luck. We found a guard and asked him. In broken English he said you have buy the card from the IstanbullKart office, which was a few doors down. We found it easily, because it was the place with the line out the door. After about 30 minutes, we were able to purchase the cards and were informed that the card had no balance. To load it, we needed to go back to the station (technically we could load it at any station or tram stop, but the metro station was the closest place). We went back to the station, and tried our luck at filling the card. We were really lucky because after we tried and failed a couple of times, a mann wandered up and was waiting to refill his card. We stepped aside, figuring we would watch him and mimic those steps. He was kind enough to see that we were idiot tourists and showed us how to do it. Hurrah! We could now ride the transit system – at a discounted rate! The tram costs only about 3T₺ (we think).
Tuesday we took the tram (using our InstanbulKarts!) and visited the Turkish Archeological museum. The museum has three buildings. The main one has three floors, the other two are single story. Unfortunately, while the two smaller buildings were both fully open, only the ground floor of the main building was accessible as the others were undergoing renovation. The museum is really well done and houses an enormous collection of ancient statutes, sarcophagi, friezes and other antiquities. The main building’s collection is all from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, with quite a bit from an excavation in Sidon (in what is now Lebanon). The other two buildings housed collections from Egypt/Babalyonia and Turkish ceramics. It was very impressive and well worth the visit. We purchased the audio tour (4T₺) and while almost all the signs were in both Turkish and English, it was worth having.
Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary, and we had a nice (early) dinner at a Mexican place called Los Altos which had a beautiful view overlooking the Golden Horn (thanks again Dana!). We spent the rest of evening the listening to the Bebop Project at a local jazz club which is about 3 minutes’ walk (uphill of course – both ways) from our AirBnb. It was wonderful.
Wednesday morning we headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was about 25 minutes away on the top of one of the hills of Istanbul. We took the metro for the first time (using our IstanbulKarts again!). I think it took us longer to get down to the trains than the train took for the couple of stops we were on it. The metro is a DEEP subway system. I assume it is because Istanbul is built on hills and the trains run relatively flat, but I am not sure. Suffice to say the next escalator down had a sign over the top saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” When we left the metro, we walked (uphill, of course) to the mosque complex. It is only the third or fourth most famous mosque in Istanbul, but is was still extremely impressive. I am not including any of our photos as our amateur ones do not do the place justice. Please look at the photos in the link above.
After wandering out of the complex, we headed for a coffee shop that Dana (Sue’s friend) suggested. The directions were (I am paraphrasing); exit the back of the complex, go across the alley, head down a sketchy looking hallway, up the rickety stairs and the café is there. We followed the directions and found a rooftop café. We have no idea if it was the right one or not, but who cares. The place had huge windows and we had a great view from the Golden Horn looking back on the area where we are staying which is called Beyoğlu (it also had a roof deck, but it was a bit too chilly to eat outside). We ordered the Turkish breakfast, which was enough food for a small (or not so small) army. It included:
simit (a Turkish bagel)
Two types of jam, honey & nutella
five types of cheese
cucumbers and tomatoes
some sort of processed meat product that was vaguely smoky
spring rolls (which are like blintzes but made with filo dough)
and a pot of tea.
We also ordered coffee, because we didn’t think it through. We ate and ate and ate, and barely made a dent in the food.
After we finished we headed back on the metro, took it one extra stop and walked an extra kilometer or two to allow some of the food to digest, before we sat down to work. Needless to say, we had a very light dinner of yogurt, fruit and nuts.
Today, tomorrow and Saturday are all travel days. Today we drove from Clamecy to Valence and tomorrow we drive to Nice. Saturday we are off to Istanbul.
We have spent the month driving our trusty ride, a Dacia Sandero, all over France. For those of you who have never heard of Dacia, it is a Romanian subsidiary of Renault. We got the car through a program called Auto-TT. For reasons that I don’t really understand there is an incentive to car companies to create short-term leases to non-EU citizens. The leases are tax free as long as they are 21 day or more. For us, it was significantly cheaper than a rental car and allowed us both to drive it. Per the terms of the lease, we “own” the car the for the period of the lease and then simply return it to Renault. Renault provided all the insurance.
A quick recap of our travels included this month:
Paris to Clamecy; Clamecy to Chambery (the Alps); Clamecy to Brugge, Brussel & Chimay (Belgium); Clamecy to Dijon (Mustard); Clamecy to Strasborg (the German border); and now Clamecy to Nice (Côte d’Azur). All in, about 5,000 kilometers (about 3,000 miles).
We have noticed a few things about driving here:
The majority of the highways are toll roads and they are relatively expensive. The drive to Strasborg cost about €50 ($60) in tolls.
Gasoline is very very very expensive compared to the US. The average litre of gas has been about €1.70 ($7.50 per gallon).
The country is much hillier that I expected. We are routinely going up or down 7% grades.
The roads seem to be either highways (A roads) or two lane “country” roads.
There are rotaries (traffic circles? roundabouts? rond points) everywhere. In Paris, the cars entering the rotaries have the right of way over those in the rotary; everywhere I have ever driven, the driver in the rotary has the right of way.
When approaching an intersection, the person on the right has the right of way, unless they have yield or stop sign. That means that if you are on a main road and someone on a side street doesn’t have a traffic sign, you have to let them in.
I had forgotten how much I enjoyed driving a manual transmission car.
With the exception of a faulty front radar sensor, the car performed admirably.
We had one recurring issue when driving – buying gas. For some reason, virtually none of the gas stations would accept our credit cards. I checked with our banks and they both insisted that the gas stations were declining the transactions before it was passed to the bank for approval. We ended up using a debit card, which worked everywhere, but at the supermarket. We had the very odd experience of paying for groceries with a card, then having the same card be declined trying to buy gas outside the store. Very odd. When we used the debit card, they initially put a charge of $345 on the card, but then adjusted it to the actual amount in a couple of days.
Tomorrow we will complete our drive to Nice, and then return the car to Renault.
Saturday morning we hop an Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul.
On this erev Yom Kippur (for those who do not know, it is the Jewish Day of Atonement), I want to take a moment out of reveling in our travels to remind myself how lucky I am. Has the road always been easy? Of course not. Am I all the things I imagined I’d become. Again, no. But I also wouldn’t have dared believe I would be in a position to be sitting in an AirB&B in the middle of nowhere France visiting with my best high school friend. And having a husband who wanted to be along for the ride. To travel. To explore. To (try to) learn a new language. To have great family and friends I know will always be there for me. And to have found a wonderful man to share it all with (I am assuming she is talking about me…Dear readers please feel free to send in your opinions).
Below are a couple of photos from our morning walk. Life is tough.
Is life perfect? No. Are there dreams I haven’t fulfilled? Yes. Do I miss the people who are gone? Absolutely. They have all left me with something and I aspire to live my best life in their honor. I don’t always succeed, but these days I find myself marveling at the wonder of all that is around me. Yes, I worked to get here, no doubt. As I write this (Sept. 14), my son is celebrating his birthday seven time zones away. Do I have a twang of sadness about that? Of course. But as it should be, I am much more melancholy about it than he is. Did I spend my 26th birthday with my mother? I am sure I did not.
So, I will reflect. I will try to be the best I can be and I won’t succeed, but I will keep trying. I will look out the window and understand that not everyone gets to see a medieval church whose magnificent domed ceiling makes one feel small and that getting in the car and taking a weekend trip to Belgium just to say “fuckin’ Bruges” because you thought the movie was funny, is an extraordinary way to live for a blue-collar woman from Queens.
I will reach, fall short, waste time playing on my phone and beat myself up about it. I will fall short in so many ways (at least in my eyes), but I will remember what a new friend said to me recently and I will try to radiate positive energy and be a magnet for attracting good people into my life.
I’m old enough to have sloughed off a lot of the anger and learned to appreciate what’s in front of me. My motto these days is: Experience over objects, not that I was ever the most materialistic person in the world, but I was in Paris for a month and all I bought besides food (and wine!) were two fridge magnets.
Enough of the sanctimonious navel-gazing (although I do mean it all).
Here’s a reality check:
It’s tough when:
you’re living and working remotely in a one-bedroom apartment with crappy WiFi,
something goes wrong and you don’t speak the language well enough to get help
nothing is open on Sunday or Monday or between noon and 2 pm
(your wife seems to think a 15,000 mile hike up and down the side of a HUGE mountain is fun)
But every time we start whining about one of these things, one of us looks at the other and says, “We’re in France and then we’re going to Istanbul and Nice and Barcelona and Fes!” and the whining stops.
Here’s hoping for continued growth, learning and self-awareness in the coming year.