CYPRUS – BACK IN THE MAGIC

April 2, 2011 in CYPRUS | Comments (60)

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Garden setting, mountains and beach

Spring again in Cyprus. Back in the land of Aphrodite…

They call Anassa the queen. The most beautiful hotel on Cyprus and surely one of the world’s treasures. It is an astounding piece of art created out of marble, inspired by history. Motifs from the ancients, are mixed with medieval cloisters, fountains, domes and cupolas and even a real Byzantine church is part of the hotel, nestled in a village square where in summer they have village type events. And of course weddings.

The grand hotel with its gleaming lobbies and terraces offers exquisite suites, including Adonis and Aphrodite – some might give their nest egg to spend a week in those two suites – with jacuzzi on the balcony overlooking the ocean and  long beach.

Apart from the usual choice of swimming pools, Anassa basks in the privilege of an unspoilt beach – tawny sands stretching up to golden cliffs on one side and the mountains of the Akamas peninsula on the other. The beach would of course look freer without the wooden walkway to the sunloungers in one corner. And much better without the string of lights that were still there by the bar when we arrived. But it is still beautiful with its cinammon sands against the blue of sea and sky.

And there was almost noone there again.  Last year it was cappuchino on the beach and the waiter ran because I requested my coffee hot – a coffee cost 7 euros.  This year my choise was water. My bottle of water (a stiff 4 euros) had a sparse elegance I felt worth picturing.

And yes the sun was warm again. 20 degrees. On Saturday it was really hot – enough to burn us.

We also had a weekend of lavish meals yet again. So much seafood, wonderful salads, Italian specialities, melt-in-mouth desserts in extaordinary displays of tempting food passions…

ROOMS

This year we had a garden studio suite.  Deliciously light and Mediterranean in feel. Our balcony had some four hours of sun in the morning, a pleasant place to be with a view of deep blue sea between the hotel on the right and garden suites on the left. The garden suites have a peaceful village style setting along winding paths – and all manage some kind of seaview or other. A little cold at this time of year to wander in light clothes to dinner (a few minutes walk – or a  quick breezy buggy ride=.

Last year our studio suite in the main building had an extra large terrace with fabulous view of the sea, which saw the sun about two hours a day. In the high summer at 40 degrees, the shade on the terrace is probably divine. But I still prefer the idea of the rooms on the sunset side, which face the mountain and sea  –  balconies just the place for sundowners. Or the ultimate – if only if only – the Aphrodite or Adonis suites which have everything you wish.

More about them later…


Day 7 – Dubrovnik

April 30, 2010 in CROATIA | Comments (6)

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In the night we navigated past Corfu, which our daily cruise newspaper tells us has a Byzantine, Venetian, French, Italian history (many cultural influences, like all the countries and island states in these waters ). I woke to a glorious sunrise in an iridescent pink in a wide band over the horizon. The day dawned clear and cold (some 12 degrees). Breakfast did nt work well as I went alone, sat without being told where  to sit and thus had no waiter in charge of my needs. Asked by Aleah to bring her a gluten free croissant, my attempted order brought me plates of gluten free cakes, but still no breakfast. Tea, yes. Juice (not very fresh in taste), yes. But nothing on the menu. I felt abandoned, hungry… finally as leaving met Jose, the special needs man, and told him I was looking for a gluten free croissant for Aleah.  Waited, feeling the day pass…brutal to feel a day pass waiting when it is the last day of a trip. Finally the very obliging man returned to report the gluten free croissants were unfortunately finished. Thanks you I said.

Next I tried to get my totally marvelous coffee. Bar closed he said – it opened at 9. I did not look at my time – it was probably only five minutes to wait, but I went to Sahara buffet/coffee bar, and ordered my usual latte macchiato. Hot I said, not strong. I think they thought I said not hot. For the first time I got lukewarm coffee as they serve it in Sweden – unfortunately. They kindly called a waitress to take me to a table outside, as I told them the buffet was too noisy. It is. Very noisy. The a la carte restaurant is a hidden corner of sobriety in comparison. I think all the most impatient, volcanic natured people go to the buffet and must communicate with equally forceful eruptions of words.

The covered deck was a bit quieter but I did watch in amazement as this Italian (?) family communicated all talking at the same time, and the man projected his voice with a constant stream of words and the mastery of an Italian tenor.

Blue sea. Beautiful blue sea swishing past. Our cabin is so peaceful. Sun illumantes our very own balcony. This cruise could have been wonderful if the weather had been kinder, with most time spent on the private balcony to the harmonious sounds of the sea.

We came into the port an hour later than expected, so I tried to phone Calvados Luxury Club who have organized a hotel inspection and a tour. No connection. Finally at the 11th hour used Aleah’s phone to send SMS.

We were met by a driver in a BMW.

Taken up to Hotel Bellevue by the Calvados Luxury Club driver. Very attractive position, light lobby and beautiful views from every level, with the hotel lift taking you down to the sandy/pebbly beach, where one corner is private. The public can get to the beach down some steep steps. The gorgeous view through glass walls was the main feature of the spa pool (included for guests).  The terrace adjoining the restaurant and bar, where you can take a drink or eat breakfast, was also uplifted by the view of cliffs, greenery and turquoise water.

For images of Hotel Bellevue see the page under Luscious Luxury (images by Binah Creations).

We were shown the presidential suite and various categories of room all graced by sea views and the little turquoise bay. The standard category does not have a balcony, while the superior and deluxe all have balconies where you can soak in the Mediterranean (Adriatic) sun and landscape. The furnishing is minimalistic and in quiet tones. Seemed very plain after FS Bosphorous of course… not many hotels  can compete with that.

Our guide Al arrived … Al….

Two hour tour – lots and lots of history … saw a very baroque church from the 1600s before the earthquake, a Franciscan monastery (6 still live there upstairs) downstairs cloister around a garden, and the house of government also built in the middle ages. The rector was voted in and had a month long term of office (locked in). Pink room….

Exhausted now— sitting in the lilac lounge by a coffee bar… string quartet Spanish or Italian traditional songs, explains Aleah…the listeners in easy chairs clap.


Day 5 – Istanbul

April 28, 2010 in Mediterranean,TURKEY | Comments (276)

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The Four Seasons Bosphorus in Istanbul.

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Four Seasons at Sultanahmet

7.30a:  The boat glided in to the pier on the Bosphorous on the European side.

Cutting winds greeted us and sent Aleah back for a jacket. Still we walked to a taxi rank and got a ride to Four Seasons Bosphorous for 5 euro, in time for our 8.30 am appointment with the sales manager.

What an exquisite hotel. Only 18 months old (though the building dates back to days as a palace in the 18th century – Ottoman empire).

Four Seasons Bosphorous stands grandly on the shores of the straits. For all its age and tradition, it feels light and open.  A sweep of paving stretches from the front of the former palace (with fountain) towards the surprisingly sparkling blue and turquoise water, bobbing with small boats crossing between Asia and Europe. The odd working boat heads towards the Black Sea up or down the straits.  A swimming pool by the Bosphorous and a gigantic spa in the hotel give a resort feel. The hammam in the spa is remarkable for the aesthetics.  Here one can lie on a marble slab with inlaid motif under glittering blue glass light shades and details, and enjoy exfoliation, scalp massage and so on. The mosaic spa pool was also an aesthetic addition to the joys of rejuvenation and relaxation. Oriental mystery pervades the whole spa.

The interior décorof the hotel is a harmonious blend of old and new, with special items of furniture and a set of rare 18th century etchings to add to the sense of history. Fresh details to touch the heart and  sensibilities included a table totally erupting with pink orchids from glass vases.

We saw 3 room types. No guarantee that the room type featured in the images will look just like this as all are different.

Garden rooms looked very pleasant and roomy with a cumba (a traditional bay window with seat) and the usual spacious Four Seasons marble bathroom. But when we looked at a one-bedroom suite facing the Bosphorous, the garden suite (costing about one tenth) shrank in the memory. The bed of the Bosphorous Palace Suite was on a loft-like shelf, from which you could see the boats on the waterway. The desk with an Apple Mac invited work or communication, while the sofa was even more inviting in a corner with view. The two bedroom Bosphorous Palace Suite suite was impressive too. The roof suite with the angles of the roof and a terrace with view had loads of cosy atmosphere and charm.

Our breakfast was delightful, in terms of view and content, service and charm (though they had no almond milk to soothe the dairy free guests  – only soya). Over breakfast, Serkan told us that  the newer Four Seasons Bosphorous (only 18 months old) was doing very well and stealing guests fast and furiously from their other property Four Seasons Sultanahmet. That seemed surprising in view of the Sultanahmet property’s  amazing position close to so many attractions. But of course the Bosphorous property is new, serene, magnificent, and 10 minutes from designer shopping. ( So the best thing to do is to stay at both properties, at least two days each…)

Now we would see the older property in Sultanahmet. A mere 20 minute taxi ride took us to Four Seasons Sultanahmet, as it was a fairly peaceful time of day (1030).

A former prison situated between Blue Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, the FS Sultanahmet is older in feel than the other FS, with more Moorish  or medieval details. A cloister- like corridor has arches with a Moorish flourish. In fact the building is not really so old. Just dressed that way. Its mood resonates with the past, ascetism and mystery.

The downstairs rooms we saw were rather dark and deep in mood, but very spacious. We saw two more rooms.  A former warden’s room, the deluxe suite, with separate lounge, had a cosy, quaint and traditional air, with stairs up to the usual lavish bathrom. What lingers in the memory is the remarkable presidential suite. One would not call it cosy, of course, with a dining table for 8 or 10, and a lounge suite to hold as many. What makes it so memorable is one of the  balconies which has a view over the Aya Sofia mosque (once the most be3autiful church in Christendom) . Here you could enjoy room service and the grace of the domes and minarets.

The public terraces give a view of  both  the blue mosque – and the Aya Sofia.

The concierge at the hotel advised us to go first to the Blue Mosque – as prayer time was about to start (noon) and they would close the mosque. Just a few minutes’ walk took us to the Blue Mosque. The queue was not too severe. You take off your shoes and put them in plastic bags. My skirt was too short so I was presented with a  wrap around cloth with Velcro fastening.

Inside we found a corner less troubled by the crowds. A row of short women with headscarves lined the rail that holds the onlookers from the mosque praying area.

There is a moment of wonder as the different patterns of the mosaics high above, sweeping round the domes and pillars, combine like an orchestra to make one big feeling in the stomach. There is only one god, I whispered to Aleah.

The sad thing though is that they have put machine woven quite ordinary carpets down now. All the Swedes at our table have been in Istanbul long ago … and remember it most for the blue mosque and its carpets. On the floor there were all handwoven mats – each individual – old –and there were piles and piles of them. The other disappointment is that they now hang a shield of lights between you and the view of the heavenly domes.

The other “problem” of course is the crowds. Some gawping, many in groups with a voice telling them what they are seeing. It could be anything. Most people throng in the central area – like a railway station.

Noon was approaching, so trudged out with our shoes in plastic bags to put them on and continue our tour of Istanbul. Aya Sofia from the outside looks very much like something in metaphorphis – which it did over centuries, morphing from Christian to Islam – and now the Christian mosaics being released from under their Islamic cover in a labour of 20 years. We didn’t get to see it – the most beautiful church in Christendom  – as we were deterred by crowds outside  and also in the grip of need to see the Grand Bazaar.

Again I had a little feeling of disappointment, for a lost something. It was a den of total intrigue when I last visited “want to change money – want to change money” … and I remember  carpets spilling over into the alleyways – people sitting on carpets, smell of carpets, colour, weave…dealing dealing.

Strangely we preferred the market in Izmir as a “cultural” experience. This is just for tourists, Aleah said. In Izmir he people go there.

Yet there are beautiful things there in the Grand Bazaar – just too much stuff – 4000 shops. And not all good quality. The leather people were out in force again: You want to buy leather?And those seeking contact for whatever reason:  German? Italiano? Where you from?

We felt rather hemmed in between being nasty and being nice, between self protection and human politeness.  But you couldn’t be too nice. Give an inch and they will take a mile. If you answered you came from Sweden, that was not enough. Why you talk English? How long you here? My brother has a shop. Or:  You from Sweden? – I am Chinese! So you hurt them or insulted them by not answering them, and they insulted you.

.


Day 4 – Izmir

April 27, 2010 in Mediterranean,TURKEY | Comments (2)

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A wild night, says Aleah waking up and pulling off a black eyeshade. “Ooooooooooooooh…did you  hear all that creaking and groaning?”, she asks, and sighs as she forces herself out of bed.

It was the glory and power of nature on show through the night, gusting and billowing around our gigantic ship, seizing it and squeezing it so the door onto our balcony shrieked. This morning the balcony floor (high on the 10th storey) is wet with spray or rain.  Now a low grey-green sea is running past with a smoky grey-green of Turkish mountains looping the bay as we swish slowly into the port of Izmir.

Tall modern buildings are stacked like white bricks together and up the mountain side. So far – looks like an intimidating tourist destination. Finding the old town might be a challenge. No wonder the main tours offered by the boat travel agency take you out of town.

Look at that strange modern glassy highrise up on the hill, says Aleah pointing through our rain or spray splattered door.

Meanwhile the boat keeps on drifting away from the city against the mountain. We are off to breakfast….

15.16 AT SEA

The sea is running in the wind, with little white tops on the waves – greenish grey. Sky pale blue and patches of white and grey cloud. We are following the Turkish coast north, lost in a haze but caressed into white shimmer here and there by the afternoon sun.

We had a wonderful day in Izmir.

Our choice was to take a tour to Ephesus (57 eur) a city tour (43 eur) or a St Johns Monastry and Mary’s House (54 eur). Or to do it yourself…

It was hard to decide. Mary’s House sounded a bit unlikely to have belonged to Mary. Ephesus very tempting – a well preserved ruin of classical importance. We love old stones with history, even if they have fallen and the history forgotten. But it seems a bit hard to imbibe the slow vibrations of thousands of years while a guide announces in many languages a few facts learned by heart.

With this hopeless prejudice ruling, we chose the city tour –  do it yourself version.

Chaos swooped around us like seagulls chasing bait. Taxis circled around and people shouted. We were denied one of the taxis close in, as they were offering a tour. So with a German couple in tow (unable to speak English) we dodged little yellow taxis out to a busy road. The price should be 10 euros from the port by government regulation, so we announced our price and were bundled into a car without working seatbelts. Then he seemed to join a race to pass as many cars as possible along the dual carriageway following the promenade. Sudden turn and back along the road to Konak Square.

It was a bit of a surprise. A rather forgotten and forlorn place, loved most by pigeons. The beautiful clocktower is faded and needs a good clean; there is no water even in its basins/pools, and no handles on the taps.  The small mosque in the square looked abandoned too. But with faded charm, worth seeing…

From there we followed the boat people who had arrived by bus on the tour into the mazes of streets of Kemerati  Bazaar and fortunately lost them and ourselves.  Narrow lanes curved and wound around – no sense of direction remained. Shoe shops galore. Young men were shouting. Want leather jackets? Want jeans? Please come in. Sprechen sie Duetsch? Dutch?   Bits of what we read on the internet came back to me – hustlers, don’t catch their eye, keep walking.

But for all the advice we did catch people’s eyes, kind eyes and kind people. A man with moustache invited us into his shop – we said no we were looking for a café (to sit down and try to decipher where we were, having totally lost sense of place and time).  He then lead us through the maze to an area of little tea houses around one of the larger mosques. We chose one that looked so cosy, seats lined with woven patterned Turkish carpeting. He left us there with the words – you can come to my shop later if you feel like it.

Tea house in Kemeralti Bazaar, Izmir

 Later, lost time later, we passed him. Did you enjoy? Did you buy! Not buying anything I said gruffly … but undeterred by my frozen style he said warmly – are you still  looking for a cafe. You be my guest.  Come have some Turkish apple tea. How much does it cost? I asked. No he said — we are Turkish – if you are my guest you pay nothing.

So again we sat on the patterned carpeted seats and he entertained us with hot apple juice (tea?) and his stories about his visit in Finland – the closest he could come to Sweden. Finns know nothing about cooking, he spent most of his time shoveling snow, and the men are drunk 4 days a week…

Here he is…

Our tea house guide, expert on Finns

 

The clock tower in Konak Square


Day 3 – Katokolon

April 26, 2010 in GREECE,Mediterranean | Comments (257)

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Our gigantic cruise liner came in silently into the tiny deep water harbour of Katokolo. The long brown beach sweeps round the bay from a little stretch of waterfront cafes. Behind is a green hill, from which comes the sound of life – insects, birds and the crowing of a rooster. The beach is used by the locals as a road. From the balcony of our cabin high up on the 10th floor, I see a car creep slowly along the sand, on the way to one of the houses nestled along the long beach.

1230 HOURS

Back on board after a visit at this serene little town with its tavernas on the quay and street of markets. A taste of Greece. Fortunately the crowds were bussed off to Olympia or stayed onboard to suntan and use the Jacuzzi. We ate brunch on the quay by turquoise water, blue and white tables, little fishing boats, friendly people and, needless to say – to the right loomed our pristine cruise ship, towering into the sky. Magnifica.

The locals get a boost of income from visiting boats, and welcome us as spenders. But I guess little Kotokolo and its few overnight visitors breathe a sigh of relief as we go.  An American-Greek woman in a café says to her companion – see I told you. They would all start running back…. Happy triumphant tone. Now they would be in peace. I would love to have lingered on there. Plenty of wifi – every café…

1300 HOURS

Gliding out of port. My feet in a pool of water that they left after the big cleaning trolley came groaning past on the outside. Katokolo fades, but a brown stream follows us and curls as we turn. Mud or silt is being churned up.

Now we glide over glittery deep and  luscious blue.

I sip coffee at a bar on the deck, and taste spoonfuls of the world’s best nut icecream – all at reasonable prices (1.9 eur for the latte macchiato, 1.5 euro for two icecream flavours).

Macchiato onboard Magnifica is magnificent, magnifique, magnifik or whatever you might say in a number of languages. Language on this boat richochets like echoes from the tower of Babel (as every announcement on board is multi-lingual).

They serve really hot coffee with a taste as good as the aroma of roasting beans. Not even my Italian coffee bar in Stockholm has coffee that tastes this Italian or this good.

Five star coffee in mild afternoon sun.

Bars grace the decks as is essential on a cruise ship. There are two, three or four sunbathing decks with wind shelter, one with a glass roof and the smell of warm chlorine in the air mingled with the shouts and squeaks of kids and teenagers. One of the Jacuzzis is not monopolized by the teens.

NIGHT

At sea. Deep swishes of sound, deep water, strong wind, open sea. Gusts of wind. The boat rocks, especially up here on the higher levels.

This was the captain’s cocktail party and gala dinner.

So we dressed up.

What a nice evening.  Aleah, looking so exotic in long spotted muslin gloves, gauzy black dress, 20s strings of black beads, high heels and her hair in a long plait with a gauzy black rose at the back. Me in the little black dress /from H&M  with its nice cross over neckline, Zoul jacket, black tights over lace stockings. And my white hair of course breaking the blackness.

The cocktail party was after the dinner for our session – for the late diners it was vice versa. You got a glass of champagne and the chance to be photographed with the captain. Ran into the Swedes from our table – 3 couples. The man who sat opposite us and had so little chance to chat with us, couldn’t resist approaching – tell me your story.

Couples began dancing, but we continued our mission of information fact finding: Back to the jewellery shop to speak to our new Turkish friend. What was the name of the square in Izmir? We asked.

We joked that he was our travel agent, and he told us a funny story. A woman came up to him to ask him “Where are we now?”

“On the open sea,” he said.

“ No exactly where …I must know,” she insisted.

He went off the captain and came back with a map for her to show where the boat was. “Oh,” she said. She had been asking reception for days. “But you in the jewellery shop know. Amazing…”

Finally he remembered the name of the square in the old town. Konak square, and the name of market Kemeralti bazaar. We were so touched at all his trying.

He is a blue-eyed Turk with naturally bouffant wavy hair and pale skin. Yes I know he says … I do not look like a Turkish man…strange. The usual joke about “what was your mother doing?” did not seem fitting for someone who was most probably a Muslim.

So here we are at close to midnight back in our cabin. It will be Pelle’s 50th tomorrow.


Day 2 – Bari

April 25, 2010 in ITALY,Mediterranean | Comments (27)

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We could disembark at 10am. Confusion at the port. We had decided not to do a tour and asked all in sundry the way out, the way to go.

Hard to find out how far we would have to walk – of course the tour people don’t have time or inclination to tell you that.

In fact it was a very short way. But intimidated by intimations of distance, we were easy prey to a jolly little tourist train parked nearby,  which would circle the town. You were to get half an hour at three stops.  Began a conversation with a nice Italian woman from northern Italy – me no Italian – she no English, helped by  French man.  Fun.  Adventure.

We met a world full of contrasts. Pockets of cruise passengers in little groups here and there. But otherwise the life of Bari on a Sunday came vividly to us. It was the best possible day to visit Bari after all…

Firstly the Catholic Church. Full of the magic of incense. Devotees sitting on the pews in the magnificent basilica. A little embarrassing to invade as a tourist, yet immensely moving to watch.  A sermon was in process by soft spoken priest. Spoke as if to himself or to God. Down in the vaults mass was in swing with rich harmony. In another church in the square, an old woman with scarf beside me sang along in parts, adding to the sounds from the small choir, creating stereo sound in a haunting  mass. I could have cried –  it was so moving…

Walking. Narrow streets with the aroma of washing powder. Sunday is wash day. Washing draped between walls in narrow lanes, over balconies – flapping everywhere. Pasta out to dry too, home made pasta on wooden stands by front doors.

Little square. Piazza. Children children children – bambinos – on tiny bright enameled bikes, cycling round and round while mothers watch through open doors, emitting wafts of the Sunday lunch. Pasta out to dry…

A MATTER OF STARS

In our cabin.

Luxury cruise – and the natural question considering my job is how much luxury?

Aleah and I keep giving stars to things.

Here are a few.

Meet and greet. 3 or 4 stars. Nice smiles, nice bus, but no champagne or fruit juice…. We were very thirsty.

Arrival at the port: As we walked into the huge departure hall Aleah said: this is very Viking Line. A huge hall full of people. Half an hour in the queue perhaps – but at last we came onto the boat. Felt a bit like we were a flock of sheep being herded, suggested A. Three stars. Two?

First meal. Buffet on the 13th floor. Three stars we agreed. Giggle giggle. Kept comparing with the Viking Line.  Giggle –  why compare with Viking Line – we meant Silja Line.

Our cabin small but very nice – normal beds, artwork, and best of all private balcony. That we suggested was four star, as they had forgotten to change the towels.

But then we found the five stars. Coffee and ice cream at a bar on the deck were  as good as you can get on the five continents and seven seas. Finally, after a nice (four star) a la carte dinner and a long day that stretched from Sweden to the Adriatic Sea, we fell asleep to the  sound of the  sea –  more than five stars. What else do you call the element of life? Nurturing  SOOTHING … calming …even in the middle of the night.


CRUISING THE MED WITH MSC

April 24, 2010 in SWEDEN | Comments (0)

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Eight days and seven nights afloat or exploring Mediterranean towns in four countries,  in a vast white ship called MSC Magnifica . Gleaming white, brand new queen of a ship with a vast interior to explore, loaded with features, dripping with décor, patterns and textures; pools, bars, restaurants, shops, gym, spa, casino, cinema and a theatre that holds 1500 people. Towering up to the 13th floor, the boat offers 1500 cabins most with balconies.

Join us day by day…



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