Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Week 36 – A Tale of Two Cities

April 28th – May 4th, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey

Graham and Ibrahim
Graham and Ibrahim

As we alighted our Pegasus Air flight to be graciously met by our CS host Ibrahim, we were astonished to be back in Istanbul.

It didn’t seem like 47 days since we first stepped foot into this mesmerising, cultural city and into this enthralling, historical country. Back then, we were wide eyed and just amazed to be in this long dreamed of destination. Now we were sure footed and confident having explored some of its wonders, befriended some of its people, drunk in its history and enjoyed its cuisine. Now Turkey was not just a hazy idea but a clear image, a face, a taste, an exotic heart-felt memory.

After a hearty Kahvalti in his sumptuous Umraniye apartment, Ibrahim showed us the panorama from Camlic Hill. Here we overlooked this ancient city first established as Byzantium in 660BC. We drank hot cay in the sunshine, surrounded by the pretty vintage restaurant, the laughter of children and a multitude of glorious flora.

Next the boys clambered on the huge playground at Fenerbahce, then a short stroll to a local beach. The boys stripped down like the locals and were soon giggling in the waves and covered in sand. Graham and I had a delightful chat with a successful Istanbul interior designer who beamed as she cooed over her new baby girl.

The evening ended with a lovely home cooked meal, where we met Ibrahim’s sister, her Australian husband and their daughter. We were saddened to hear of the recent lose of their dear mother and felt sure that she would be proud of the loving dynasty she had created.

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We planned a quiet day of school work and blogging but Ibrahim had other plans. We were treated to tea at a historical district with views of the second bridge, then to dinner and a romantic sunset next to the Küçüksu Summer Palace. This was followed by coffee and desert plus a private view of the glittering city lights from the terrace of Kueli Military High School, Ibrahim’s former stamping ground as a student and a teacher.

On day 248, we took the ferry to Eminonu, dined on jacket potatoes at the re-visited Bambi restaurant and journeying to Sultanahmet. There we took in the eerie and atmospheric Basilica Cistern where we came face to faces with the heads of Medusa. Some bill shock after a Baklava and coffee, then homeward under the waters of the Bosphorus on the newly opened Marmaras Metro Line to connect with bus 10. A surprise dinner at IKEA ended another full day in Istanbul.

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On Friday, we were dropped off at the Harem Ferry port. Again crossing the Bosphorus, we again trammed to Sultanahmet – this time to partake in the famous Topikapi Palace. Last time we had thought to leave this famous site for our return visit and so didn’t just walk in the doors. Now it was tourist season and we were astonished by the one and a half hour wait to just get into the door, let alone the queues inside for various rooms. Even though it was still impressive we saw less than we had hoped with the huge size of the grounds, large array of rooms and artifacts on display, tired children in tow and attempting to avoid the crowds.

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Next to a meeting with CS Laure who we had co-surfed with in Fethiye. This meant a tram, the Tunel funicular, Istiklal’s vintage tram and our first and final glimpse of the famous Taskim Square. We had postponed this meeting till today due to the violent May Day clashes on this spot. A day later, all was peaceful as we cleared the security at the French Institute and sat in it’s quiet courtyard cafe sipping beer: peace at last.

As the ‘grown ups’ caught up on our respective travels the boys enjoyed the creative genius of a Selcuk exhibition. They were enthralled with his comic yet intellectual illustrations and comments on his homeland of Turkey.



Leaving we felt suddenly saddened to be walking the length of the now familiar Istiklal. We had cross crossed this city so many times: it was hard saying goodbye to our friends and a country that had entered our minds and hearts – Turkey.


Plovdiv, Bulgaria

A very long Metrobus Euro ride later we were in yet another country – Bulgaria. The border crossing allowed Graham to finally christen his new EU passport. Then a taxi ride to the centre before peering through the round window, down into the square below from our digs at the Green Room Hostel. After a quick meal, five tired Sabretoothed Chickens slumber.


Plovdiv or the “City of the Seven Hills” is said to be the oldest continually populated city in Europe. It is the second largest city in Bulgaria and the tenth largest in the Balkans. According to wikipedia, it has a history stretching back 6000 years. Previously named Eumolpius by the Thracians, then Philippopolis under the Greeks and Trimontium (the Three Hills) by the Romans, before being passed between the Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires. The Ottomans took over in the 14th century, after which it was a centre for the Bulgarian National Revival.  In 1878 the Russian Army strode in but now Bulgaria is said to be an independent democracy.

Небет тепе
Plovdiv from Небет тепе

We enjoyed breakfast at the adjacent cafe, only an hour later than scheduled due an absent manager, then off down Ul Saborna to explore. Today we explored the Old town of Plovdiv thrice. Firstly as a family, then Graham had a solo sojourn culminating at the Revival Museum during a thunderstorm and lastly with a local guide on a Free Plovdiv walking tour in the evening.

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We marvelled at Plovdiv’s beautiful old homes, Sveta Bogoroditsa Church (where the first Revival service was held in Bulgarian instead of Greek), the Roman theatre, the partially excavated Roman Stadium, the Djumaya Mosque and the Regional Historical Museum… We were enthralled by the story of the seven hills, only five of which exist today.

Milio statue, Plovdiv
Milio statue, Plovdiv

The happy story of the comic, crazy Milio, a town cassanova and gossip monger.





Sasho Sladura monument
Sasho Sladura monument

The sad tale of Sasho Sladura, a humble musician who, during the communist era, made a humorous political quip and suddenly disappeared, never to be seen again.


We were fascinated by Bulgaria, much overlooked and somewhat lost in time. A slavic nation that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, where once writing to Russian pen-pals was the only source of news from the outside world – a country yearning for the new and modern yet layered in the history and traditions of the past…






  1. Loved reading about your trip and philosophies on life and travel. Brought back fond memories of our own year away a few years ago. If you ever re-visit Bulgaria we would love to host you.


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