Istanbul

Blue Mosque

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Istanbul while I was on a trip to Turkey. Often referred to as the Gateway to Asia, at least if you’re coming from the west (otherwise, the Gateway to Europe!), Istanbul straddles the border of the two continents. The Bosphorus provides the natural divide and the bridges across connect the two.

Blue Mosque
A view of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque from a rooftop patio as the sun goes down

An ancient city that’s had a few names before Istanbul (Constantinople, Byzantium), and been at the centre of a few empires, this is a city with tons of things for its millions of visitors to explore.

 

Key attractions include the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. This is an outstanding example of classical architecture that combines Islamic and Byzantine Christian features, among others. Apart from this, you can also find the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace just steps away. So you can cover a lot of ground, so to speak, in this one small area. Well worth it.

 

For a taste of something different, just a short walk away is the Grand Bazaar. This is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world with around 4,000 shops spread over sixty one streets. Shoppers paradise! You’ll not see many markets like that. Just a walk through is an experience in itself, again because of the fantastic architecture, and the busy atmosphere. And if you’re wanting to buy, you can get all sorts of things – clothes, accessories, sweets, furniture, carpets – and they’re keen to make a sale. The whole process of haggling (which is pretty much mandatory) is an entertainment in itself, though it can sometimes be hard to work out how much of a bargain you actually get in the end, assuming you buy something.

 

And then of course, off-the-beaten track of the main attractions are plenty of back streets with small comfortable hotels (I stayed at the Asmali Hotel), restaurants with great food and atmosphere, street-side and rooftop patios, and great views. The locals are great to talk with and really helpful.

Istanbul
One of the many rooftop patios, looking out over the Sea of Marmara at sunset

There’s no doubt that businesses in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey are hurting right now, and that’s unfortunate. It’s a great place to be, and in terms of security, barring the south-east of the country, I would feel no more at risk than in any other large city, in fact, maybe less so.

East Coast Provinces – The Joy of Canada

Image of Murray Harbour PEI, as the sun goes down

Travelling around Canada’s East Coast Provinces – or Atlantic Provinces – is always touted is a must-do for tourists and residents at some point in their lives. The landscape, the history, food and the friendly people are the highlights that entice many people there. The East Coast Provinces include Newfoundland and Labrador Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

 

After living in Toronto for many years I made my first trip “out east” towards the end of last summer. The furthest I’d been in that direction until then was Quebec City so I was definitely venturing much further afield this time. It was still a great opportunity to see some of Quebec again – staying in Trois-Rivieres on the way out and Quebec City on the way back – but the real focus (no pun intended!) was on what was to be seen and experienced in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia. Of course, you can’t cover everything in one trip to Canada’s east coast (well, unless you take a year or two…), so we had to be ruthless in cutting things out to make the most of the few weeks we could dedicate to it. In particular, Newfoundland will be another day.

East Coast Bay of Fundy
Looking out at the Bay of Fundy from Hopewell Rocks

I won’t go into a lot of details here but can say that it was all well worth it. Driving to stay in Fredericton we went through one of the most astounding storms I’ve ever seen, when we had hardly any visibility for 30 minutes. Solid black tumultuous clouds and tons of heavy rain cascading down on us. There had to be light somewhere at the end of that tunnel! Through Moncton and down to Hopewell Rocks at the north east end of the Bay of Fundy where the water is an enticing chocolate brown because of the tholeiitic basalt deposits there, and we were able to walk on the beach at low tide. The Bay of Fundy at Hopewell Rocks has the highest tidal range in the world so you have to pay attention to the access times to make sure you don’t get trapped!

 

East Coast Fields of PEI
Farmland in Prince Edward Island

On to the beautiful island of PEI with its vibrantly coloured farmlands, via Confederation Bridge. An excellent place to travel to, and more than one or two lighthouses to be seen. After travelling from Cavendish down to Charlottetown we headed on to Murray Harbour on the south-east coast, on the way discovering one of PEIs rare wineries. Rossignol Estate Winery sits comfortably on the south coast with a fantastic view of the Northumberland Strait. You can find more info about this at www.rossignolwinery.com

 

A great Ferry ride back to Nova Scotia and on to a base in Sydney for various treks, miners museum at Glace Bay then on to Halifax for a few days. Halifax was a great base for reaching different places including Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove, but not Liverpool this time (I’m from Liverpool in the UK). One of the most striking things in Halifax itself was the Seaview Memorial commemorating the African Canadian settlement of Africville, which was demolished in the 1960’s as part of an urban renewal initiative.

 

East Coast at Peggy's Cove
Lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia

Travelling back up from there we took a circuitous route stopping at Tatamagouche where we came across the small town’s own brewing company sitting with open shop front on the main street, then on to Miramichi in New Brunswick before heading back to Quebec.

 

Packed a lot in there, I think!

Iceland Adventures

Let me tell you about my Iceland adventures. A small island in the north Atlantic, Iceland is subject to windy, cold weather and it’s probably not top of the bucket list for most people, or even on it. Really though, it’s not something to be missed.

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For me the appeal of the very varied landscape is enough in itself. There’s a seemingly endless supply of glaciers, waterfalls, green valleys, volcanoes and hot springs. The whole island is a must see and a great opportunity to create vivid atmospheric images, whatever your art form. In just a week I was able to drive around Iceland, thanks to National Road 1, and experience much of what the island has to offer. The weather was a tolerable 10 – 16 degrees celsius, a bit rainy at times, and the full twenty four hours of daylight meant plenty of time for activity!

Some of these shots will give you a small taste of what to expect if you decide Iceland is the place for you.

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At the edge of the Vatnajokull glacier in southern Iceland, where you can watch ice that has broken away from the glacier and floated down into a lagoon. Stunning to see.

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The Hverir geothermal area near Myvatn is a great display of natural, hot sulphur springs that bubble up mud and hot water at 80 – 100 degrees celsius.

Ieland

Very colourful and remarkably aromatic. Well, aromatic would be one way to describe it!

To find out more about Iceland click here