Istanbul’s Bazaars

We landed into Istanbul late Friday night and arrived to our hotel after midnight, and got to bed around 1am.  I’ll spare you the story about the disaster of our pre-arranged transport story.

After sleeping in and a full Turkish breakfast, first on our list for Saturday was to hit the Bazaars.   There were two reasons:  one, they were closed for the following three days due to Ramadan, and two, we heard that you need FULL energy in order to manage the energy, bargaining and physical stamina required!

The New Mosque & adjoining Spice Bazaar

We walked to the Spice Bazaar, or as locals call it, the Egyptian Bazaar.  There are endless stands of spices and sweets.   We lingered over one and were helped by a really friendly lady so that is where we ended up buying our edible souvenirs.

Here are the goods we bought:

  • Iranian saffron (most expensive spice in the world, we just got a few pinches)
  • Yellow curry
  • Meaball spice (Gabe’s pick)
  • Ottoman spice
  • Mixed apple tea
  • Pomegranate orange tea
  • Jasmine balls for tea
  • Turkish delights – pomegranate gel with pistachio
  • Pistachios, the most delicious I ever tried

After the Spice Bazaar, we headed to the Istanbul Grand Bazaar.   It dates to 1455 and is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the entire world.  We had heard to take a map and have an intention, so armed with this knowledge, we dove in to the splendor of this Turkish tradition.

Good thing we had a map.  Sultan Mehmet II’s idea has blossomed from a simple textile market, to a massive bazaar with 61 streets and over 3000 shops.

We purchased two things – a silver guilded double-teapot and a Turkish towel for a gift. We had hopes for purchasing a carpet but soon got overwhelmed after looking in a few stands.

Here are the tips we learned:

-always negotiate.  Offer 25%-50% of the price they say.   I found that none went as low as 50%, but a 30-40% discount of the original price was offered to me.

-never offer an amount unless you intend to buy.  You can ask how much, but don’t try to get them down in price unless you are going to follow through.

-accept a drink and a seat if they offer – it is customary and not an obligation to buy.   This happened a few times as we looked for carpets.  They’d shut the door, turn on the A/C, and offer us a seat and the most delicious tea.

-pay in Turkish lira vs. another currency (some accepted euros, US dollars, and credit cards)

-if you buy a carpet, handle the shipping yourself. Several of my books talked about the switcheroo that can happen with a lesser quality.

-at the spice bazaar, request that they vacuum seal your goods so they’ll travel better and last longer


Gratitude Friday: A special legacy

This Gratitude Friday post goes out to legacy.  I have certainly been left a very wonderful one from my parents.

You may remember my post from my trip to Virginia where I discovered some of my father’s memorabilia from his summer trip to Europe.   And my favorite photo that I thought was from Amsterdam?

I had a good friend who actually did some detective work and provided me with more information.  With his work and an affirmation from my dad’s sister that this was likely the venue, it became my mission to replicate the photo.

So, when we were in Amsterdam, we took a canal tour.  Unfortunately, the tours are a bit more regulated these days so I couldn’t select the spot to start from.    But here it is my attempt (special thanks to Isabella for playing photographer):

I realized that now that I have many Dutch friends, I should have enlisted their help to find the exact spot.  Potentially, I should take another trip to Amsterdam to find THE spot? 🙂

Anyhow, many emotions envelope me as the anniversary of my father’s passing comes tomorrow, September 8.   But, I am grateful for the desire to travel  that I inherited from him.  In that, I know I am continuing his legacy.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Amsterdam’s Bike-Loving Lifestyle

I think there are more bikes in Copenhagen than Amsterdam, but it more obvious in Amsterdam.   Every nook and cranny is filled with bikes.

Typical canal scene in Amsterdam

Bike parking

They even have a bike garage at Centraal Station to contain all of them.  We’d seen it last trip, but it was neat to see it from the water.

Bike garage

This trip, I noticed a “bike boats” that were built to contain some of the ones that were spilling off the street.

Red boats of bikes on the right

The Dutch are very talented at their bike riding.   You often see them talking on the cell phone, and some of the women apply make-up while navigating their bike.  I’d be in a canal if I were them!

I noticed a few things that are crucial if you are Amsterdam biker:

–Many people have “saddle bags” that are meant for their things – purses, work bags, groceries.

–A lot of folks have extra seats, for children or friends.  Even if there was no seat, we saw a lot of people “side saddling” the bike while their friends drove them along.

Image courtesy of

–Carts are good for multiple children. We saw one fellow driving with his infant in a baby carseat and an extra toddler in the cart on the front of his bike.

Bike with a seat on the back and a cart on the front.

–It’s popular to decorate your bike.  Either by weaving your basket with artificial flowers, or by painting it an unusual color, like bright pink.   Heck, I don’t blame them.  I commented that I’d want a GPS tracking device for my bike since I’d be afraid if I lived in Amsterdam, I’d constantly forget where I parked with the bike storage chaos!  It pays to stand out!

–People with nice bikes have this special system that allows you to lock your bike without a chain-type mechanism.  Ferdinand and Isabella wondered if bike theft was a problem, since there were so many.  Ferdinand commented that as long as you didn’t have the nicest bike, you might be safe!   However, we know someone  living in Amsterdam who had their nice bike stolen, so it is possible.

–Some people who we met in Amsterdam taught us about the term “time travel”.  Apparently if one has had too much to drink, bikes home, and ends up the next morning with unidentified scrapes and bruises caused by a likely bike accident, you would remark, “last night, on my way home, I time traveled”.

–Some of my Dutch friends told me if they see a group of yellow bikes or people with matching parkas, they know to steer clear.  They said tourists are out of control.  I’d agree……when we rode in November, I didn’t fare so well on the bike (almost had death by tram).  But, it certainly inspires me to ride more when in Geneva or in the States when we return.

if I lived in Amsterdam, I’d want this bike

Slow Up. Wait a minute…

We recently participated in the Geneva Slow Up.   I had read about this bike event last summer.  I noticed it again when flipping through a pdf of the Fête de Genève brochure.   Gabe and I decided that we should do it since we’d been delinquent about riding the bikes we had shipped all the way from the US.   However, we woke up to rainy skies and they were continuing to drizzle at the start time of 10:00.    At 11:00, they cleared and Gabe mentioned that maybe it wasn’t a “hard start” that it was continual.

I was skeptical, but we rode down to Quai de Gustav Ador anyhow.   And, we were pleasantly surprised.  More belated bikers.  And lots going on.  You can start when you like, as long as you finish by 16:00.    You can be on bike, trike, roller blades, or unicycles.  Or even on foot.  The only rule was you had to go in the same direction.

First impression of Slow Up. Cool. (For our non-Swiss readers, rivella is a Swiss soda).

We did our first few km and were impressed by how well executed this event was.    First of all, cars are banned from the roads completely.   Guards blocked every road that interfered with the 33km course.  A heck of a lot of roads.  We counted easily 100.     This made it so enjoyable for me.  I am not the best rider and since bikes ride with traffic in Geneva, it is intimidating for me to bike around town.

The first ascent gave us a nice view of Geneva near Cologny. As a side note, this little field was where part of Frankenstein was written!

There were “garages” in case you had a bike mishap.    This was also a bonus, to know you wouldn’t be stuck 16 km away from Geneva, without aid.

Migros Sport “garage” helping bikers

And there were plenty of refreshment stands offering cereal, energy bars, apples and Rivella.

Camp in Choulex

As we started, we exclaimed how awesome it was.   It was my assumption that I had missed the last eleven events and I was mad at myself because of what a great time it was.   However, we found a brochure later in the day that showed that these take place in different places all over Switzerland.  You can see the future ones here.  So, it just comes to Geneva once a year.

We also found a map to find out where the heck we were going.

Our route

Our route continued through vineyards and cornfields.   It was so peaceful.   We stopped in Gy, where they had a really cool Slow Up Village.  Most people were drinking wine and beer.  They might have been in better shape than us.  We opted for water.  And a sausage.

Not sure if this is the best meal for biking 33km, but it was the only option.

We then crossed into France.  Spectators gave us a bottle of Evian, a local French product, as we cruised along.   This is the closest I think I’ll ever get to being a rider in the Tour de France.   For one, it was my first time riding a bike in France.  Second, we got swag.   And, I told Gabe, we sort of did a little tour around France….

Great way to spend a Sunday

After 33km, we were looped back into Geneva and we crossed the finish line.

Thanks, Slow Up!

We aren’t experienced bike riders so couldn’t even make it up the hill to our house after riding 3 hours.    However, we were happy and content with our little Sunday activity!


Brussels’ Grand Palace

When Isabella’s friend heard we were going to Brussels, she asked, “Are you going to see the Flower Carpet”?   To which Isabella replied, “The what?”.   She had not heard of it and neither had I.    Isabella looked it up, found little information, but did discover we’d miss it by a day.   Oh well.

On our Easy Jet flight, the magazine contained a photo and dates which mentioned the 14th of August, the date we’d be there.  The showed how beautiful the flower carpet looked in the Grand Place, the main square in Brussels.  We got excited and re-arranged our Brussels visit to the end of our Brugge trip instead of before.

And, we saw these signs when getting off at Centraal Station:

What…the 15th?   Curses!! We were too early.

We enjoyed Grand Place nonetheless.   It was a gorgeous setting, and I understand why it is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Since we had some extra time to kill NOT seeing the flower carpet, we had a Caprice chocolate for our friend Jen who really recommended Neuhaus chocolates.

We also took a closer look at the preparations.

In-laying the grass must be the first step.

Flowers ready for placement

In case you are curious, this is what the 2012 flower carpet looked like:

Image courtesy of flowerona.

Oh, well.  Maybe next time.  Brussels does the flower carpet every two years.  I am sure it will be easy enough to catch again 😉

Related links:

The Clevelands Pad – Trip Recap Part 1 – Brussels

Canal Wars: The best canals in Europe?

Having visited and re-visited some of the best canal towns in Europe this summer, I thought I would share our thoughts on the highlights of each.

My ranking scale is done with 10 being a good rating and 1 being a bad rating.


The entire city is an island full of canals.

The grand canal in Venice

There really is nothing like Venice.  So, it really is a must-do in your lifetime. However, since everyone has it on their bucket list, it is over-crowded, and with the typical summer heat, it can be quite claustrophobic.

Uniqueness:                 10 – there is nothing like it in the world

Quaintness:                  5 – when you get into the back canals, this score could improve to a 7 or 8

Crowdedness:               1 – awful.  When mixed with heat, it’s a -1!

Ability to live there:     2 – couldn’t deal with crowds

Tips: Venice is best seen in the evening, when the sun is setting.  This provides both a more refreshing experience as the heat is less, as well as there is a decrease in some of the cruise ship travelers.  For the budget conscious, take vaporetti #1 or #2 (public transportation boat) and vie for a place on the edge.   Big spenders could go for a evening gondola but this sets you back around 200 euros or $250 USD.  In two trips to Venice, I still haven’t ‘invested’ in this, as I don’t think it is worth the price.


Dark wooded and chock full of 17th century gabled architecture, this city is romantic and beautiful.   When you add the adorable local shops and restaurants lining its cross streets, its downright perfect.

Amsterdam in the Fall. I have painted this scene three times 🙂

Uniqueness:                   9

Quaintness:                   8

Crowdedness:                8 in Fall, 4 in Summer

Ability to live there:     9, I’d move there in a heartbeat

Tips:  I favored Amsterdam in the fall, when the leaves had fallen and we had better views of the charming architecture when strolling or biking down the canal.   This most recent trip, we took a summer canal tour, which was average.  I far preferred biking down the canals as the best way to see the the beauty and character of this city. 

Burano, Italy

This little island is off of Venice, but it is so different that I thought I would include it as a separate town.

Colorful Burano

Uniqueness:                   7

Quaintness:                   7

Crowdedness:                7 in Summer

Ability to live there:     5, too hot and isolated

Tips:  Quieter than its neighbor, this picturesque canal island is a nice side trip from Venice.   You can catch a boat that is included with the vaporetti pass. 


Tiny and medieval, this city makes you say the word “cute” at least 10 times an hour.

Brugge is so CUTE!

Uniqueness:                  8

Quaintness:                   9.5

Crowdedness:                7, wasn’t that bad, even in the summer

Ability to live there:      8 – I’d adore a home on the canal.  But it’s a small town and maybe it could get mundane quickly without big-city appeal & activities?  Plus, I wouldn’t be able to fit in my pants with all the chocolate, fries, beer and waffles!

Notes: our favorite time was walking the canals at dusk, as the sun was setting.   The reflections were magical and ideal for photography. We did a canal tour the following day, but in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t as cool as a relaxing stroll our evening before.   


A merge of classical and modern forward-thinking Danish design, this city was hip and fashionable while maintaining its priority one – Mother Earth.

Copenhagen’s Nyhavn harbor

Uniqueness:                   8

Quaintness:                    5

Crowdedness:                9 – not at all crowded

Ability to live there:      7– I could do it, Danes are said to be the most content people in the world

Tips:  this city had a few canals but was more completely surrounded by a vast body of water vs. small canals.   The architecture and vibe were cool and fresh, but cute/quaint is best reserved for neighboring Amsterdam and Brugge.   We did a canal tour which was a great way to see the city since a lot of it isn’t accessible by walking/biking.

The Verdict

As you can see, the ultimate decision is up to you, depending on how your preferences.    If you love fresh, clean, and green – Copenhagen should be your destination.   If you don’t mind crowds & souvenir stands, for unrivaled uniqueness, go Venice.    For a romantic & charming locale, Brugge is the best pick.   For vibrant color, sunny weather, and photo ops, Burano is a great choice.   And for the most character and culture, I’d always select Amsterdam in the Fall.