A Travellerspoint blog

Arrive home

I left Kuching yesterday afternoon for KL to connect with my flight to Auckland. Despite the 1h35 connection time in KL, there was plenty of time for me to enjoy the lounge as I was flying Business Class on a reward ticket. It was a very nice flight and I managed to get about 4h sleep which will hopefully set me up well for working in a day's time.

On a bad note, I arrived home to realise that I had put on 4 kg. I thought I had showed a bit of restraint with all the cheap and good food in the Balkans and Turkey. But obviously I wasn't restrained enough; often the temptation was too strong a lot of goodies there (and in Belgium) was cheaper than in New Zealand.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Family time again


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I managed to get about 5h horizontal (actually, it was diagonal on an inclined flatbed) during the 9h flight from Jeddah to KL, of which about 3h was asleep. The seat was one I was familiar with but I'm not sure if it was the leather (rather than fabric) or the angle (perhaps steeper) that gave me a slightly sliding-down feeling which I had never experienced before.

We arrived at 1300 and luggage was extremely slow. I had taken a pitstop and been to duty free all rather leisurely, to find that the carousel hadn’t even started when I reached there. It started soon enough but the luggage was drip-fed through and even the priority-tagged ones took a while.

Once out, I dropped off my bag for the flight to Kuching [Kuching-travel-guide-1096915] and then boarded the train to KLIA2 where Uniqlo (my favourite clothes shop) had recently opened to get something. I was back to KLIA and through to the airside by 1500.

My flight was at 1755 so there was a bit of a wait. It would have been too risky to buy a discounted ticket on the earlier flight at 1500 but it would have worked reasonably well today though. At the domestic gate I ran into two old friends and had a little reunion. As we sat in different places, we went our separate ways once we boarded for Kuching. I was collected at the airport by my brother for my 9 day stay to be with family.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Transit in Jeddah


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I checked out at 1100 and waited for my shuttle pickup at 1245 which came “on the dot”. After cruising around the Sultanahmet area to fill up with other prebooked passengers, we left for Ataturk airport getting there around 1345.

With a 1530 departure to Jeddah [Jeddah-travel-guide-1313292] to connect to Kuala Lumpur, I didn’t have much time. It took me about 30 minutes to clear preliminary security, check-in at Saudia’s Business Class queue, complete immigration and go through a proper security check.

I had bought this Business Class ticket on Saudia because it was about the same as other airlines’ economy price. I had previously done likewise with Turkish Airlines out of Cairo to Hong Kong. Sometimes both airlines seem to have economy prices at half that of other airlines but I guess I’m at a stage in my life where I’m starting to treat myself a little.

I managed to spend about half hour at the Skyteam Lounge before heading to the gate. The flight pushed back on time but as is commonly the case with Istanbul’s airports, there was a queue of planes waiting and that meant we spent about 30 minutes waiting to take off.

The 3h55 flight went quickly and upon landing at Jeddah, I spent most of my 3h35 transit in Saudia’s Al-Fursan lounge as transit security was an absolute breeze. Despite a somewhat average Business Class, their lounge really wowed me with sandwiches, hot meals, desserts and Arabic sweets. The drink variety was wide and there was even non-alcoholic beer.

The connecting flight to KL at 2300 left on time.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Saudi Arabia Comments (0)

Away with the ferries again


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large_5550_14081136431419.jpgLeaving Istanbul we pass Topkapi Palace.
With such a full day yesterday, I seem to have come down a little under the weather with a sore throat. I slept in but after breakfast regained my motivation.

I headed out with several ideas in my head but my feet took me to Kabatas where I boarded the 1130 ferry to Prince’s Island.

The crowded journey to the last island Buyukada took 2h with a stop in Kadikoy and three islands in the Prince’s Island group. I reckon if it had been non-stop, the journey would have taken about an hour. It does take time to dock at each stop and travel between the islands even though they are quite close together. It would have been quite a nice journey if it hadn't been for the crowd; we saw some dolphins leaping through the water.

Even from there, the urban sprawl of Istanbul [Istanbul-travel-guide-608771] was still with us.large_5550_14081136447064.jpgStopping at the other islands of the Prince's Island group.With a population of 14 million, the city extends far out. We had escaped the city’s traffic as there are no cars but only horsecarts and electric bike/trikes here. But we had not escaped the crowds; in fact I thought it was more crowded here than in the city.

Walking beyond the first few blocks, I did escape the crowd and sat myself down for lunch. After lunch, I decided it was too hot to go for any long meaningful walks; all I would see would be more of the same scenery of some lovely villas. The area in town was too crowded to be enjoyable. So I hopped on the 1500 ferry back to the city, after having spent only 90 minutes here. I guess it was worth it for the boat ride, change of scenery and lunch.

On the return journey, it was less crowded so I got to see a couple of travelling salesmen peddling their wares. The first was selling a good multi-purpose peeler. The second sole this plastic device which one would screw into a lemon or an orange. The juice starts to fill the device and the fruit becomes like a small bottle of juice! It comes with an integrated flip-top lid too. It was TL5 for a pack of six so I got one :-)

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Away with the ferries


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large_5550_14081115578654.jpgMy stealthy shot at the Whirling Dervish ritual; I was mifffed that photography wasn't permitted wheras at the cheaper performance a the official museum allows photography provided no flash is used.
Chora Church and Cruises

I got my motivation back today and felt the urge to go do things that I hadn’t done in Istanbul [Istanbul-travel-guide-608771]. It was tempting to just repeat the old best-loved sights of Istanbul. I wanted to combined the Chora Church with one-way journey between there and the Bosphorus. Due to fog, I decided that I should do the water journey last.

Taking the tram to the Chora Church involved a change and Edirnekapi and a short easy walk (which could have been very difficult if the man at the metro station hadn’t given me a map). I got there soon after its opening at 0900.

The interior of the church had very good mosaics and frescoes which were well-preserved.large_5550_14081115587240.jpgInside the Chora church.The core was closed for restoration. I followed a guide taking his party around, eavesdropping to the explanations which made the visit more meaningful. Anyway, my interest wasn’t that deep and after a while I did my own thing then took off as it was quite humid inside.

I found a bus to Eyup quite easily. I wandered around to find the ferry station reasonably easily and hopped on for a nearly immediate departure. The ferry zigzagged across the Bosphorus serving stations on both sides. The distances between the stations were very short at times, some only being directly across from each other.

The upper part of the Bosphorus isn’t that scenic as the water doesn’t flow that freely; some of the bridges across it do obstruct the water and only have a narrow gap for water flow and shipping. It isn’t that clear and has a slight whiff to it.large_5550_14081115588012.jpgInside the Chora church.Apparently it used to be worse.

Anyway, all the above public transport and exploration went so smoothly that I was back in Eminonu about 1100. I walked across the bridge to take the historic Tunel tram up to Galata / Beyoglu and then walk to Taksim for lunch. I had my mind set on a sandwich at Simit Sarayi, a Turkish lunch bar which I had been reminded of when I was in Brussels when I saw the outlet there.

While at Galata, I found that the whirling dervishes here (Galata Mawlavi House Museum) still had tickets for their once-a-week 1700 performance at TL40 but I had paid TL60 for somewhere closer to the hotel. This was the place I had wanted to come back to after missing out last year. I had bought the ticket at the other places as seats were running low already yesterday.

I had the afternoon to kill so I decided to do the other ferry trip around here, which was the one going up the Bosphorus.large_5550_14081115596111.jpgGravestones at Eyup.Taking the modern funicular down to Kabatas and transferring to the tram, I got myself to Eminonu again and boarded a 1330 tour ferry.

This ferry took us 45 minutes up the Bosphorus to under the second Euro-Asia bridge before turning back. The 1h30 minute journey wasn’t my cuppa tea. It was crowded with lots and lots of tourists.

The view was good; Istanbul is a huge city of 14 million and it is very spread out. There are some very beautiful homes and apartments along the long coastline along with plenty of old historic buildings even quite far out from the city centre.

Whirling Dervishes

After a rest back in the room, I went to see the whirling dervishes ritual at the Hojapasha Theatre. It was supposedly a 1h ceremony but this included a musical prelude and the lead-up by five participants which involved a bit of bowing - first heads down to the floor, then to each other.large_5550_14081115592256.jpgThe upper part of the Golden Horn isn't very nice or clear as the water doesn't flow that freely.

The men wore black robes but removed them to reveal their white ones underneath when the time came to whirl. The actual whirling only lasted 20 minutes accompanied by live traditional musical instruments and chanting.

I was quite amazed by how they were in sync with the direction they were facing at all times except when starting/stopping their whirling. They started/stopped a few times. While whirling, their arms were generally up, with the right hand facing up and the left kinda limp-wristed facing down. Their heads were tilted to the right. The whirling was always clockwise.

Everything in the ritual has its representation. Per Wikipedia:

1. In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen's camel's hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt (tennure) represents the ego's shroud.large_5550_14081115608395.jpgUpper part of the Golden Horn.By removing his black cloak (hırka), he is spiritually reborn to the truth.

2. At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God's unity.

3. \While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth.

4. The semazen conveys God's spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love.

5. Spinning one's body in repetitive circles ... has been seeen as a symbolic imitation of planets in the Solar System orbiting the sun.

With poor ventilation in the converted hammam, the 20 minutes of whirling was enough for me. I think this is something I’ll only see once.

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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