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The Big Year Out-Kashan

View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.


Kashan is much smaller than Tehran; we arrived by bus about 3.00pm. We managed to get a taxi to near enough the Noghli home stay. As with some Iranian taxi drivers, they say they know the way, but are not really sure! Sometimes, they try and ask you for more money than was agreed. Taxis the world over seem to be like this.

Finally we arrive at Noghli, it appears that there are no rooms left, but they do manage to find us one twin for one night, and then we have to swap night two for a single room and one of us sleeps on the floor.IMG_0006.JPGIMG_0005.JPG

A Traditional home, the owner allows women not to have to wear their scarves all the time, a welcome relief. Local food is served (at extra cost), and very nicely put together in an arch underneath the first floor on a long table, in front of the courtyard.

Next day we walk to the ancient merchant houses and hammam, all very cheap to get into and easy to find once you’re on the main street. We spent most of the day walking round these, yes we do things slowly.IMG_0111.JPGIMG_0031.JPGIMG_0118.JPG

We also visited finn Gardens which are supposed to be the finest examples of Persian gardens. It was a bit like going to wisely on a bank holiday, it was heaving, so perhaps we didn't enjoy that one as much as we could have.IMG_0142.JPGIMG_0143.JPG

Basically that was it for Kashan, it really isn’t a big place and actually if you were of the mind you could do it passing through toEsfahan.

Posted by TheJohnsons 01:06 Archived in Iran Tagged sky architecture water desert mosque park culture temple religion fountain history traditional travel city building famous house garden heritage place old historical pool muslim medieval tourist cityscape fin wall east asia middle ancient tourism historic dome relax iran persia courtyard outdoor landmark decoration persian islam kashan iranian perspective islamic Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Impressions of Iran

View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.


What can I say….

The welcome and hospitality of the people is immense. As two women travellers we never felt in danger. People were always greeting you with the ubiquitous three questions; “How are you?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you think of Iran/Iranian people?” Some with better English will ask “where are you going?” and “where is your favourite place inIran?” In particular the public transport staff were always keen to make sure we were on the right bus /train and that we got off in the right place once we reached our destination (i.e. Terminals). They always made sure we had refreshments and knew when to get off for toilet breaks (buses) and always helped us with our baggage.large_1842667_13392609991447.jpgHerbal tea, was just what we needed after the long climb up the narrow streets of KangA special mention goes to the staff at Tehran [Tehran-travel-guide-857632] who were overwhelmingly helpful when we purchased our bus tickets, even showing us personally to the bus and into our seats. Another highlight was on the bus from Kashan [Kashan-travel-guide-1321057] toEsfahan, where the driver and other staff shared their morning tea with us and asked us to sit in the front seats so we had more space. This helpfulness extended to the train staff as well. The train driver from Kerman [Kerman-travel-guide-1309150] to Yazd came and introduced himself to us (Jafra was his name) at the train station terminal whilst we were waiting, and spoke excellent English, he was so pleased that we had come to visit Iran, and again made sure that we were comfortable in our seats before setting off to drive the train to Yazd! Every time the train stopped, he came to find us and explained the delay and finally when we got toYazd he explained to the local taxi driver where we wanted to go (though the driver still got it wrong, but that’s another story)! Iranians have a healthy curiosity about visitors, but it is never intrusive - what is wrong with that?

Yes some small Shops will hike the price of cold cans of drinks up when they see you, but when you go again they ask the right price, and let’s face it; it is not exactly expensive in the first place.

As western women we found that a reasonable tolerance was given to our dress. We did try at all times to respect the dress code required of women in Iran, we always wore our headscarves at all times, which is a pain, more so when you are trying to go to the toilet, or we found most cumbersome when eating a meal. I bought a further scarf in Shiraz [Shiraz-travel-guide-1309152] which was super thin and lightweight and cost a mere £1.70, and felt like I wasn’t wearing a scarf at all. Even better than wearing our heavier ones we had bought inTurkey. We did get along with wearing long sleeved long shirts/blouses and our long lightweight coats, which we had purchased for this trip, remained for the whole in the bags- to be posted home when we got the chance.Esfahan was very liberal, I think because they get so many more foreign tourists than other towns, and shirts that remained long sleeved but just past the bottom were acceptable.

When we visited the shrine of the King of Light inShiraz, we did have to wear a chador, which was given to us on arrival. I had to put my Camera in a secure cloakroom, and after removing battery and sd card I duly handed over. We were as two women welcomed into the shrine (we were surprised) and allowed into the holy areas that house stunning mirror interior decoration throughout, along with welcome air con. The women showed us where to put our shoes and where the shrine was and welcomed us. As I commented to my Angela, if you “get with the programme, you get the benefits”. It may not be comfortable and it may challenge you moral values as a woman, but if you want to see Iran as a woman, you will have to comply a bit. The benefits outweigh the discomfort.

On the whole we were treated with the utmost respect as foreign travellers and the Iranian people were so pleased to see us. Did I mention the Iranians are the kings of picnics, well they are! Where they have parks or open plazas Iranians gather with and without their families to have picnics, they bring everything, even the burner stove to heat up their tea! You will see them all carrying large bags and blankets, and cool box with some yummy Iranian foods in, don’t be surprised or afraid if you are asked to join them as you pass for a cup of tea, they just want to be friendly.

Btw my camera was returned safely back to me, as always we have found so far here, crime did not seem a big thing, on the whole Iranian people are pretty honest too. Sometimes again a teahouse would hike an extra 40p onto the bill,(touristy places recommended by LP) but to be honest we did not bother arguing as again experience and impression were more important to us than penny pinching to that degree.

Even in Kerman, when we secured a driver through our fabulous hotel, Akhaven, he treated us like royalty. On both visits to Rayen and Mahan, (in one day) and the Kaluts near Shabad, the following day he always made sure we had ice cold water dispensed from a tap on the back windowsill, and even served us tea and very sweet Iranian biscuits. Carried our pack breakfast out to us at the Kaluts, where we sat and watched the sunrise and bought us ice cream at Mahan! He was an absolute gentleman. He in addition took us to an underground water vault in Shafi Abad, on the way back from the Kaluts, which was stunningly huge and echoey? 52 steps down and 52 steps up, and worth the visit. We did promise ourselves a “treat stay/hotel/experience” every 4-6 weeks depending on where and when we were.Kerman was our splurge off our normal tight but flexible Iranian budget. Bearing in mind we had over budgeted by half again before leaving the UK. Yes we paid a bit more for the hotel, but it was amazingly good value, and yes we paid for two car trips out, but they too when compared to UK were amazing value, approx £19, and £23 respectively. Where can you go in the UK and see such stunning natural stunning scenery and man made architecture for such a cheap price. On the whole most of the mosques and public mausoleum/parks museums and parks, or just plain parks cost us little. From as little as 20p! And worth every penny, even a couple that were under restoration.

We are just over halfway through this trip to Iran, (three weeks) and I have not regreted for one moment coming, and if I can afford to I would come again. We only managed to see a fraction of what we would have liked in four weeks. We could have extended but we have deadlines onTurkmenistanandUzbekistanto follow (not entirely our doing). I have sort of fallen in Love with Iran, its people and its places. I miss that attitude of the Iranians, that everyone is welcome and made to feel welcome, not a threat, something we need to remember and are loosing in theUK.

Vali in Mashad was a great guy, he is so knowledgeable and helpful and his wife Esma does actually cook the best food I have tasted anywhere inIran! Vali’s was our last port of call in Iran before crossing to Turkmenistan, so we shed some 4 kilos of luggage which we dispatched with Valis help through the local major post office, which are usually on the edge of town, but ths one was very close to Valsi Homestay. We were advised that our parcel would take 1-2.5mths. We took one of Valis excellent tours toHillsidevillageofKang. At all times Vali allowed for our lack or levels of fitness, and ability. He was so patient and informative. At no time did we feel rushed. We walked up the winding and stepped, narrow streets looking at the old style buildings that were still very much lived in. The village still has it’s own Hamam. We also visited by arrangement of Vali, a local lady who served us delicious dried fruit, amazing walnuts, and quenching herbal tea. All of course with an amazing view to boot. Living is Kang is a harsh, they are only just getting gas, and most houses do not have their own sanitation. The was not the usual ringing of mobile phones and inside the houses they were basic, lacking modern amenities. The only exception was the presence of satellite dishes so presumably people do have TV. Having said that, it is a very beautiful village, and a strong reliance on locally produce obtained through the hard work of the locals.

We also had some interesting and lively conversations with Vali, he loves to extend his knowledge of the English Language and many referrals to his voluminous dictionary from English to Iranian were made and we had a great deal of fun with him and his family and other fellow travellers who stayed with him.


Posted by TheJohnsons 01:05 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Trans Asia Express

View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

Trans Asia Express time!

We set of on our Trans Asia Express train toTehran, at10.00a.m.When we arrived by the luxury of Taxi! I alas did forget my watch at the hostel and had to instruct the driver to turn back so I could get it before returning to our journey to the railway station in downtownAnkara. Good thing we left ourselves plenty of time to get there. Watch secured we arrived atAnkarastation in enough time to buy ourselves a drink and some breakfast bread. Staffs at the station were polite and helpful, even though once again English was not a familiar language. Our train pulled in at 10.15 and left at10.26a.m._MG_0148.JPGwe got to our carriage and stowed our backpacks into the smallish compartment. Seats look and are roomy though, and once underway blankets, pillows, and sheets are brought round. Ticket inspector checked and marked off our outward bound tickets, and wished us a good journey. I had a cracking headache, probably from getting up way to early, so crashed on the extremely comfortable pull out beds. I got two hours sleep/rest and got up in a better place. The staff all appear very friendly and try their best to help us out. Tea (chai) is offered and brought to your cabin. We have yet to try out the buffet car, but a quick rekkie tells us prices look the same as any café inAnkara, and the variety as interesting. We sampled the delights of the buffet car and ordered (guess what?) chicken Kebab, and salad. Which was not to bad, we shared as both of us didn’t feel like much to eat(kinda kebabed out). Staff were very friendly and Angela had another last drink of effes, the local Turkish “Carlsburg”.

This train does do a lot of long stops, most of the night I woke because of the lack of movement, not the gentle rocking it does when underway. It rained a lot too as we seemed to higher into the hills.

Next Morning we both woke to find us again stopped, this one lasted around an hour as the train staff seemed to be eating breakfast at the local shack! Still raining, but the scenery starts to altogether change, more mountainous, and most of them covered with snow. _MG_0159.JPG_MG_0161.JPG_MG_0164.JPGAs we pull away from our breakfast stop we start to see more stunning scenery, the train follows a long and powerful river, with breathtaking views of the hills and we pass through numerous tunnels where the train track cannot hope to bend in time. I have taken some lovely pics, albeit through the train window/glass. Great cracks in the hills some of them revealing small and larger waterfalls. The other passengers (none of whom speak any common language to us) treat us kindly and try to communicate with the usual speaking in Turkish/Farsi and hand gesturing. Smiles always go a long way. The other thing I notice as I look at the landscape from the train is the sparsely populated country side. Few single storey crofter type cottages, looking like there are no roads in and no roads out to them, small numbers of cattle. A very hard life of small agriculture with fishing from the river spring to mind. This is definitely getting away from it all places also quite desperately poor by western standards. At last the sun has come out, and we have stunning sunshine, but still the temperature has not risen by much. We have now hit a large succession of tunnels; this is not so fun, so Blog writing I am.

We arrive at Takvan to get the ferry to Van, where we pick up the second half of the TransAsia. Express train toTehran. The ferry is included in the train price; very narrow steps up two flights lead you to the seating deck, which looks like a budget airline seating arrangement. We find ourselves a pair of seats and settle with our bags to watch what becomes a cockney style market stall at the snacks and drinks area, with one very “larger than life” character selling olive oil, chocolate spread, fruit flavoured chewing gum, and various treats which are apparently very expensive inIran. All being sold to the highest bidders. Fascinating to watch and I even indulged to get some flavoured chewing gum, which was 3tl for three packs. People on the ferry(Iranians) were very friendly and helpful, letting us know what was going on, and what all the announcements.

We wandered outside onto the middle deck to see the most stunning sunset overLake Van, IMG_0206.JPGIMG_0188.JPGa huge lake which looks more like a sea once underway. The ship doesn’t just carry passengers, it carries one of the train carriages we just got off from, loaded with peoples baggage, and two further shipping containers full of various goods unknown. All making for a very slow 5 hour trip across the lake, but I really didn’t think that was a problem as I really didn’t want to go any faster with all that on board.

We arrived around10.00p.m.at Van Iskalsi, and disembarked after around a forty minute wait as the train was late. We were herded into a large shed, where we waited for the ticket managers to check our train tickets and reallocate our seats as women and men are not allowed to share the same carriage, except families of course. During all through this the train arrived. A rather ancient looking stock, inside and out. We get lots of help from the train ticket supervisor finding our carriage as everything is now in Farsi, and no English numbers. We squeeze ourselves into our 4 berth compartment, and settle down when two more ladies come to join us, one older (in her 60’s+ and one about our age (45-49). We are greeted by them with smiles and the younger lady, Zoreh, speaks some English. It’s apparent that the older lady is not going to make it up into one of the very high couchette, so Zoreh goes off to find her a lower bunk elsewhere, stressing that she loves our company and that she loves chatting and helping us, which she does for the rest of the train trip.

We arrive at the Turkish border check out point at around3.00a.m.To have our passports stamped out ofTurkey. Again men and women in separate ques, with children and old people first. Back onto the train and we must have stopped in a siding about an hour later not to move until8.30a.m.the next morning. Where we are woken up to be told that Passport control was boarding to take our passports to stamp us intoIran. Hooray! Bearing in mind we still had to go through a customs check later at Tibriz. Passports were returned after breakfast with our stamps of entry on. Breakfast was not so good, what can only be described as flat bread that was more like chip paper, and a tiny pot of honey. He seemed to think we needed several folds of these large sheets. About 8 to be precise, we both didn’t manage to get through half a one each. Tea and a pot of hot water were provided.

Next big stop Tibriz, where customs board the train to check everyone’s baggage, it’s at this point we are grateful we carried our backpacks ourselves and didn’t tow them in the luggage carriage. As everyone who did had to go out with their luggage receipts and wait for their bags to be taken off. We were trying to work out if they were going to make us empty every bit of our bags, or do the cursory once over glance. Thankfully it was the latter and we cleared customs to be able to go and try out our new garb of lightweight long length shower coats and headscarves (which we had been observing since we had passed passport control). Tibriz station is very modern, and large, but very plain, just the obligatory ticket booths, one small kiosk, a bank, where Angela tried to discuss changing $100 but the guy behind the counter wouldn’t indicate what the exchange rate was and just kept asking her for the $100 bill. She walked out, rather than risk not getting a decent rate, and actually our train did accept Turkish lira, so as we had some left we new we wouldn’t be needing rials at this stage. There was also a small open book stall, and some smaller units, along with a prayer hall. Ladies toilets were downstairs, behind a discreet curtain, with several cubicles with squat toilets, but clean if not a little wet! I was a bit apprehensive as I had coat, scarves etc, but actually once in them you see they provide a rack and coat hook for all of your bit and bobs. Very civilised (I really didn’t know what to expect). After that back to the train where our lovely porter informed us it would leave by 2.00p.m.so we enjoyed the cool shade as it was quite warm when we arrived, and boarded about 1.45p.m. to start the rest of our journey. Sleep was first on our list. We both had lunch (provided by the staff on the train) and then sleep, we both needed it by then. We both finally got up about 6- ish and felt a bit more normal after the very long day and eventful night! Both thirsty we decided to drop down to the buffet car, and were knobbled by our new Iranian friends, who invited into their carriage for afternoon tea (well that’s what it turned out to be). Hot water and tea bags, biscuits (Iranian style) and lots of friendly chat saw us spending till 9.00p.m. with some very lovely people.

Posted by TheJohnsons 22:46 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Ankara

View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

We really like Ankara [Ankara-travel-guide-602437], Very very very Hilly! But you know, not heaving with tourists, and prices for eating out which Istanbul could really learn from. We really used this as a stop for grabbing visas and picking up our train toIran. was always going to be a transit stop. ItPeople here speak English even less thanIstanbul, in fact non existent, but so eager to help us get what we needed to eat, or drink.

We visited the Uzbeckistan Embassy which is open9-12a.m.and although we had tried to fill in online the visa application form and print, three times, it wouldn’t. We were directed to a small basement round the corner from the Embassy, by the lovely uzbeck consul, to a small internet office where a very nice young woman fills in the form and prints it off for you, all for a princely 10tl. Back we trot t the uzbeck embassy and hand in our forms, only to be told that they cannot issue them in Ankara, and gave us the choice of Tehran, or Ashgabat, we chose Tehran, as we did not have three days to wait for it in Ankara. The took copies of our passports, and gave us the original applications back, for us to take to their consulate inTehran, for Monday.

We had just enough time to get over to the Turkmenistan Embassy, we thought we would try our luck getting our Turkmen visa as well as we already had a LOI. We arrived with 15 mins before they closed for lunch and managed to start the process of application, we showed our LOI, and first we were quoted $75 for a less than 3 day issue for the visa, as once again we didn’t have 3 days to wait. As we were filling in our forms the consul there came out and informed us that the price was now going up to $113, and we had to pay through the bank across the road, bring back the receipt and he would issue the visa, or we could get them inTehran. We we choseTehran, and walked out with our LOI.are now aware that that is the price for instant visa issue.

I sometimes wish we had done all this before leaving the UK, but the whole idea about the aspect of this trip was flexibility. Alas not without cost.

Citadel Day, today we took the metro into central “oldAnkara”, which is largely very modern, and a smaller very ancient part. The Museum of Anatolian Civilisationwas our first call, and having walked from the metro up another hill! 1842667_13351188843380.jpgWere not really sure the lonely planet map was very accurate, coupled with the fact that I had eaten something that disagreed with me; I could see I was not going to make it on foot. We flagged down a Taksi, which looked like he had done this one many times before, and charged us 5tl to take us up a fair way to the museum. I have to say from where my tummy was at it was well worth it(the 5tl). When we arrived and walked through the gates it was like an oasis of cool trees and beautifully laid out grounds. We paid 15tl each to get in, but this was a stunning museum, not boring or stuffy at all. We found state of the art WC’s with air con, and very modern features all around a 15th century beautifully restored building. It has been voted 1994 museum of Europe and I think still holds that title for me today. Photography is allowed in the first set of halls, which for me enhances my experience, and rightly the second set of halls it was not allowed, but then you saw so much ancient pottery, metals, gold and precious ceremonial, burial, and everyday artefacts, it would have been lost on camera. (Pics to follow).1842667_1335118881248.jpg1842667_13351188792327.jpg1842667_13351188704869.jpg

After we rested and refreshed we walked up a little further up the very steep hill to the site of the old citadel, or Ankara Fort.1842667_13351188682753.jpg In here village people still live and work, mostly for the tourists, but it is not tackville, they leave that to the stalls outside the walls! We found a lovely café courtyard where we sat and had a couple of well earner drinks and soaked up the lovely calm atmosphere missing in downtownAnkara. You are aware that you are still walking uphill as you pass through the windy street lined with houses looking like they are about to fall over and still lived in. They are in poor repair, but you can see where once they would have been stunning. Lots empty and some lived in; a small community still thrives here. Lots of children all under 14, run and play football in the various small squares you pass through.1842667_13351188755147.jpg Finally we reached the end of the village and we were able to look out onto the mound across the modern road built in-between the two hilly outcrops, (pics to follow), here you could see 14thand 15thCentury buildings in decay, with just one or two here and there with people still resident, almost slum like, sad really as this could have been preserved for cultural history.

Posted by TheJohnsons 22:37 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Trans Asia Express

View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

1842667_13352052359611_thumb.jpgTrain Ticket
We booked this at Sirkeci Station in Istanbul. The international ticket desk sells the ticket - 206 turkish lira for 2 people in a 4 berth couchette from Ankara [Ankara-travel-guide-602437] to Tehran. We left it until Thursday 12th April to book for Wed 18th April and as a result were very lucky to get tickets. The travel agent we tried (Turista) said it was full and books up at least a month in advance. The first guy at Sirkeci said full and the 2nd guy said full, but we pleaded with him and he offered us 2 beds sharing with men. We took this as we don't mind but don't think they usually do it.

Posted by TheJohnsons 22:35 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

The Big Year Out - Istanbul Photos

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Posted by TheJohnsons 22:26 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Camera Stuff

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large_1842667_1335095797867.jpg•Canon EOS 1100D in Grey with 18-55mm IS Lens •Tamron 70-300mm Lens (5123011) •Jessops UV Filters for each lens (1020735, 1020736) •Jessops LCD Screen Protectors (1018659) •Jessops Tecno Gadget Bag (5261608)I have seen lots of questions and discussions on this on the web. I did also do lots of research into what other people had done on their RTW trips. Strictly speaking ours is not a RTW, but it covers the same time span as a lot of those that do.

I previously had two DSLRs, and although I had until recently owned a bridge camera, I did feel after all things considered that I would prefer a DSLR for this trip.

Two things helped, one, it was my birthday in March (we left April 8th) and I had sold my Nikon P100 via Ebay for a decent enough price to put towards any birthday money I might get.

After much research I plumped for the Canon 1100D twin lens kit, with filters from Jessops. I had heard lots of web advice on “don’t bother with twin lens kits until you find out what you need”, or “Twin lenses are better than all in one lenses”.large_1842667_13350957988641.jpgCanon EOS 1100D Digital SLR Camera in Grey with 18-55mm IS LensSo many contrasting opinions, personally I was just happy with the Canon 18-55mm IS lens for general walkabout, and the Tamron 70-300mm Macro/Zoom lens for long distance. While difficult to utilise fully in most cities, I had to consider use out in the mountains/countryside/wildlife.

I checked out lots of reviews from Cameralabs (Gordon Lang is a great reviewer), What Digital Camera, Digital Photography Review, Photoguru, to name a few, and of course most importantly user reviews from AmazonUK& US.

Why did I go for Canon after being a Nikon & Sony owner previously? Simple, I wanted something that gave me outstanding picture quality every time. I wanted it to have full auto like a point and shoot for those moments when I didn’t have time to fiddle around with settings.large_1842667_13350957986280.jpgTamron 70-300mm f4/5.6 DI LD Macro (Canon AF)I also needed enough adjustments on it for when I did have time to set up shots. I wanted Live View in all modes (1100D has this) but I didn’t need loads of pixels (12 is more than enough). A camera with decent ISO settings and some video capability was also part of my requirements. Basically the Canon had the whole package and none of the reviews had anything bad to say. It was the newest of Canon’s so called entry level DSLRs. The camera menus are EASY to navigate and it had the right amount of adjustments on the outside of the camera without having to delve into too many menus (as you do with Nikon D3100). I guess, also importantly, cost was a factor. I paid (for me) the princely sum of £499.99 for the whole kit, including a rather large camera bag, which I have left at home, as there just was not room to carry it with our backpacks as well. Filters for both lenses, were probably the two most useful things that came with the “Kit”.

I had bought one of those nice neoprene snug fit cases (again from an EBay merchant), specific to fit Canon DSLR, which from previous experience holds up really well to protecting your valuable camera. It also has the added bonus of reducing bulk for carrying, allowing me to stow it away in my day pack quite nicely. The same applied to my Tamron lens, and I also got a small case for the 18-55mm for those times when it might not be on my camera. My mother in law kindly bought me a complete set of lens cleanse pens for my birthday, so I had all I need for my trip.

I know it seems like a lot to carry, especially when you put cables and chargers into the bag, and yes it is a little heavy, but the lightest set up I have tried out for a DSLR. Actually it’s even lighter when I take my Samsung N150 plus netbook out of the bag, but I wouldn’t be able to post this blog etc. without it, and it is so very useful to have for reviewing photos of the day. I find when travelling that Picasa does everything I need it to (and doesn’t take up too much space on the hard drive) before uploading my pictures to my cloud server. I have subscribed to www.justcloud.com [\"http:/www.justcloud.com/\"] at £34 a year and they provide excellent support for example if you need transfer your licence from your home computer to your netbook/laptop. I also have several SDHC cards, which I use as a secondary backup for my pictures; 3x 8GB so far. These are by no means full.

We also have a small “point and shoot” camera, a Canon Ixus 220HS. This camera is practical and has the same Canon picture quality you get in the rest of the range. It is smaller and quicker to use and has a simple video function which can come in handy. It is just right for my partner to use without feeling intimidated by my DSLR and was a good buy for £125 at duty free in Heathrow [Heathrow-travel-guide-1254813]. I sometimes find myself reaching for it when I want to catch that “quick” shot that I might have missed because I didn’t have the DSLR in my hand.

I think the most important rules when buying yourself a camera like this is go out and try it in the shop, feel the weight, fiddle with the controls, get the shop assistants to show you the programmes and tell you what the camera can do. Then research the reviews, fix your budget, then the fun of trying to get it within it and its extras! You have to like it, or you won’t use it.


Posted by TheJohnsons 22:26 Archived in France Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-The start of the journey Istanbul

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Arrived inIstanbulafter easy 4 hours via Turkish airlines. Landed at Attaturk airport northIstanbul, what seemed like miles away from the centre. We grabbed a bus, which seemed more like a coach toTaksim Squareas there were no buses to Eminou where we would have to take the ferry across to Kadakoy, crossing the Bospherous to the Asian side ofIstanbul. As it was, had to take another bus from Taksim to Kadakoy, finally arriving quite late in the evening to near our destination for the Hush Hostel/Lounge (please read our review), which is up a rather long steep hill at the end of the main road at the ferry port. I have to say I was quite tired and managed to fall over on the uneven pavement on street, and was lying there with this huge backpack arms flaying everywhere feeling like an upturned turtle, shouting at Angela “Help” in a turtle type way! I was really heartened to see and hear so many local people rushing to help me. As usual, I was hoisted up by rather scrawny looking, fifty plus, man, who lifted me up like I was a twiglet! After the very long climb up the hill we found our hostel and checked in. End of day 1.

Today was Pouring with rain, but we decided to make the best of it.1842667_1335118186922.jpg Blue Mosque day it would be. We purchased our Istanbulkart at the ferry port (just like an oyster card inLondon), and put on about 20 Turkish lira. Carefully navigating our way onto our first of many river crossings. It did remind me a bit of the river taxis we have been on inThailand, but better organised! Landing on the Western side ofIstanbulyou are greeted by the stench of fish from the port fish restaurants on the dock, all selling fish sandwiches for a mere 5tl, and the New Mosque and then the Blue mosque to your left, with the spice market tucked down in front of the New Mosque. A feast for the eyes. We took the tram to Sultanahamet. Again we used the card we purchased from the ticket office, easy, across the park and we are there. Stunning! Beautiful mosque, of which I have many pictures and will post when I get a chance. It is definitely a “must do” when visitingIstanbul. Entrance was free. We did walk up to the topaki palace only to find it was closed until Wednesday. So off back to the hostel for the rest of the day, and dry out.

So today we took the trip across the river again back to Sultanahamet, as we had to visit the Iranian Embassy to get our visa for our journey throughIran. We had forgotten to get our headscarf passport photos done back in England (note to self, do this before leaving home), and it didn’t take us long to find a small shop with various ticky tacky tourist bits, but also very usefully “passport photos” for we paid 12tl each for four pics which was about the same as you pay in England (£5-6). Pics done off up the smaller hill to the Iranian Embassy, we got there about 9a.m. and were greeted by a friendly security guard who let us in after we said “Visas!” we were greeted by a large open space with dark glass windows all around one side with tiny little openings to speak through. There was one in English and Farsi market “Visas”, so we waited patiently, the lovely consul came over and we explained our requirements (please see blog on Visas), we left our passports and decided to spend the rest of the day out sight seeing.

We had been told by a friend of Angela’s about some beautiful underground cisterns in centra lIstanbul. So off we went to find them, they too are not far from the Aya Sofia Mosque, and we joined the que, thinking we might be there for a long time, but actually it moved quite quickly. We descended into near pitch blackness via some very solid stairs. To be greeted by soft, warm orange light, tastefully showing the stunning huge columns holding up the ceiling. (Again pics later) soft unobtrusive music accompanied your walk round on solid wide walkways. The water here is now only a few inches deep in places. Again somewhere well worth the visit if your there. We paid 15tl each to get into this and I have to say was definitely worth all of that, especially when you consider what you would pay for something similar at home.1842667_13351181913019.jpg1842667_13351176327217.jpg

When we popped up, like rabbits in Alice in Wonderland, (through another set of sturdy stairs) we found ourselves almost right outside the Aya Sofia, we took one look at the que and decided that that was not an option today!! So we elected to go to the Museum of Islamic Art. We paid 10tl to get into here and saw some interesting artefacts, carpets, scripts etc. I must say, maybe it was just us, but we came away not so impressed. I guess by then we were a bit hungry and foot weary, we set out to forage for food, we wandered across the square in front of the aya sofia across the hippodrome and off down a side street to find ourselves a sunken café/restaurant, where we were greeted by a smiling face (again). We sat and decided to give ourselves a well earned lunch (2.pm)1842667_1335120906885.jpg1842667_13352045249038.jpg and rest. Great food, good prices and no hassle meant we stayed quite a while chatting about our next days plans of places to go and things to do. I must say the chicken Kebab is lovely there. We finished off the day just wandering back towards Sultanhamet for our tram, but without really worrying exactly how, or which route we took.

Today Is Aya Sofia Day! And Topaki Palace day is also the day when it finally stopped raining and allowed us to wear less cumbersome jackets. 1842667_13351176269328.jpg1842667_13351176219226.jpgFinally sun, that thing that Turkey is apparently famed for. Aya Sofia was not so busy this morning, but still a good showing of people and we got through to tickets quite quickly. We Paid 20 tl each to get into here, again worth every penny. I guess I didn't realise how big it is inside, actually huge! And lovely art work, again one of those places you have to see (pics later). We did the long sloping walk up to the upper gallery which give you a stunning view of the main place below. My camera did have a smashing time in there taking some lovely shots.

As we had had missed the Topaki Palace on Monday (it was closed for two days), we went straight round the corner from there and took the walkway up t the ticket entrance, it’s a bit like looking at a fairy tale castle when you approach the main gate, and just to the left are the ticket booths. The Harem is definitely a must see, but you have to pay separately for that once inside. 20tls saw us into the main part of the palace, and a further 15tl each to get into the Harem, which is where we went first. Very elaborate entrance through many courtyards and passages to finally get to the quarters where queen and concubines were housed. Gilded cage does come to mind, I thought as I walked round, but put in context of time and history I guess it was an honour to be picked as a concubine? Still not altogether a rough place to live. The main parts of the palace are set into sections, an armoury, where photography is “strictly forbidden!”, and a treasury, which houses some of the most stunning jewels you will see anywhere, a bowl full of Emeralds, one of the top ten diamonds in the world, weighing in at a hefty 80+carats, and various stunning gifts form various heads of state throughout history. An empty Library, which looked very comfortable, but had no books! The section of various prophets’ relics and even the staff of Abraham, and important relics pertaining to Mohammed. This was again very worthwhile going to, and we spent our time in lovely sunshine and relaxed atmosphere marvelling at the views from the terraces looking across the Bospherous.

Pick up Iranian Visa Day! We got over to Sultanhamet again to pick up our Iranian visa, in and out in five minutes, with fetching headscarves emblazoned in our passports. Hooray! We are going to Iran!

We booked ourselves the Trans Asia express from Ankara [Ankara-travel-guide-602437] to Iran at the local railway station inIstanbul, Hydraplace is closed. We paid 103tl each for our train tickets and then we booked our bus form Istanbul to Ankara which cost 51tl each, not forgetting to ask for a place on the shuttle bus that takes you to the main bus station. We got that on Saturday at10.30a.m.and I was impressed with the Turkish Bus, more like a coach even with in coach entertainment screens with Turkish TV. We had some refreshments and one half hour break throughout a five hour journey. We arrived at what I can only describe as the biggest bust terminal I have seen anywhere in the world so far!, hundreds of buses/coaches making their way into the station in no particular order, but all finally finding their allotted spot. The lovely attendant form our bus directed us to the metro, where we got tickets 3.50tl for both of us to our stop at Kurtulus. Again up a hill (yes we seem to keep choosing them this way) we settled into yet another clean and roomy Hostel (review to follow).

Posted by TheJohnsons 22:25 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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