Author Archives: Inka Piegsa-quischotte

Magic Ice – Istanbul’s Ice Museum

I was intrigued when I first heard about one of Istanbul’s latest attractions: an ice museum because that’s one of the last things you would associate with a city in a generally hot country. In fact, the ice museum which opened its doors in April 2010 is the only one in Europe created in a warm country.

Located in FORUM Istanbul, one of the city’s most fashionable shopping malls, a visit to the ice museum is a brilliant choice. Apart from the show, history and exhibits, the museum is open every day of the week, whereas many other museums and historical places in Istanbul are closed on Mondays. So, why not combine a Monday looking at ice sculptures with doing some shopping – window or otherwise – in the pleasant surroundings of FORUM Istanbul. The FORUM is easily reached because it has a separate stop on the METRO (clearly indicated) and is located close to the Central Bus station  in Bayrampasha.

FORUM Istanbul shopping mall in Bayrampasha

Entering the forum from the Metro stop, you descend two floors and find the entrance to Magic Ice right opposite the escalator. Admission is TYL 20 and then the fun begins , because first you have to dress up. You are given an ice blue, protective, hooded  cape with gloves dangling from the collar to put on over your clothes to protect you from the freezing temperatures which are needed to preserve the art behind the ice tunnel. Very fetching outfit, I think.

Wrap up warmly!!

Then you delve into the blue lighted world of ice, walking between semi transparent walls with elaborate lamps over head. The theme of the museum is based on the history of the voyage of the Vikings to Istanbul in 880 and the story is etched into sheets of ice, thankfully in Turkish and English. You can admire an entire Viking boat, a house, an elk and, of course a Viking and read the story of one of the warriors by the name of Halvan who visited the Hagia Sofia and etched his name in runes into one of the walls.

Part of a Viking boat

At the end of the walk an ice bar awaits and you are offered a drink in a glass made from ice. That’s when you need to gloves, so your fingers won’t freeze off. A fabulous chandelier made from ice hangs over the bar.

Chandelier hanging over the bar

Take off your cape and visit the museum shop. Plenty of carved Vikings are in evidence but the souvenirs  I liked best are glass enclosed replicas of some of the exhibits in the museum. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the museum but the PR lady kindly gave me permission when I told her that I was writing about it.

The nicer souvenirs from the museum shop

Then, if you like, go to the upper floors of the shopping mall, have a snack and enjoy two bookshops where you can get a great selection of English language books, something not easy to come by in Turkey outside of Istanbul .Or else, stock up on any imaginable brand of international cosmetics and browse the displays of designer shops as well as more affordable but very chic local creations.

More Istanbul Tips

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Where to Stay in Istanbul

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Dolmabahce, Istanbul: A Palace of Superlatives

Known as one of the world’s most glamorous and opulent palaces, Dolmabahce on the European side of the Bosporus in Istanbul, attracts thousands of visitors each year. You should experience the overwhelming architecture and decorations of this Istanbul attraction for yourself.

Dolmabahce Palace

Photo from wikipedia, author: SBarnes

Dolmabahce is Turkey’s largest palace, built by Sultan Adbülmecid I between 1843 and 1856. The mono block building covers 45.000 square meters and features 285 rooms and 68 toilets. The cost was the equivalent of 35 tons (!) of gold and 14 tons in the form of gold leaf were uses to gild the ceilings. In addition, the palace entrance hall is illuminated by  the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier, which was a gift from Queen Victoria and a sweeping staircase with banisters made from Baccarat crystal.

Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles are combined with Turkish ottoman features to create a unique building. Surrounded by gardens, the palace overlooks the Bosporus on a site which originally served as public gardens, a fact from which the name Dolmabahce (full garden in Turkish) is derived.

Clock Tower adjacent to Dolmabahce Palace

The palace was the administrative center of the last Ottoman sultans and became the presidential summer residence of Atatürk, who died here on 10th November 1938 at 9.05 am. All clocks in the palace remain stopped at the time of Ataürk’s passing.

Whereas you can stroll around other museums and monuments at your leisure in Istanbul Dolmabahce palace can only be viewed with a guided tour.  And you are not allowed to take photographs of the interior.

Sultan's Gate

The tour leads around the most important sections of the palace and you can admire works of art as well as marvelous palace carpets. You can walk around freely in the gardens and to the separate clock tower.

I like to visit by taking the tramway from Sultanahmed to the last stop, Kabatas and then walk along Ciraghan Caddesi , gazing at  the waterfront and admiring  many old mansions which line the street. The walk takes about 30 minutes. Calculate 1 to 2 hours for  the visit to Dolmabahce with the guided tours starting every 20 to 30 minutes.

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Kadiköy on Istanbul’s Asian side

Where in the world can you travel from one continent to another for less than a simple London bus fare? Exactly, only in Istanbul.

For a very enjoyable day trip take the ferry from either Eminönü or Karakoy and embark on a 40 minute ‘cruise’ to Kadiköy. Arriving at the ferry terminal you feel the much more sedate, typically Turkish middle class atmosphere of the ‘other’  Istanbul. There is no sign which says Welcome to Asia, people don’t look different or speak another language, but the first thing you notice is the absence of camera toting tourists.

Typical shop window in Kadiköy

Instead you are greeted by a sea of flowers, as right opposite the ferry terminal, in a vast square is one of the most beautiful flower markets I have seen in Istanbul. Right next to it you find another historical train station: Haydarpasa station, very much in the style of Sirkeci Gare but less spectacular. Once the terminal for the famous Bagdad-Istanbul line, it now serves trains to Asia.

Flower market near ferry terminal

The beauty of Kadiköy is not as eye catching as the overwhelming array of world famous buildings and monuments which you find at every twist and turn in Sultanahmed and beyond. Hence the absence of tourist groups. You have to look a bit closer to find the charm of Kadiköy. A lot of the attraction is about food and drink and many cafes and restaurants which  excellent Turkish dishes, at much lower prices than on the other side. I loved this patisserie which specializes in sweets and decorations for new babies.

Sweets and gifts for babies

The main street, Bagdat Caddesi is a commercial place with department stores and other outlets ,much frequented by locals from both sides of Istanbul. A streetcar runs along, blue and white in color but, sadly, plastered from top to bottom with adverts.

You will find art as well in Kadaköy, like this bronze hand, but, again, rather subdued as opposed to ostentatious. Stroll along, shop or window shop, sit in one of the restaurants and then make your way to the bank of the Bosporus to admire some very fine, old, wooden mansions.

Bronze hand in Bagdat Caddesi

Return to the European side either again by ferry or over one of the bridges where, indeed, you will see a sign saying: Welcome to Europe.

More Istanbul Tips

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A visit to Munich’s Toy Museum

A visit to Munich’s toy museum is a pleasure for children from 8 to 80. Get into the spirit of things by going to the Marienplatz shortly before 11am. Line up in front of the Neue Rathaus and wait for the world famous carillon (Glockenspiel) to begin.

Neues Rathaus at Munich's Marienplatz

The Rathaus was built between 1867 and 1909 in a Flanders Gothic style and is dominated by the tower with its spires. Crane your neck and discover the upper part of the carillon which displays a joust arranged in honor of the marriage of Wilhelm V and Renate von Lothringen.

The fun part is the lower part. At the stroke of the clock, historical figures come out and perform the Schäfflertanz. Round and round they go until they return to their ‘house’ to await their next performance.

Then turn to your right and make you way to another Rathausturm  and enter the world of toys. The museum is located in four levels of the narrow tower, which means you climb up a spiral staircase and look at the exhibits in small rooms just off the stairs. It’s a very cosy museum with wooden floors and showcases which allow a close inspection of the collection.

Toy museum located in this Rathaus Turm

Ivan Steiger, a cartoonist, writer, filmmaker and journalist, born in Prague,  has collected toys mainly from Europe and the USA going back two centuries and made his collection accessible to the public in this beautiful museum.

It’s as much a joy to observe the kids as it is to look at the doll houses, dolls, teddies, toy trains and of course, a superb Barbie collection.

Teddy bears by Margarete Steiff

Dolls from Käthe Kruse

Dollhouse with Biedermaier furniture

Barbie collection

The museum is open from 10.00 to 17.30. If you feel hungry afterwards, make your way back to the Marienplatz and to one of the many cafes and restaurants around the square to enjoy a Bavarian feast. Bear in mind that Weisswurst is best eaten before noon, but everything else is delicious all day.

Bavarian specilities

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A visit to Istanbul Museum of Modern Art

With all the stunning historical sites in Istanbul around you, it’s easy to forget that Turkey has prestigious modern artists too. To create a home for their work and give Turkish modern art the exposure it deserves, the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, commonly referred to as ‘Istanbul Modern’ opened its doors in 2004.The museum has become quite the ‘in’ place for the sophisticated Istanbul art and literature crowd to see and be seen at vernisages and other cultural events.

Istanbul Modern Cafe on the top floor

You should not miss a visit to this remarkable Istanbul attraction when planning your sightseeing. Located in Tophane, just across the Galata bridge, the museum is situated in a vast former dock warehouse right on the shore of the Bosporus. It’s extremely stark, a gray concrete block with a bright red  stripe down the side emblazoned with the words Istanbul Modern. It’s really an impressive contrast to all the opulence of the other buildings which are Istanbul’s landmarks.

The museum is located in a former dock ware house

Picture by nerostrateur taken from wikipedia free licence

Take the Kabatas tram and get off at the Tophane stop. Don’t miss to look at the  fishermen on the Galata bridge and cast your eye over the Galata tower looming in the background.

View of the Galata Tower crossing Galata Bridge

Cross the street towards the waterfront, turn left and start walking. Your route leads you past the baroque Tophane mosque and, next to it, a row of quaint nargile cafes.

Follow an arrow towards the gate to the parking lot and make you way to the entrance of the museum. You can’t miss it anyway as the red sign which is higher  than the building is visible from quite a distance.

In the small park in front of the museum are a few sculptures by modern artists. Whereas the exterior is bare, the interior is beautifully distributed and dedicated to changing exhibitions of Turkish as well as foreign artists. They also have slide shows, videos and audio guides.

Modern sculpture in front of the museum

You are not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, but you can photograph in the museum shop which offers a wide range of art books, posters and such things as stationary and note books  adorned with reproductions of the paintings inside.

The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm but, like most museums in Istanbul, closed on Mondays. Admission is TYL5.

After you have walked through, climb up an iron staircase and enjoy a coffee and snack in the museum café with a nice view over the water.

More Istanbul Tips

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Sirkeci Gare – Istanbul’s emblematic train station

Orient Express and Sirkeci Gare are two tightly connected key words. Although the famous luxury train no longer runs all the way to Istanbul, a visit to the station is a worthwhile trip down memory lane.

Sirkeci Gare's main front

The pink brick, white stucco and black wrought iron structure is a prime example for late 19th century Ottoman architecture which sought to combine oriental elements with western modern style. The architect of the train station was a German, August Jachmund, who had come to Istanbul to study Ottoman architecture and ended up lecturing at Istanbul’s polytechnic. The building was completed in 1888 and inaugurated in 1890.

Side entrance of the train station

Approach the station from the street car stop of the same name and admire a gleaming steam engine which is exhibited at the left of the side entrance. The exterior is beautifully maintained whereas the interior serves as a modern day train station which connects Istanbul to the Balkans and Greece.

Steam engine outside Sirkeci Gare

However, 19th century nostalgia remains very much in evidence. First is the Orient Express restaurant which serves excellent food and is full of photographs and memorabilia of times gone past.

Orient Express restaurant

Next to it is a tiny museum. Admission is free and it’s only one room, but you can admire a lot of exhibits connected to the Orient Express, like old log books, the reconstruction of a luxury dining car, a conductor’s uniform, even cutlery and crockery which was used on the famous train. The charm of this museum lies in its small size and the fact that, short of touching, you can get really close to the exhibits and study them at your leisure.

Memorabilia in the Railway Museum

Also within the station is a community hall. For some reason this is the venue where several nights a week the Sufi lodge of Istanbul arranges a performance of the whirling dervishes, the best I have seen outside of the festival in Konya because the performers are Sufi who have trained many years to achieve perfection. Tickets to the event can be obtained from many shops and kiosks in the vicinity or along Divan Yoglu.

Whirling Dervishes performing in a hall in Sirkeci gare

Leave by the front entrance, cross the square and take a last look at the graceful structure which is an important historical landmark of Istanbul before crossing the Galata Bridge to sample some fish buns and perhaps proceeding to visit the Galata Tower.

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Reliving recent German history in Berchtesgaden

During my two week stay in Munich and the Chiemsee this summer, I decided to visit one of the most important documentation centers about recent German history, the Obersalzberg in Berchtesgaden.

Berchtesgadener Land

A trip to Berchtesgaden is feasible as a Munich day trip, the journey takes approx. 3 hours (each way) either by car or train.  Once you arrive in Berchtesgaden take to RVO bus #838 to take you up the mountain to the Obersalzberg. The documentation is a permanent exhibition of the Institute of Contemporary History Muncih-Berlin and to date the only permanent exhibition worldwide to cover all the essential aspects of the Nazi period in Germany.

The halls are arranged around Wachenfeld House which Adolf Hitler purchased in 1933 and then converted into his holiday resort Berghof. And of course, Obersalzberg contains the Führerbunker underneath  the exhibition halls.

Admission to the center is EURO 3 and you can either join a guided tour or walk around on your own, look at photographs, watch old Wochenschaus and videos.

Entrance to the documentation center

Then follow the signs and descend into the bunker. What struck me as chilling in the truest sense of the word was how vast, dark and very cold the many, many rooms are. Having to take refuge in a bunker this deep and big must be haunting, with water dripping off the walls and floors and not much by way of amenities.

Aisles in the bunker

Rooms were marked as office, guest quarters etc. but they resembled prison cells more than temporary living quarters. They are also all totally empty. I expected some sort of furniture or memorabilia of the times, but there is absolutely nothing.

Dripping walls

Another point of interest to visit in Berchtesgaden is the Eagle’s Nest, a big chalet which was a project of Martin Borman and presented to Adolf Hitler as a50th  birthday present . It’s located high up on a mountain and there is an access road which was blasted out of solid rock and completed in only 13 months. Since 1952 the Eagle’s Nest road is closed to public traffic and a bus service takes visitors to a viewpoint. From there a stone lined tunnel leads straight into the mountain and an elevator which takes the visitor up another 406 ff straight through the heart of the mountain and into the building itself. The Eagle’s Nest is open from mid May until the end of October.

Footpath down from Obersalzberg to Berchtesgaden

I didn’t visit the Eagle’s Nest because after my visit to the Obersalzberg, I walked back into Berchtesgaden on a winding footpath which leads through dense forest and affords views of the beautiful Berchtesgadener Land. It was also a means to unwind after the truly moving experience of viewing the documentation.

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Things to do in La Coruna, Galicia, Spain

La Coruna, Galicia’s second largest city is far more than an important commercial port. The history of Spain’s north eastern province is reflected in many monuments and sights which are well worth a visit.

The most important landmark is the Tower of Hercules which looms on a peninsula approx. 1.5 miles from the city. Built in the 2nd century, probably under the rule of Trajan, the Roman  lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the world which has been in use uninterruptedly for some 1900 years. It’s about 180ff tall and you can climb up right to the top. Its current shape dates from 1788 when it was restored.

The Tower of Hercules

To get there go on the blue and white streetcar, another of La Coruna’s peculiarities. Or else, to get the full impact, make your way to the Paseo Maritimo and catch one of the sightseeing boats which tour the port of La Coruna and go far out into the bay. The boats depart when there are a minimum of 12 passengers and the trip lasts about an hour.

Back on land make your way to the Castillio de San Antonio, a massive fort which was built in the 16th century to defend the city which came often under siege from pirates and hostile armies which had their eyes on the wealthy city.

Castillo de San Antonio

You can climb around, but don’t miss to visit the archaeological museum which is housed within the castle and features a collection of period furniture and a chapel among other treasures.

Exhibit in the archaeology museum/Castillo de San Antonio

Head uphill towards the old town of La Coruna and admire the Plaza de Maria Pita and the monument to the sword wielding lady. She is a local heroine who, in 1589 by an act of enormous courage, foiled the attempt of the English fleet and the generals Norris and Drake to breech the city walls.

Statue of Maria Pita

Opposite you find a park and the tomb of Sir John Moore who was killed in the battle of La Coruna between the British and the French and was buried in La Coruna at his request.

The narrow cobbled streets of the old town are nice to wander and are lined with countless cafes selling Tarta de Santiago, a cake with ground hazelnuts and the ever present coffee.

Head back towards the sea front and go for a stroll along the port until you reach Jardin Mendez Nunez. It’s a particularly beautiful park, green and lush and full of flowers. Within a gastronomic surprise awaits:  casetas which represent and sell typical food and drink of every region in Spain.

Across the road is one of Spain’s oldest and most prestigious book shops: Libreria Arenas. Browse for books about Galicia which you won’t find anywhere else and let yourself be advised by the enormously helpful assistants.

Should you stay over night, consider a very quaint hotel in Calle Ramon y Cajal: the Hotel Moon. It’s a boutique hotel which you might walk past if it weren’t for the astronaut on the pavement. It’s very futuristic in design and everything revolves around the phases of the moon, including the white and ice blue color scheme. The rooms are comfortable and spacious and offer a lot for EUROS 50 for a single. The first floor restaurant has a blue glass floor and the downstairs café serves set meals for 10 Euros which are very filling.

Welcome to the Hotel Moon!

La Coruna is a city which cherishes culture and music and if you are lucky you can go to an open air concert in the Plaza Maria Pita. La Coruna isn’t short of museums and churches either or if you feel like to spot of really good shopping, head for El Corte Ingles. Much of La Coruna can be managed on foot, otherwise take a taxi whichall run with meters.

You can find the best deals at hotel in La Coruna on the HotelsCombined price comparison site.

Two ways to visit Salzburg

Salzburg is one of these holiday destinations you can visit in two ways: the hard way or the soft way. The hard way involves sensible shoes, a lot of leg work and quite a good level of fitness to conquer Salzburg’s famous landmark, the Festung Hohensalzburg, perched high up on the Festungsberg. You can if course use the cable car, but the dedicated visitor to the castle climbs up on foot starting a steady uphill path through the Mirabell Garten, then crossing into the old part of town and following the Festungsgasse.

Construction of the castle  started in 1077 when the original building was a wooden structure. Over the following centuries, the castle was expanded and fortified until it reached its present state as one of the largest and best preserved medieval castles in Europe. Within the castle there is a lot to see too, the Fortress museum, the Regency chamber and the marionette museum. You need quite a lot of time to enjoy the views and to catch your breath along the way as well as walking around  the buildings themselves. After that you can of course take the cable car down.

The soft way is somehow more in tune with the particular laid back atmosphere and melodious dialect  of Salzburg. People don’t seem to be in a hurry here, just watch a housewife choosing fruit or flowers  at one of the many stalls in the market.  They’ll meet their friends and neighbors and stop for a chat in the middle of the sidewalk and you’ll never find an empty coffee house.

Flowershop in Salzburg

Therefore the more sedate exploration of Salzburg commences with a stroll around the vast and lovely Mirabell Garten, admiring the artistic landscaping, the statues and fountains. If you are lucky, you might even witness a wedding.

Carriage in Salzburg's Mirabell Garten

Follow the Rainerstrasse until you come  to the house were Mozart lived and, close to it, the famous Hotel and Café Sacher. This is one of the must-dos in Salzburgh, either sitting on the terrace overlooking the river Salzach or inside admiring the wall of fame and sampling a piece of Sacher torte and coffee.

Interior of Cafe Sacher

Thus fortified you cross over one of the many bridges, look at Mozart’s birthplace and then make your way through the many winding Gassen to the Domplatz.  It’s easy to spend hours just looking at the antique shops, the market, the Residenz and the Dom, all without climbing anywhere.

House where Mozart was born

If you have come by train from Munich, as I did on this occasion, it’s an easy 40 minute walk back to the station past all the beautiful Salzburg attractions in reverse. You will never lose sight of the mighty Festung Hohensalzburg either.

You can also follow Arwa’s Top 4 Sightseeing Tips for Salzburg.

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Where to stay and what to do in Vathi, Samos

Vathi is the capital of the Greek island of Samos, just 1 ½ hour ferry ride from the Turkish coastal town of Kusadasi. Samos is one of my favorite Greek islands to be visited either as a day trip from Turkey or on its own.

If you wish to stay over night in order to explore more of the island’s many historical site like the Heraion, Pythagorion, the Ephalinos tunnel or the Potami waterfalls, a good choice is the – aptly named – Hotel Samos.

Ceramic pipes in the Ephalinos Tunnel

For one it’s easy to find and perfectly located just across the road from the ferry terminal. At Euros 50 per night for a single room including breakfast and free WiFi, it’s reasonably priced and offers great value for money. The rooms are spacious and the bathroom’s standard is close to 5 stars with goodie basket, (working) hairdryer and good water pressure. The hotel has a lovely roof top swimming pool and bar where you can have a variety of freshly squeezed fruit juices or any other drinks you fancy as well as snacks.

Hotel Samos in Vathi

There is a restaurant downstairs, indoors as well as on the terrace. The Greek salad is particularly appetizing and you can sit and watch the waterfront and the world go by. Everybody at reception is very friendly and helpful and will assist you with insider tips and excursions.

Greek salad in the restaurant at the Hotel Samos

If you have only time to visit Vathi, walk along the waterfront towards Lion Square, passing b many, many cafes, restaurants and shops. These shops are mostly selling souvenirs and beach items, therefore, turn left on Lion Square, walk straight up, then turn right and you find a narrow street lined with some of the best boutiques I have ever seen, offering chic fashion at very low prices as well as really nice tiles, ceramic, paintings, sofa throws etc. In short, souvenirs of the better kind which also make nice gifts.

Vathi's waterfront at sunset

Follow the same road to the end, turn left and you come to the Archaeological Museum. It consists of two buildings opposite each other and you start on the left. This museum is an  ‘ohhhh’ experience and the treasures inside are quite unexpected. Enormous korus statues from the holy road of the Heraion loom in the semi darkness and never fail to impress by their sheer size and nearly immaculate state.

Statue on Vathi's archaeological museum

Cross over to the other building and enjoy more exhibits reflecting Samos’ long history.

Opposite is a great example of an orthodox church with icons outside and fabulous chandeliers inside. Samos is also famous for wine and you shouldn’t fail  to visit the wine museum although you may want to take a taxi  because it’s about 4 miles out of town.

A good, and much cheaper way, to get around the island is the use of local buses. Continue to walk straight along the waterfront and you will see a few white and green buses parked. That’s the central bus station. You buy your ticket in the café, sit down and have a drink and wait until the waiter tells you that your bus has arrived and leads to  it.  The buses take the ‘scenic route’ which means that you get an island tour for all of Euros 3 before reaching your destination. You need time because the schedules are  somewhat flexible but you also get to enjoy conversations with the locals. There are buses to all major towns of the island, but learn to read the names in Greek.