Iceland – Instagrammed

Iceland – Instagrammed

Last weekend I was beyond excited to be in Iceland – a place that has always been right up there in my ‘really wanna see’ list.  I have a whole heap of Iceland photos, foodie finds, tales of the Golden Circle, Icelandic design, a photo tour of Reykjavik,a dip in the Blue Lagoon and lots of really cool Icelandic things that I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks but in the meantime here’s an Instagram teaser to whet the appetite…

Big trucks are needed for the volcanic terrain and these monsters were perfect

We saw steaming geothermal waters and lichen covered lava fields

and bathed in the Blue Lagoon

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Blue Lagoon #iceland

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The food was pretty amazing

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#iceland #food #fish #cuisine

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And the Brennivin (schnapps) pretty deadly!

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They’re an arty crafty lot in Iceland

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So true…. #iceland #toocool

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And they’re into design…

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Looking Down #iceland #reykjavik

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But it was the natural beauty of Iceland that really captured my heart

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Montenegro – A Photo Tour of Budva

Montenegro – A Photo Tour of Budva

The second part of our ‘Grand Montenegro Tour‘ excursion took us to Budva. With a backdrop of dramatic mountains, colourful harbour and a fortified Stari Grad (old town) it’s the prettiest of tiny towns and one of the most popular on Montenegro’s coast.

Budva was one of the last Venetian outposts and there are many clues to the 400 years of Venetian rule in the 15th century within the walls of the Medieval fortress encircling the town. In contrast, the narrow alleyways and squares are filled with modern boutiques, bars and restaurants.  So, what’s to see?  Let me show you Budva in photos…

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

The old town of Budva lies on a little island that was once linked to the mainland by a sandbar which over time turned into a peninsula.  Head out towards Mogren Beach for panoramic views of the town.

There are three churches in Budva and each one is very different. (clockwise)  A tiny single nave church, the Church of Saint Sava, is said to have been built during the 14th century. Saint John the Baptist Church was Seat of the Budva bishopric until 1828. In 1867 the belfry was added to the north side. Church of Holy Trinity is a single nave construction with a dome built in 1804 and modelled on one of two churches of the Podostrog monastery 2k from Budva.

The Stari Grad or Old Town is made up of narrow streets, alleys and small squares.

The old town was heavily fortified and today is still entered from one of five gates in the towering walls. Evidence of different Mediterranean cultures that have influenced the town can be spied in the walls.

 

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Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Budva, Montenegro

Budva Walled Town

A photo tour of the pretty walled town of Budva, Montenegro

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Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting our cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

Montenegro – Discovering Kotor, Njegusi and Cetinje

Montenegro – Discovering Kotor, Njegusi and Cetinje

We’re in Montenegro, one of Europe’s newest nations, and the road we’re climbing clings to the steep limestone mountains overlooking the Bay of Kotor. With every bend (or serpentine, as our guide aptly describes them) the views of the bay become increasingly breathtaking.

On the eighth hairpin the coach comes to a grinding halt as a couple of cows and a hefty bull plod up the hill in front of us; but we don’t mind – it gives us time to soak up a bit more of ‘that view’. The bovine roadblock pulls into a convenient passing point and we’re off again – onwards and upwards.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

It’s the ‘Grand Montenegro Tour’ our first excursion on our Celebrity Cruise and when we stop at serpentine number 25, a mighty 850m above sea-level, we can see our ship ‘Silhouette’ sitting centre stage in the beautiful bay. The Gulf of Kotor (Boka Kotorska), despite often being called the southern-most fjord in Europe, is actually a submerged river canyon and from this height we can see the route the river would have once taken. This morning I woke, as the ship edged into Kotor, to see a backdrop of green covered mountains plunge into the bay behind small monastery islands set in the deep, still waters.  Mistakenly I thought that would be the best view of the day.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

We tear ourselves away from the vista and head back to the coach for our next stop, Njegusi, which is even higher up the mountain at 1100m. Njegusi is famous for its local cheese, ’sir’, and ‘prsut’ a smoked dried ham; we sample a generous portion of each with a huge beaker of very drinkable red wine in Kadmi Ethnic Village.  It’s not even midday but, well….! The restaurant is cosy inside and reminds me of a ski chalet with its hide covered benches, gingham curtains and copper fire hoods but today is warm so we head back outside to enjoy the views of Mount Lovćen.

 Njegusi, Montenegro

Our next stop is Cetinje and we head off along the road from Njegusi which winds through a grey, rugged area of Mount Lovcen known as The Stone Sea. The view is stark but softened with splashes of autumn colour.

The Stone Sea, Montenegro

The Stone Sea, Montenegro

Until 1946 Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro, before Podgorica took over the mantle, although the small town still remains the country’s cultural and royal capital. It’s a pretty place with a quiet air about it dotted with small embassies and museums – so much nicer than Podgorica – but then I’m slightly biased as a few years ago my luggage went walkabout in Podgorica…

We visit the State Museum, on King Nicholas’ Square, which is the former residence of Nikola Petrovic I, king of Montenegro. The palace is set out with beautiful period rooms as they would have been when the palace was in use. I loved the Princesses’ bedrooms and it would seem little girls liked pink just as much then as they do now! Displays of uniforms, medals, flags and weaponry fill the building but photography wasn’t allowed. If you’d like to know more check the museum’s official website where you’ll find a virtual tour and photographs.

We leave the peacefulness of Cetinje for the thirty minute drive to the coastal town of Budva where we’ll have lunch and a wander. As the sea comes into view so does Sveti Stefan in the distance, an exclusive holiday hideaway only accessable nowadays to the rich and famous.Budva’s a pretty little fortified town and worthy of its own photo tour so for now I’ll just leave you with a taster…

Budva, Montenegro

Budva, Montenegro

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Bay of Kotor

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting my first cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

 

Bologna’s Knobs and Knockers…

Bologna’s Knobs and Knockers…

As I walked the porticoes of Bologna it wasn’t long before the quirky knobs and  knockers that peered out from the heavy wooden doors caught my eye.  I couldn’t help but notice the wide variety of door furniture adorning the city’s thresholds.  As I passed by entrances and doorways small human faces peered silently at me; some serene some grimacing.  Gaping keyholes awaiting heavy metal keys yawned at me.  Ornate, detailed; plain, simple all shared the purposes of announcing a visitor.   Gleaming brass reflected the sunlight or unpolished and dull faded into the wood.  Take a look – do you have a favourite?

Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Aya Sofya, Hagia Sophia or, in English, the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is a mighty structure defining the heart and soul of Istanbul, melding the characteristics of a city that crosses time, continent and culture.  If you only have time to visit one sight in Istanbul this is it.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul


Read about Istanbul’s beautiful Blue Mosque


Church, Mosque and Museum

Originally built by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I as a Greek Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia had a hard life and survived an earthquake, fire and revolt over a period of 916 years before being converted to Aya Sofia Mosque in 1453.  Four minarets were added and the vast, domed building remained a mosque until 1935.  At this time Ataturk proclaimed that it should become a museum where symbols of both religions would be housed side by side to pacify both faiths.

Hagia Sophia Dome

Hagia Sofia Dome

Head upstairs, or rather up wooden ramps, for a spectacular view of the main atrium and nave from the balcony above the main entrance.  Bathed in diffused golden light the people gathered below gauge the scale of the building.  The central dome, reaches 55.6 m above the museum floor and is supported by four pendentives adorned with winged cherubs.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Mosaics

Ancient frescos and gilded mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Christ, restored after the mosque became a museum, are displayed under the magnificent dome alongside 19th century leather medallions gilded with the names of God (Allah) and Mohammed in Arabic lettering.  More mosaics, uncovered after the Hagia Sophia became a museum, line the upstairs gallery and give an idea of the grandeur of the original decoration inside the Church.

This is a majestic, beautiful building that inspires a sense of awe and one where I felt compelled to stay awhile, even after having seen all there was to see, just to soak up a sense of time and place and the essence of Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are close by but save the Hagia Sophia for last.

Today any form of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited – as such there is no strict dress code.

 Where: Aya Sofya Meydanı 1 Sultanahmet

When: 9am-6pm Tue-Sun mid-Apr–Sep, to 4pm Oct–mid-Apr.

Cost:  Adults 30 TL – under 12s free

 

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Hagia-sofia-istanbul

Bodrum, Boats and a bit of a Barter

Bodrum, Boats and a bit of a Barter

From Pamukkale, we said goodbye to our host Mehmet and the amazing food at Melrose House hotel and took a coach down to the Bodrum Peninsular on the south-west coast for the third stop on our mini Tour of Turkey.  This was a shorter daytime journey of just 4.5 hours so we were able to see some of Turkey’s beautiful scenery en-route and with cold towels and refreshments it was a much easier journey than the night bus to Pamukkale.  We’d booked five nights in Bodrum; time to see the town and surrounding area and to kick back and relax after the previous full-on five days.

Bodrum Harbour

We arrived late in the afternoon into the port at Bodrum; white-washed buildings bright with the sunshine, glorious blue skies and all presided over by the impressive 15th century Ottoman Castle of St Peter.  Such different scenery from the dry volcanic rock in Goreme and the travertines of Pamukkale.

Bodrum Harbour

At the far end of the bay is a modern marina crammed with sleek, white yachts, smart shops and eateries.  As the bay curves round towards the castle the yachts thin out and all types of vessel jostle for space along the quayside.  Fishing boats display the day’s catch in wooden crates packed with ice – the gleaming fish and seafood is as fresh as you’ll ever hope to eat.

Catch of the Day, Bodrum

Gulets, traditional Turkish boats, with varnished wood, polished brass and crisp, soaring sails moor alongside smaller vessels which hug the harbour walls.  Fishermen tout day trips to passing tourists and it’s worth checking out the prices for some great deals on day trips here.


Check out tours, trips and activities in and around Bodrum here


Bodrum Gulets

Bodrum Castle

Sightseeing in Bodrum was to have included the Castle of St Peter built by the Knights of St John and the town’s main landmark, the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, The Mausoleum – one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, a boat trip and some general meandering through the town.  First stop, however, turned out to be the clinic.  Mister’s foot and leg up to his knee were now seriously swollen from the wasp sting and so he spent the next day attached to a drip and was finally discharged at midnight.  As always we had travel insurance and were covered for everything from taxis to and from the clinic, treatment and food whilst there and, of course, the medication for the next week.  I’d like to know what type of wasp was the culprit because from what seemed to be just a minor sting caused a lot of problems and the scar remains months later.  Not just your average wasp it would seem.

Bodrum Market

Due to the Big-foot situation we kept the rest of our stay in Bodrum fairly relaxed and didn’t get about as much as we’d planned.  We had a wander around the town, with frequent Efes stops to help the swelling. All types of ‘genuine fake’ designer goods, souvenirs, rugs, cushions and local handicrafts overflowed into the shaded alleyways and we spent a fun half-hour perfecting our bartering techniques – or so I thought as I’m sure the shopkeeper ultimately got one over us but he was happy, we were happy and my Mum now has a delightful pair of Turkish slippers – not sure she’s so happy…

Bodrum Beach

Beyond the shopping area is ‘bar street’ filled with bars (obviously!) and restaurants which look out onto a narrow shingle beach. Many of the bars and hotels have tables and chairs placed right at the water’s edge. Great for a drink whilst dipping our toes in the water and taking in the views across to the castle. Halikarnas, the largest outdoor nightclub in the world is in this area of the town – there’s something for all ages in Bodrum.

Bodrum Boat Trips

A day out on a boat is a must-do when on the Aegean and the deck of our smart wooden Gulet was kitted out with comfy cushions. A cool breeze fanned the heat and a good supply of Turkish Efes beer, and a delicious seafood lunch kept all seafarers happy. The sea was the purest blue and so clear we could have counted the pebbles on the bottom. Shoals of sparkling fish darted through the blue and we moored in a secluded bay, backed with pine-clad hills, and swam in the wonderfully warm waters.

Bodrum Gulet

We didn’t see as much as we’d originally planned in Bodrum but our few days there turned out to be exactly what the doctor ordered!