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


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!


Things to do in Positano, the picture perfect Amalfi Coast town

Things to do in Positano, the picture perfect Amalfi Coast town



Positano, Italy

Positano is a little fishing village teetering on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast between Sorrento and Praiano.  The houses are built on terraces, precariously stacked upon one another, cascading down the steep cliffs towards the small beach below.  A backdrop of verdant covered hills against a cobalt blue sky completes this picture postcard of a town.

Pretty as a Picture

To call the town, picturesque would be an understatement.  The pastel-painted houses – primrose, pink, peach and terracotta peep out from overflowing foliage and lemon groves to give the town a dreamy feel not to be mistaken for anywhere but Italy’s Amalfi Coast.  You’d almost expect to see a young Audrey Hepburn drive past in an ice-cream coloured sports car, chiffon headscarf billowing as ‘Moon River’ floats on the breeze behind her.

Positano Shopping

Colourful shops line the stepped and sloping alleyways selling ceramics, art, jewellery and hand-made leather sandals – made to order while you wait and handy if your heels can’t hack the inclines.  The hundreds of steps can be hard work and there are no lifts but every other building is a bar or restaurant so there’s no shortage of places to catch your breath and besides you’ll know you’ve burnt off the calories from that gelato before you’ve got back to the top.

Head down to Spiaggia Grande where the fishermen launch their boats. Sunshine-coloured parasols spike the sand like cocktail umbrellas and ferries drop off sandal-clad, straw-hatted day-trippers. Restaurants and bars line the walkway and artists replicate the views on their canvases.  Gelato abounds.  Because there’s no room in Positano  for tourist buses or major development it has retained that charming fifties feeling.  Positano is a Roman Holiday in glorious Technicolor.

Positano, Italy

Wander along to the far side of the beach and look back for one the best views you’ll see of Positano.  The Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, founded in the 13th century is topped with a gorgeous majolica dome encrusted with vibrant yellow, blue and green tiles; yellow for the sunshine, blue for the sea and green for the lush foliage.  The softly rounded dome contrasts beautifully against the pastel coloured cubes clambering down the hills.  Inside the church you’ll find the icon Tavola of the Madonna Nera or Black Madonna.

Church of Santa Maria Assunta, Positano

Church of Santa Maria Assunta

Positano  makes for a dream of a day-trip during your stay in Sorrento or Amalfi. The views on the drive to the town are stunning and there are many lookout points dotted along the coast with wonderful views of the town, La Galli islands and the Costiera Amalfitana.  So, stroll awhile, shop awhile and indulge in an amazing lunch at ‘La Tagliata’ in the hills as you gaze down on picture postcard Positano and a perfect day.

There are so many things to do in Positano and nearby so think about spending a few days there and take day trips to Pompeii, Paestum, Amalfi and Sorrento.


Positano, Italy

How to get to Positano

The SITA bus departs twice-hourly from the front of the Sorrento train station to Positano, continuing on to Amalfi. You can purchase individual tickets (€1.40–€2.50 per sector) or a UnicoCostiera pass for unlimited travel all along the Amalfi Coast – valid for 24 hours (€6) or 3 days (€15). The bus can get very busy in high season and a seat is not guaranteed. For the best views when travelling from Sorrento to Amalfi sit on the right-hand side of the bus (as you face the front) and swap to the left for the return journey.

For a different perspective on the return journey, a ferry is a good option giving beautiful views of the coastline from the water. www.metrodelmare.com Frequency varies seasonally and there are roughly six daily trips between Amalfi and Positano (20 min €6) and four daily between Amalfi and Sorrento (60 min €7).

If you’re feeling reckless/brave you could hire a car and drive yourself – although that’s not something I’d recommend if you really want to take in the views because your eye will be on the oncoming traffic – out of season would be less crowded but still not for the faint-hearted.  Parking is extremely limited in Positano.

Hoi An Nights – full moons and lanterns

Hoi An Nights – full moons and lanterns

In Hoi An town at full moon the town celebrates.  All the electric lights are switched off and softly coloured lanterns cast magical shadows in the narrow streets.  Candles are lit and cast into the river along with wishes and prayers and set sail into the night flickering in their small paper cups.  A gentle glow radiates through Hoi An…

London – the view from the Shard

London – the view from the Shard

London’s skyscraper, The Shard, designed by architect Renzo Piano is an amazing visitor attraction.  ‘The View from the Shard’ on floors 69-72 is the only place where it is possible to see all of London at once. The 360 degree panoramic takes in the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Battersea Power Station, Wembley Stadium and the Olympic Park. I visited the Shard on a grey and mizzy opening day to see how many London landmarks I could spot.

The Shard from London Bridge

I love looking down on the world from way up high – be it from a hot air balloon, a plane window or the highest of buildings.  I’ve viewed Paris from the Eiffel Tower, Toronto and its islands from the CN Tower, New York from the observation deck of the World Trade Centre and Las Vegas, The Grand Canyon and Rio de Janeiro by helicopter.  Obviously I don’t suffer from vertigo.  When I heard about The View from the Shard I knew instantly that I had to see my capital city from its highest point.

Check out the views from the time I looked out over Dubai from the Burj Khalifa


What’s it like to visit the Shard

The Shard Map of LondonWe started our visit in the lobby before going through security where coats and bags pass through x-ray machines and people through a scanner – much like airport security only friendlier.  We’re directed to the first lift through an area with a map of London covering the walls and floor with cryptic clues marking each landmark.  The Shard experience is ‘queue free’ because visitors choose the time and date of their visit so with a limited number of tickets available per slot we didn’t have to wait.

The first lift, one of 44 in the building, went up the first 33 floors at a rate of 6 metres a second.  We shooshed upwards smoothly and quietly feeling nothing but a small tummy flip as we came to a halt. The lift attendants were chatty and gave out random facts like that 95% of the building’s construction materials are recycled.  The second lift whisked us up the next 35 floors to level 68, the cloudscape, and as we stepped out my ears popped. Onwards and upwards and a short flight of stairs and we’re at floor 69 home to the triple-height main viewing gallery.  The ascent took no more than a minute; to take the stairs – all 306 flights – doesn’t bear thinking about…

The Shard - Floor 69

The day had started wet and grey but luckily the rain had cleared and the sun even put in a brief appearance although raindrops still speckled the glass.  On a clear day the epic views stretch for up to 40 miles.

View of the Thames

View of Tower Bridge from The Shard

We picked out many of the capital’s major landmarks – with the help of twelve interactive telescopes you can pinpoint up to 200 famous buildings and monuments.

The view from the Shard

Shadow of The Shard

After half an hour on this level we climbed up another short set of stairs to reach floor 72. This is the highest viewing point of any building in Western Europe at a spectacular height of 244 metres.

The Shard - Open-air viewing platform, Floor 72

Partially open to the elements this level is surrounded by massive shards of glass. These gradually taper up to a peak making up the spire. This takes The Shard to a full breathtaking 1,016 feet.

Top of The Shard

Looking up to the peak

Cleaning The Shard's Windows

11,000 panes of glass to clean

View from The Shard towards Westminster

View from The Shard

View from The Shard

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Shard and I’d love to return and view London at dusk. Afternoon tea at The Shard sounds pretty good too.  A stay high up at the hotel in the Shard, The Shangri La, would be an experience too.

The Shard

What’s to know…

How much time did we spend at The Shard?  Set aside 1 to 2 hours – we were there around 1.5 hours and we weren’t rushed through the visit.

Shard Tickets

Prices – In Advance: Adults: £25.95, Children: £19.95  On the day: Adults: £30.95, Children: £24.95
These Prices for General Admission at April 2017


Operating Hours
Daily 9am to 10pm except  25 December. Timed tickets every 30 minutes until last entry at 8.30pm. The Shard closes at 10pm.

Getting there – Tube London Bridge (Northern Line, Jubilee Line) Overground/Network Rail London Bridge

The Shard Viewing Gallery
Bermondsey Street
London SE1

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Bologna and a Penchant for Porticoes

Bologna and a Penchant for Porticoes

I knew which of Bologna’s top sights I wanted to see during my two-day break en-route to Rimini. Piazza Maggiore was high on the list as were the medieval twin towers and the charming hidden canals of the city. Food, of course, was a huge draw and I was keen to indulge in some serious gelato tastings. But the sight that captivated me most was the city’s intricately decorated porticoes. I was constantly drawn back to the colonnades and pillars which filtered the sunlight and drew shifting shadows across the marble walkways creating an ever-changing perspective as the sun crept across the city.

The history and architecture of Bologna's beautiful porticoes