While we love visiting local markets wherever we travel, sometimes they can be a bit alarming. Take these menacing looking fish at the mercado central in Cartagena, please. We’d been admiring the displays of local fruit and vegetables, olives, spices and hanging hams. And then we turned the corner. Well, better on ice in the market than in the water while swimming. Because we aren’t equipped while traveling to purchase and cook the many wonderful offerings at the markets we visit, we often feel sad. This time we didn’t.
October 20, 2017
This is the day I learned how to say “on strike” in French. Robert and I had traveled 35 miles south by train to Fontainebleau, as a day trip from Paris, to see the fabled château and the adjoining forest, formerly a royal hunting ground. Instead we were greeted with signs that read, “En grève.” As you can see, that didn’t stop us from posing on the famous “horseshoe staircase,” the site from which Napoléon Bonaparte bid farewell to his Old Guard in 1814 and headed into exile on the island of Elba. (Which is why Robert is holding his hand in Napoleonic fashion.) Thirty-four French sovereigns from Louis IV (“Louis the Fat,” just saying) in the 11th century to Napoléon III in the 19th resided in Fontainebleau at some time. And had we known upon the occasion of our thwarted visit that Patricia Highsmith’s talented Tom Ripley reportedly lived nearby, we might not have headed back to Paris as quickly as we did.
October 19, 2017
Bustling by day, peaceful at night, this grand boulevard follows a three-kilometer stretch of pedestrian road (though I’ve always seen cars on it, and a streetcar clangs its way from one end to the other) between Tünel and Taksim Squares. “Independence Street” in the Beyoğlu district is often visited by up to three million people on a weekend day, tourists and residents alike, sometimes difficult to tell apart. (I remember the Turkish teenager who asked me the time in his language and was surprised to hear me answer in mine.) During its early 20th-century continental heyday, it was known as Grand Rue de Pera, and after a late-century slump into seediness, it’s back again with cafes, boutiques, restaurants and a rich roster of characters. Walking alone in the evening, I was often approached by touts (aka pimps), suggesting I follow them to an excellent club owned by a cousin or to an assignation with some lovely Russian ladies. One “textile merchant from Cyprus” told me he needed a place to stay for the night. I see. My favorite come-on though was the young man who offered me female companionship one night and then the next, when I reminded him he’d already unsuccessfully approached me, asked me if I was gay. When I told him I was, he outstretched his hands and asked, “Well, how about me?”
October 18, 2017
October 17, 2017
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the Büyük Hamam (“Big Bathhouse”) was wonderful inside. Possessing some remarkable marble architecture throughout its variously temperatured rooms (cool, tepid, hot), this Turkish bath was the last of four I tried during my first visit to Istanbul. By the time I got there I was a pro, having started out at the much-touristed (designed by Sinan, the architect of Blue Mosque fame) and relatively luxurious Çemberlitaş Hamami (a $40 scrub and massage and their signature sudsy finale with a soapy Turkish towel -- natch! -- squeezed over your head so the bubbles come cascading down all over you.) A somewhat run-down and unmemorable Ağa Hamami was next, near a neighborhood favored by transvestite prostitutes. Whatever. The third, Sokullu Hamami, another Sinan wonder in the pre-Istanbul capital of Edirne out in western Turkey near the Greek and Bulgarian borders. (This one was low-key and terrific; the masseur was enthusiastic and I had the feeling that this was what the real hamam experience for Turks was all about. Cups and cups of warm water poured over me at the finish.) And finally the Büyük Hamam, the son of whose owners I had met through my research on YouTube. It was a great, friendly, family-run place, filled with locals young and old, not a tourist in sight in this part of town. They welcomed me warmly, even gave me a towel with their name on it when I left. Middle Eastern hospitality.
October 16, 2017
OK, I admit it. I put off taking a cruise for years because I never though I was a “cruise person.” (No remarks, please.) And also, frankly, because of some dreadful television commercials for the large cruise lines, boats that seemed to be populated by too many people, all of them individuals I’d rather avoid. And here’s something else I’ll admit: I took my first cruise and I LOVED it. Granted it was on Windstar, a cruise line that came highly recommended (thank you, David): small boats (149 or 300 passengers), interesting itineraries, casual style, competitive pricing. There are no assigned seats at meals. No suits or formal wear required. Nicely sized staterooms. And one of the best bathrooms and showers I’ve ever encountered. Jay and I sailed from Barcelona to Lisbon, stopping at Valencia, Cartagena, Almería, Málaga and Tangier. We made friends easily on board. And, in spite of some unfortunate cosmetic surgery in a few cases, the people were exceptionally nice, and so were the staff. Genuinely nice, not just professionally nice. When I snapped this photo, I knew we were leaving our last port before reaching our final destination. And in spite of the Andrea Boccelli/Sarah Brightman duet playing over the sound system (the one lapse in taste during the whole week at sea), I was somewhat wistful.
October 15, 2017
Which country has more tiles, Turkey or Portugal? A tough call, as both lands seem to put tiles just about everywhere -- on mosques, on homes, you name it. But whereas there seems to be a commercial, “downtown” appeal to Portuguese tilework, there is a reverential, almost sacred perspective to those found in Turkey. Take these Iznik tiles, for example, at the somewhat hidden and so seldom-touristed Rüstem Pasha Mosque in the Eminonu neighborhood. The famous blue is here. Legend holds that 15th-century tilemakers in the town of Izmik were influenced by the blue-and-white porcelain of the Chinese Ming dynasty. They gradually added turquoise and the difficult-to-produce red to their palette. And because Iznik potters’ skill was unsurpassed, the sultans soon brought them to Istanbul to fashion tiles only for the great mosques. Look closely and you’ll see there’s also an homage paid to the respected tulip, seen here in several stylized forms.