Sunday, 17 December 2017

Sports Personality at Liverpool

We caught a train to Liverpool yesterday and we had originally hoped to get tickets to a radio show about the Sports Personality of the Year. We didn't manage to get the tickets though, but the  train and hotel were already booked, so we came anyway and planned to see the sights.
We also hoped for good weather as every time we have been here before the weather has been terrible.
No change there as the rain poured down through the fog on our journey. 
Once here I  happened to see online that some last minute tickets had just been released for the SPOTY show, so we raced over to the arena to snap them up. 
We spent the afternoon wandering around the Tate Modern - good with some inspiring ideas for our house, the Liverpool Museum - large building with lots of closed sections, and the great outdoors - cold, windy and wet. 
However, it was also full of fancy buildings, boats, statues, fair rides and tasty food. 
We found the Fab Four statue where Daz blended in perfectly and a Superlambanana which reminded us of a great visit back in 2009.
Then it was over to the show,  and we had seats quite close to the stage, but with a side on view. 
It was an excellent evening and fascinating to watch the way that the stage is cleared and changed as soon as the video clips were played. 
It was a shame that Mo Farah wasn't in the studio to collect his prize, but it was very funny when the video link with him broke just as he was due to make his speech! 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Final day in Istanbul

First stop today was the Grand Bazaar - the largest covered market in the world with over 4,600 stalls. It was a  beautiful building with multi coloured stalls in every direction. We went  to slowly wander and look around, but in less than ten minutes had spent all of our money, so that cut the excursion short, but we got some nice stuff!
Then we had another visit to an amazing mosque and we also got a good view of Asia across the water. 
I am also aware that my string of fish was not very revealing yesterday, so we went back and got a better picture of the fishermen, with the European side in the background. 
Later we went down into the cistern, which is a 1,500 year old water storage tank that was built by the Byzantine Emperor out of bits of Roman columns. It is an a huge space and is famous for the Medusa heads that hold up the base of two columns.
Finally, a delayed birthday celebration for me, with an incredible view of the city and the sunset. 
All done now, time to come home. 

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Trek around Istanbul

We spent almost all of my birthday yesterday travelling and we arrived at our hotel at about 8pm,although that felt like 11pm to us.
Our hotel is lovely - it is warm, comfortable and has a fantastic buffet breakfast. Although Bhutan and Nepal were amazing places we often ate in our coats and the food choices were very limited, so we really appreciated the difference. 
Today we set off with a map to explore and we started with the Blue Mosque which is very near to our hotel. I had to dress in a skirt and headscarf that were provided at the entrance, and we carried our shoes with us in little carrier bags.
The mosque is enormous and is famous for its intricate blue tiles and high domed ceiling.
We then accidentally walked a long way out of our way, but eventually we reached the Galata Bridge where hundreds of fishermen were having great success catching little silver tiddlers. Thank you to Darren for taking such an excellent photo of a string of fish being hauled up above us by a fisherman on the top deck of the bridge. 
Then we walked up to the Galata Tower - right in the middle of photo four - and caught a lift to the top where we got great views of the whole city.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Great Boudha Stupa and Durbar Square


After fighting the traffic for far too long, we arrived in Kathmandu, and straight out on to a guided tour.
First was the Great Boudha Stupa, and we turned a corner and were face to face with it.
It was ruined in a massive earthquake that devastated much of Nepal in April 2015. This Stupa was the first tourist attraction to be repaired, and what an amazing sight it is.
We then went to Durbar Square, which was also badly hit, and many of the buildings are either badly damaged or completely wrecked. Most of the remaining buildings are supported by large wooden props and it will be many years, if ever, before they are restored to their former glory. 
Finally, we took a walk through the main shopping area, which was quite an eye opener, but rather ruined by the dozens of impatient motorcyclists who hooted their horns constantly and pushed their way through the crowds. 
Ps, I climbed up next to a soldier guarding the Palace and was surprised to find that I was about twice the size of him! 

Sunrise over the Himalayas

We woke early today and looked out of the window to see an orange glow over to the east. We quickly dressed in almost all of our clothes and took up our positions on our balcony.
It was extremely cold, but then we were at 2,200 metres above sea level.
Gradually the clouds changed from dark grey to purple and then to pink, and the sun started to hit the top of the mountains to the west of us.
Finally, the sun peeped over the horizon and within a couple of minutes its rays were beaming straight across our view, and then the mountains disappeared behind a blinding haze. 
Excellent start to the day, a quick breakfast and then a bouncy ride back down to Kathmandu. 

Monday, 4 December 2017

Nagarkot, Nepal ๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ต

Very early start today and a morning flight from Bhutan ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡น.
For the return journey we had a smaller plane with propellers and we flew back at a height of 22,000 feet.
That would usually be pretty high, but we flew along the line of the Himalayas, looking up at Mount Everest, and it's gigantic friends, who are between 27,000 and 29,000 feet.
Take off from Bhutan was also dramatic with the valley full of clouds that we broke through and then found ourselves in a beautiful, fluffy wonderland.
We landed at Kathmandu and a van was waiting to take us the 20 miles to Nagarkot. The traffic was heavy out of the city, and then we got on to the most terrible mud and rock road that would not even be called a cart track in England. It took us about two and a half hours to get from the airport.
Nagarkot is quite a major tourist attraction, and we are perched in a hotel on the edge of a high hill with panoramic views of the Himalayas.
People come here to see the sunrise and we are in such a prime location that all we have to do is open our curtains and we will be able to see it from our bed!
Ps, we went for a walk this afternoon to admire the views, but got a bit lost in a forest and the back of someone's house. We also concluded that the best view is from our balcony. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Chillies ๐ŸŒถ and archery๐ŸŽฏ

Final blog from Bhutan, to cover our afternoon.
Everyone in Bhutan loves chillies and there are big mounds of them drying on the roofs of houses. 
The national dish is red rice and chilli cheese. It is self explanatory, except for the fact that there is way more chilli than cheese.
Darren says that he saved my life on the second day of the holiday as I was just about to eat a big mouthful, and he stopped me in the nick of time. I know now to just have a tiny dollop on the side of the plate. 
This afternoon we had a walk around the town of Paro and I saw strings of chillies drying from the first floor window of a shop. Surprisingly there was huge mounds of toilet paper on the pavement, but I don't know if the two things are related. 
Finally, after lunch today we got to try Bhutanese style archery. I was okay at it, but could have pulled the string further back. 
Daz had a great stance and got quite near to the target. Then he really went for it and his arrow hit the very top of the screen surrounding the target area and shot straight up into the air. The people sitting outside of the bungalow behind the screen looked very worried and we decided to stop before someone got hurt!

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Today was the highlight of our trip in Bhutan - the Tiger's Nest Monastery. 
We have learned a lot about Bhuddism this week, and the story of the Monastery is roughly this.  Guru Rinpoche, who I think brought Bhuddism to Bhutan, flew across the country on the back of a tigress and up to the home of a demon who was terrorising the local people. He subdued the demon and hundreds of years later another Guru built a Monastery in the exact same spot.
It is an unbelievably difficult place to build anything, and it was also pretty hard work to hike up there today.
The views were incredible and for most of the hike it looked impossible to get to the Monastery, as we were on the other side of the mountain. The path eventually goes steeply down, across a ravine with a large waterfall, and then up steep steps to the Monastery gates.
All along the route were stupas, brightly coloured prayer flags and finally brightly coloured prayer wheels made from recycled plastic bottles! 
As if it all wasn't beautiful enough already. 
I have also been practicing my Dzhongkha, which is the  Bhutanese language, although I am struggling because the words are very long. 'Cuzo zambu la' is hello and I said it many times today, much to the delight/surprise/bewilderment of the local people, depending on whether I got to the end without making a mistake. 
I think that I will go back to learning French as this is much too difficult. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Words of wisdom

Today I am going to keep my blog short and instead I am going to quote the Bhutanese Road Department. All along our journey from Punakha to Paro they had uplifting and thought provoking notices that will surely be useful to all.

Peep, peep, don't sleep. 
Keep your nerves on sharp curves. 
Eager to last, then why fast?
If you are married, divorce speed. 
Better to be late than late. 
Safety on roads is safe tea at home. 
Don't gossip, let him drive!!
After drinking whisky, driving is risky. 
Self trust is the essence of heroism. 

I think that sums up driving in Bhutan very nicely and kept us entertained during the journey. 
We also enjoyed a trip to another interesting zhong and museum. 
But the highlight of the day was attending the archery contest. It was a bit confusing, but the target is 145 metres away, and too far for us to see. 
The way to tell if the arrow hit the target was by the sound of a loud thud about a second after the arrow was released. The archer then jumped around and performed a song and dance with his team mates.
At the target end another group of team mates tried to put the opposition off by dancing around in front of the target while the archer prepared for the shot! They do get out of the way before the shot is fired from the high powered metallic bows, but with the traditional Bhutanese bows they stay in the way and dodge the arrow - according to our guide! 

Friday, 1 December 2017

Punakha

There is so much to report today, so I am going to have to keep each visit quite brief.
We started our day with another hike through beautiful paddy fields. We stopped at a prayer wheel where Daz took a quick twirl to get some good luck for the journey.
We were heading to the top of the hill to the Khamsun Yulley Namgyal Chorten - basically a temple I believe. 
We stepped in through the impressive entrance and up some steps to a wide green lawn. Sitting in the middle of it was the temple, which is actually very modern. 
It was paid for by the Queen Mother, who is one of the four wives of the fourth king. He is still alive, but abdicated in favour of his son, who is known as the fifth king. You would sort of expect that the fifth king would have five wives, but he has only one. Bit of a boring end to that paragraph. 
After hiking back down the hill we went to the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. It started life as a way of connecting the village at the end to the main town, but it is so picturesque and bouncy, that it has become a popular tourist attraction. Well, we enjoyed it anyway. 
We then went to the main reason for our visit, which was the Punakha Dzong, or fortress. It was a beautiful and imposing building, and the people who lived and worked there all wore traditional dress. It is occupied by monks in the dark red robes who live there in the winter months, and by administrative staff who wear traditional dress and an extremely impractical scarf that is forever coming untucked. 
After that we had lunch and then a walk around the town where we saw a brilliant Nepalise stupa. It has eyes on each side and they stare at you in an alarming way. 
Finally, we went up to a peaceful nunnery on the hilltop above our hotel, and then we walked all of the way back down.