My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

The Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul

Dec. 27, 2012 (Spice) Dec. 29, 2012 (Grand)

The Istanbul Spice Bazaar is also called the Egyptian Bazaar.  It was built in 1664 so has a LONG history.  There are 88 spaces/shops that are in an “L” shaped building. There are also a number of shops outside on the W side of the building.IMG_9292 IMG_9291  There is also an animal section towards the E side which was interesting to explore as well. IMG_8742 IMG_8743   This bazaar was right at the base of the Galata Bridge, the bridge we crossed every day.

It is full of spices (of course), dried fruit, teas, cheese, meats, nuts, pickled veggies and olives!!!!   Over the last few years, to the disapproval of locals and visitors, some of the shops now offer jewelry, carpets and other Istanbul treasures.    The Grand Bazaar has many of these items so the feeling is to sale of items  separate.IMG_2172 IMG_2176 IMG_2175 IMG_2174 IMG_2173IMG_8735 IMG_8736 IMG_8741 IMG_8740 IMG_8739 IMG_8738

It is free to go to the Bazaar and it is open every day, so it was good filler for us.  We also spent a lot of time walking around the streets near the Bazaar.  Next to it is the New Mosque which helps round out the point.


The Grand Bazaar was one of the places I was really looking forward to exploring, but instead it ended up being a bit overwhelming.   It is one of the oldest covered markets in the world and was built in 1455-56.   Over the years many disasters have happened to the Bazaar including fires and earthquakes, the last quake in 1894.

There are over 4000 shops and as you can imagine there are many, many, many people that visit it daily, estimated to 250,000-400,000 a day!   There are supposedly different sections of items including, jewelry (gold), clothing, furniture, carpets, lamps, leather, kitchen ware, pottery, etc. and I could see some division, but it is not as clearly delineated as you might expect. IMG_8674

I loved looking at the different items for sale, but did not like the pressure to buy items.  I loved the smaller booths that were down some of the quieter arms of the big rows.  It wasn’t so hectic down some of the side isles.  I did not appreciate “hey lady look at ….” I really just wanted to look on my own without any pressure. IMG_8954IMG_8956 IMG_8957 IMG_8958 IMG_8960 IMG_8959    IMG_8967

I did get a scarf, but after much looking and much pressure.  Happily down one of the quiet rows we found a many with some great jewelry and I bought many pairs of earrings from him.  We also got one pillowcase and lastly I got some ‘belly dancing carves with bling on them’ for my Zumba class.

We also enjoyed the shops on the streets surrounding the bazaar, especially the ones that had antiques.  We got a ‘magic lantern’  (oil lamp) for our travel room back home.IMG_8962IMG_8961IMG_8963

Enjoy the pictures, as the views were my favorite things! IMG_9313 IMG_9312 IMG_9311 IMG_9310 IMG_9308 IMG_9306 IMG_9304 IMG_9303 IMG_9302 IMG_9301 IMG_9300 IMG_9299 IMG_9297 IMG_9296 IMG_9294 IMG_9293 IMG_9289 IMG_8969 IMG_8968

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Food and Drinks of Istanbul

Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013

While on vacations, we try to eat as much local food as possible, but at times must admit that we miss some of our favorites from home.

IMG_2391 trays of food, red peppers, a yogurt dish etc. you picked what you wanted.
IMG_2392 veggies, grape leaves wrapping rice etc.

We had read a lot about the food in Turkey and we were excited to try many of the dishes.  One of the things we read, but did not sink in until we actually were eating it is that food is served luke warm to cold.

There are different kinds of places to eat in Turkey, small little specialty types (kebab’s, pizza boats, crepes), cafeteria-style places and then sit down restaurants.

The best kabob I had was the first one we tried.  It was a chicken one, with some veggies and then some yummy red (tomato?) sauce on it, then put in a griddle to crisp up the pita.  After that one, I found most kabobs dry and not nearly as good as the ones in Greece.  There was not tzatziki sauce or any type of yogurt sauce to put on them, OR if there was we did not know how to ask for it.  One other thing about the kabobs is that they were always stuffed with greasy semi cold french fries, we learned quickly to ask for them without fries.

We ate most often at the cafeteria-style places. You walked in, grabbed a tray and pointed to what you wanted.  Often times chicken stew type dishes that were good and warmer than most dishes.  There were a lot of eggplant dishes that for the most part were sadly cold, but always tasty.  Easily the best dishes at any of these places were the lentil soup and the beans.  Lentil soup was hot J and so were the beans.  The beans were typically cooked down with a tomato based sauce.  Yummy.  We could eat, including drinks for about $12 total.210

IMG_2313 samples of our dinners
IMG_2177 I called these boat pizzas. That is a fried egg, not cheese on the top of one of them.

I loved the bakeries that had spinach stuffed pastry that was a great thing to eat mid day.  Sometimes they had cheese, other times not.    I also loved the pizza boats.  These came in a variety of sizes and an equally large variety of toppings.  They typically had an olive oil base, some cheese and then different toppings, including meats, veggies, or even eggs.  Cost about $2-4 a piece depending on size.IMG_2595 IMG_2596 IMG_2685

IMG_2232 spinach wrapped in filo dough, my favorite daytime snack

The grilled mackerel sandwiches that we got at the base of the bridge were also a favorite.  We had these a few times.  They cooked the fish right in front of you, opened up a rustic roll in which the fish was placed and finally topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and some great seasoning.  These ran about $2.50 a piece!

IMG_2306 Our ‘friend’ was happy to see us come back for more. He liked practicing his English, as we found very common in Istanbul.

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IMG_2546 fried cheese with syrup over it!

By far the best food in Turkey were the desserts!  An unusual but yummy treat was a grated cheese that was grilled over fire, once grilled syrup was poured over the dish and then it was topped with copped pistachios.  Of course there was also a lot of baklava displayed in a variety of ways! It was fantastic, especially when it was warm.  Cost, $2-$3. IMG_2547

IMG_2312 tower of baklava


Lastly, my favorite food: the deep friend anchovies.  We’d seen people eating these during our nights near the bridge, and finally decided to get a tin; we were NOT disappointed, though the tin was plenty for the 2 of us… you can’t eat too many at once.   Total cost $3.

IMG_2550 anchovies! YUMMMMMY


While walking through town we’d occasionally get some snacks from street vendors including roasted chestnuts, and yummy rolls.  We really grew fond of the drinks that we could buy from street vendors, including fresh squeezed orange OR pomegranate juice.  But the biggest surprise was the Sahlep.  It is a hot drink that is made from milk, flour, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon as well as other ‘special spices’.  It is a thick drink that is served HOT.

IMG_8966 Sahlep was sold by street vendors!

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funny things also included bright sugary candy that was rolled onto a stick and the fact that McDonalds AND Burger King delivered (NO we never ate at one of them OR had them delivered). IMG_9316 IMG_9284IMG_2697IMG_2599

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Dolmabahce Palace

Dolmabahce Palace1/2/13Dohlmabahce Palace was built between 1843 and 1856 as the Sultan wanted to keep up with the rest of Europe and have an even more elaborate palace than Topkapi.  The palace is large and elegant and well worth touring, though a bit frustrating.  We first came by on Tuesday, (New Year’s Day) as it was NOT listed on their website that it was closed that day, and we knew it was closed on Monday’s and Thursday’s but no indication it was closed other days.  Sadly we had to return the next day.


clock tower outside of palace


entry gate


yep the sunshine was wonderful


the entrance to the palace


outdoor window covering


this is from the inside looking out and the pic beside is the same window outside looking in.


the window from the outside looking in

Once we got there on Wednesday, the first line just to get tickets in was ridiculously long and slow.  It took over an hour as they only had one window open selling tickets. Once inside you must go on a “tour” so we had to wait in another line to join a 50 person tour.   We opted for the longer tour that would include a tour of the state rooms, where you get to go through the large and ornate rooms where the Sultan entertained his guests.  Then we toured the harem, which are the rooms where the Sultan’s family, his concubines, and their servants lived. The harem’s rooms are nice, but not as spectacular as the state rooms.  They do not allow any photo’s to be taken inside either, so any pictures you see here I got off their website.  We did take the outdoor pictures, as that is allowed.

Dolmabahce Palace is closed on Monday and Thursday!

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The palace was built in 19th century is said to be one of the most glamorous palaces in the world.  It has 285 rooms and 43 large salons.  The tour of the Selamlık begins with anterooms, then a climb up the crystal staircase.  There are lots of decorations, LOTS of gold painted items.   There are also many large chandeliers in the palace, but the largest is made of Bohemian glass and weights over 4.5 Tons, it has 660 light bulbs in it. This Bohemian chandelier was given to Ottoman Sultan as a present from Queen Victoria.574754_521708122401_994605398_n 531185_521708157331_2035160561_n 384184_521708137371_297665151_n 150646_521708147351_543117181_n

After exiting the palace you go outside and around to the harem.  Shockingly, we had to wait in another line to tour the harem!  The harem is where the family and help lived and is certainly more moderate than the palace.  6 sultans and 2 presidents lived in this area over the160 years before it became a museum.4601824-Sultans_Room_in_the_Harem_Dolmabahce_Palace_Istanbul  4541392-Istanbul_Turkey_Istanbul 4541211-Istanbul_Turkey_Istanbul 4541210-Istanbul_Turkey_Istanbul 4534225-Istanbul_Turkey_Istanbul 4180049-Dolmabahce_Palace_Istanbul

Dolmabahce palace is very important to the Turkish people because the supreme leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, used the palace as a residence until he passed away in 1938 at 9:05 a.m.  All the clocks in the palace are stopped at this time to honor him.

It is easy to get there from anywhere in Istanbul by taking the blue line tram to the Kabatas end and walking about ¼ mile. You will see the clock tower first then the lines begin!   It is about $15 for the palace and another $12 for the Harem.   Before you go in you have to put plastic bags over your shoes so to not damage the floor.
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Diving through the Kourtaliotiko (or Selia) Gorge ~ From Rethymno to Hora Sfakion to Chania, Crete!

Dec. 24, 2012

I’d have to say that this was one of the highlights of our days on Crete.

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 4.30.24 PM this maps out the route we took. Highly recommend going through one of the gorges on the island! Well worth the trip.

It would surprise no one that knows us that we ‘happened’ up a brewery while on Crete.  We literally were driving down a road and saw a sign for it.  I immediately pulled over anxious to let Harry try a micro brew while in Greece.  However to our disappointment this is what the sign read when we got to the front door:

182 so sad that we could not go on a tour!

Brewery tours are possible every first Saturday of the month between 10:00 and 12:00 in the morning.   As you can imagine, that is now when we were there  so no beer tasting for us!

239 we could see that there was sunshine on the south part of the island and we were excited to get to it!
250 hard for a picture to show the gorge but it was incredible.

We drove from our place in Almyrida towards Rethymno and then turned inland.  We proceeded to the village of Alikianos and Aghia Irini.  This was the Gorge of Kourtaliotiko

188 the river running out of the gorge

(or so we think that is the one, there were not a lot of maps, so this information comes from the sweet woman, Yarniss that helped us with our rental car).  It possibly could have been the Selia Gorge, but regardless it was amazing!

193 rainbow!
184 looking back on Mirthianos Plakias

We even picked up a few hitch hikers along the way.  They only rode about 5 miles with us, one of them was Greek the other from England.  We took them to Mirthianos Plakias their final destination and we continued to Hora Sfakion a BEAUTIFUL coastal town.

262 looking towards the west
274 though we loved Crete it did rain many of the days we were there, so the sunshine made us smile!

It was Christmas Eve and our last day on Crete.  We stopped for dinner at a delightful family owned restaurant where we were treated as special guests.  We had fantastic meals, one lamb with yogurt and one lamb with onions.  They also brought us the best garlic bread we’ve ever had and then Christmas cookies for dessert.

206 best garlic bread EVER

What a delightful experience. (see post on trip advisor: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g2396903-d2362913-Reviews-Taverna_Nikos-Sfakia_Chania_Prefecture_Crete.html)

203 Hora Sfakion was a tourist town and for the most part closed down for the winter, but we had a nice time there and a great dinner!

We headed back through another gorge towards Almyrida and marveled at the drive once again.  There were many, many winding roads and a beautiful sunset as we got near the top.

We would highly recommend this drive to anyone that has a car and is interested in seeing some beautiful scenery.

190 look at those cuts into the mountain


up close view of the gorge
291 look at these winding roads, we did not think it was our road, but in the end it was!
296 amazing sun set

256     279 297 298

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Knossos, Crete; a tad bit disappointing but would still suggest the visit!


On Crete the most popular or talked about ruins is the ancient city of Knossos.  We had read a lot about Knossos and though we had read about how a British archaeologist, Arthur Evans, found and attempted to restore the site in the early 1900’s we were not prepared for how poorly his work effected the site.  Because of his efforts, the ruins were somewhat ruined.  Sadly his attempt to ‘repair’ things to their original state ended really taking away from the structures and it is thought that many of his repairs were inaccurate.

Very disappointing.  145


Minoan pottery


and old stadium

Originally Knossos was inhabited in 7000 BC.  We really had to stop and think this place is OLD and wondered how can things be that old???  In the United States, things that are 250 to 300 years old it is OLD and in Alaska, where I live, 100 years old is old, so this area just took our breath away.


as soon as you enter, there are three large kouloures, large round pits and deep bottoms.


looking into a kouloures



Pithoi, or storage jars, at Knossos. Hard to believe how big they are

The people living here in 1375 BC  left marking the end of the end of the Minoan civilization.  The first palace to be built here was built around 1900 BC on top of the ruins from earlier people. It is thought that an earthquake took down this palace around 1700 BC but rebuilt quickly and again destroyed by an earthquake or volcano in 1450 BC.  However, many of the remains are still visible. 36   10366


The North Entrance

We spent a few hours here walking around and exploring.  As typical of our December visit to Crete we were two of about a dozen visitors on this day! 146

 Here is a photo of what the palace is thought to look like when it was in use.  Also a birds eye view as what it looks like today.

a birds eye view

a birds eye view

Palace Complex of Knossos

what the palace looked like when it was actively being used


yummy food! crazy directions!


The day was quite an adventure.  We realized after two nights of driving in the dark that our car had a burnt our headlight, and the company asked us to bring the car by to exchange it.  A 15 minute ordeal turned into a typical crazy adventure because there is NO signage or at least none that makes sense on Crete. 02015 All we needed to do was get to the airport in Chania, simple task right?  Wrong.  Of course we eventually made it but I was no fun to be with for about an hour!    At least we came upon a beautiful old church that we stopped to take a picture of.01961 01960

After we got the new car, which was a cool, very small, SmartCar like vehicle we headed to the olive oil farm that is outlined in the previous blog.  Once the tour ended we decided to head back to the “old town” of Chania to have dinner.01956

We walked around the old town for quite a while and enjoyed the Christmas decorations and the holiday feel that was evident in all the shops.   For my birthday my sweetie got me a beautiful aqua marine stoned ring after talking to the artist Andre for quite a while.  I love getting things right from the artists!  019520194902027

How we decided on the place we ate I am not sure, BUT it was fantastic. It’s called the “Green Eye.”  The owner was very social and talkative and we enjoyed the meal so much.  It was probably the best meal I had the entire trip.  It was a Moussaka that was individually made for me, after my order.


my mussaka and Harry’s pizza


complementary birthday dessert!


greek salads!

In the busy touristy months they make big casserole portions, but in the winter I had my own to order and boy was it good. 02022020223

The day ended on a terrible note as we hit a wrong button on the camera and lost 11 days of memories, HOWEVER, thanks to friends back home, once we returned, they were able to recover 95% of them… PHEW.

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Learning how Olive Oil is made at Terra Creta on Crete

12/22/12 a.m.

For my birthday I wanted to do something extra fun (not that the entire trip wasn’t fun) so we headed to Terra Creta Olive Farm to watch how they make Olive Oil.  Once again, there was not another tourist in sight and we got the royal treatment including a gift bag with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  It was very sweet.  So, if you have ever wondered how olive oil was processed, I will try to decipher my notes and show you how it happened with some photos.

  • Olives are harvested between Nov. and end of February.
  • Most often (but not always) farmers put a net on the ground then use big rake like tools to hit the big branches and of course catch the olives.
  • Once they are on the ground, the olives are put in burlap bags as soon as possible; each bag holds about 50 kilograms of olives.0196401967
  • After the farmers deliver the olives they are immediately, or at least as fast as possible, placed through a machine that takes the leaves and branches out of the mix.0197001968
  • Our tour guide is one of the analyzer’s of the olives and she helps decide which kind of oil each would make, they look at 2 parameters:

1.  How many olives per kilometer and
2. The acidity of the olives

  • There are 3 containers that the olives are placed in once the acidity has been determined.  The lower the acidity level the better oil it makes. 01976
  • One of the things we learned is that after pollination, bugs might start to eat the olives and when this happens the acidity goes up.  They are trying to balance pesticides and finding organic ways to keep bugs off of them.
  • The olives are then washed.0198201983
  • Once washed they are made into paste01998
  • Then the magic starts; they mix the paste with water, at 27 degrees C (80 F) to make the extra virgin olive oil.01989 01991 01994
  • Bottling occurred in pipes that run underground to another building on site.

After the oil is separated, the pumas is reused for heating their building OR returned to the farmers to feed their animals.

This facility was built 3 years ago and uses solar power for lighting.

All and all it was a great experience and I am really glad we stopped in to tour the plant.  It sure is fun to travel on off season, you get lots of 1:1 attention.

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Ruins of Lato


“It’s the end of the world” NOT.  We survived the end of the world and live to see another day!  Decided to head the other direction on Crete and see how far we could drive on the National Road.


sheep in the curve in the road!

This road is very curvy and up and down following the N coast most of the way.  I would also echo that the drivers on Crete are the 2nd worst drivers in the world.  The worst I have ever experienced were in Puerto Rico!  The speed limits are suggestions only and there are NO, Zip, NONE, No rules when it comes to parking.

We drove past Heraklion, the largest city on Crete, and continued W towards Agios Nikolaos.  We didn’t spend any time there but headed to one of the smaller communities outside of it to visit Lato, an ancient Greek ruins.

We took some curvy roads up to Lato and came to the front gate, where we almost screamed because we thought it was closed, as there was not another car there.  However, there was a lady that was happy to take our entry fee and talk to us about Lato. We were the only visitors all day!  We had the place to ourselves, other than a bunch of sheep.


the view towards the south

such amazingly old ruins

our only company at Lato, Sheep!

everyone was smaller in those days!

Lato was built in the 5th and 4th century BC.  It was strategically built high on the hills with a view of the ocean.  In 200 BCE Lato was destroyed. 01794 01823 01838 01847 01862 01868 01882 01895

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Driving to the Eastern Tip of Crete


We had a great day on our first full day on Crete.  Decided to explore the old town of Chania.  It was a dizzily day and a bit wet, but we had fun exploring.  After walking around the streets, we ended up the Municipal Market, which dates back to 1913.01522  It is in the shape of a + sign with 4 rows, each row kind of had a theme, but not totally.  There were a lot of different stores inside, but we ended up only buying some spices and tea from stores AND eating lunch at a great little family owned restaurant.    01531 01540 01537 01534

My salad was a traditional cabbage, carrot salad, with a vinegar /oil / sugar dressing.  Harry had 2 different dishes, both chicken with many different seasonings on them.  Both stew like!0152801546

We then drove to the NW tip of the island.  It was amazing how few people or cars we saw.  It was almost scary that there was NO ONE else out there.  We went through Kissamos and returned by driving back through a mountain pass toward Chania. 01576 01555 01553 01550 01549 01576 01555 01553 01550

Crete is about 160 miles long and 37 miles wide at it’s widest.  However, the roads are not just straight and easy to drive on, to going 160 miles would take a LONG time. Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 6.47.04 PM01627 It is about 100 miles S or mainland Greece and is the biggest island in Greece.  What surprised us most were the mountains.  I don’t think either of us expected such high mountains on this island.  The highest are the Idi Range at 8058 feet, the White Mountains at 8045 feet, then the Dikti Mountains over 7000 feet.  The valleys these mountains create are amazing.

Driving around the tip of the island reminded us of our time in Hawaii and the Na Pali Coast on Kauai or the Hana Highway on Maui.

We got some sunshine at the tip as well, which we appreciated.   01582 01675 01663 01630  01597

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Arrival to Crete from Athens

Dec. 18/19

We ferried from Athens to Crete on an overnight ferry.  The ferry was MUCH bigger than we thought it would be, it is basically a retired cruise ship.  We ride ferries often in Alaska on our ferry system and I always thought our ferries were quite big, but this one made ours looks small.

It was suggested that we buy the ticket for a specific chair so that we would be sure to have a seat.  In the end we probably didn’t have to do that, but it didn’t really matter.  We both found places to lie down and sleep, BUT the staff came by and woke us and told us we could not sleep in that area.  I moved and so did Harry, I was not awoken again, but they kept harassing Harry so he didn’t sleep much. We eventually made it to Crete about 6 a.m.

Our rental car was waiting for us and we were off to find Blazis House, our apartment for the next 6 nights.  It proved to be a bit harder to find that one might think.  We first stopped a town too early, as our directions said it was “right after Demitri Hotel,”  little did we know most towns have lodging with that name.    After some backtracking, and dead end roads we found our great apartment in the town of Almydria.  It was about ½ way between Chiana (the port town) and Rethymnon a very popular town with a wonderful ‘old town’ area.    It was a QUITE town with a lot of ex-patriots in it, but we didn’t see many people at all, the town was closed up for winter.01477 1401c

We drove to Rethymnon and walked around the old fort and old town for a few hours and at lunch.  Headed home to prepare for future Crete adventures.  It got dark by 5:30 so we were ready to crash early.01522 01519 01510 01498 01483

Our housekeeper had left a treat for us on our door, some homemade goat cheese, it was fantastic.

Everyone that we met this day wondered why we were visiting this time of year.  It continued to be a theme of the rest of our time on Crete.  They certainly were not used to guests in the winter.

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