25 Dec 2010

Have a very happy Christmas!

Merry Christmas
all my blogger friends!

18 Dec 2010

Pictures of Malacca, my hometown

Malacca River

The Malacca Clock Tower, built during the Dutch era in the 17th century

Victoria Square near the Stadt House


The Victoria Fountain, built in the 19th century to commemorate Queen Victoria's rule

Replica of a Duthch Windmill

A  typical Malay village house in Malacca

The Art Gallery, which used to be the General Post Office

Malacca is one of the oldest cities in Malaysia being at least 500 years old. It has been ruled by  the Indo-Malays (13- 16th centuries), then later conquered by the Portuguese in the 16th century (1511) and  again later by the Dutch in the 17th century. Sometime in the 19th century the Dutch exchanged it for Benkoolen in Sumatra with the English. Today its a very popular tourist destination- last year alone more than 2 million people visited this tiny state.


Our Share of night to bear...

Part One:

OUR share of night to bear,
Our share of morning,

Our blank in bliss to fill,

Our blank in scorning.

Here a star, and there a star,
Some lose their way.

Here a mist, and there a mist,

Afterwards - day!

    (Emily Dickinson)

14 Dec 2010

Three cups of tea

When Greg Mortenson, a young climber, became lost upon his descent from climbing K2, one of the Himalaya's toughest mountains, he never realised the changes that he would experience, nor the impact of being lost and then turning up at a remote mountain village in the Hindu Kush. Three Cups of Tea is an amazing story of how one man almost single-handedly tried to help the children of remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan by building schools for them.
In 1992, Mortenson's youngest sister, Christa, who suffered from severe epilepsy, died suddenly at 23. Heartbroken, Mortenson decided to honor her memory by leaving her favorite amber necklace at the top of K2, the world's second-highest peak. But less than half a mile from the summit, after more than 10 punishing weeks of climbing, he turned back to help rescue a fellow mountaineer in trouble. On a five-day hike back to the main road, Mortenson was separated from his team and took a wrong turn off the trail. Lost, sick, and deeply disappointed, he stumbled into a tiny Pakistani village ringed by jagged peaks, so isolated that no foreigner had ever visited it before. The people of Korphe, farmers and herders, welcomed him and nursed him back to health. He made friends with the elder or village chief, Haji Ali and found that there were so many things the old man could teach him. The village had no school; the children met outdoors on a patch of bare ground, even in the frosts of autumn. A part-time teacher shared with a distant village came only three days a week, but the kids — 78 boys and four girls — still gathered every day to study. A few had slates they wrote on with mud-tipped twigs, but most scratched their lessons in the dirt with sticks. No books, no pencils, no paper, no roof — just a burning desire to learn. 

"I promised I'd build them a school," Mortenson says, "and fulfilling that promise led me to my life's work." This book, co-authored with Relin, describes Mortenson's struggle to get a grant or sponsor to help buy the materials for the school in Korphe. He sent 580 letters in all, and received only one in reply. Then he got a break in the form of inventor/climber Jean Hoerni who gave him his start - 20 thousand dollars to buy the required materials. It took two years to get the money and another two years to build that first school. But once started many other villages asked him to build a school for them too and looking at the  children really tore at his heart, so slowly and with Jean Hoernie's help again he started the CAI - Central Asia Institute to help build schools in desolate villages.

Greg Mortenson with some of his students in Pakistan

Gripping, because it deals in facts and reality, this book is in turns funny, sad and fascinating. There were many parts in the book that made me laugh but there were also some parts that were incredibly touching. Suspense too, especially when he was captured by a group of tribal people and kept in captivity for 8 days. I really admire Mr Mortenson for the work he is doing in a country where Americans are hardly welcomed, let alone liked. I think this is one book that should be required reading, not just for the story of how one man (an American at that) could help build schools for the thousands of impoverished and destitute children of  Pakistan and Afghanistan but also of overcoming the odds. I think if anyone deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, it is Greg Mortenson. Anyone who has not read this book should read it!

10 Dec 2010

A new cat in the house

She's already showing her curiosity
I finally gave in and agreed to take one more cat into our household - Smokey. She's actually a kitten, a bout 5 moths old, and given by my sister Jasmine. You can see her here:

Smokey the new addition to the family

BBC's list of books

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

by Kathy Repin on Saturday, 04 December 2010 at 14:31
Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES. Bold those books you've read in their entirety.
Italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read only an excerpt.
Tag other book lovers. Tag me as well so I can see your responses!

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare – all the tragedies, some of the comedies
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 Lord of the Rings Trilogy- JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma -Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude- Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65  The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E.B. White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton (lots of other titles though)
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
 My Note: Have we forgotten Faustus, Homer, Beuwulf, Chaucer etc etc? And what about Evelyn Waugh and numerous other good writers of the 20th century?  American writers such as Mark Twain and people like Joseph Conrad who wrote books in English even though English wasn’t their first language? Actually this list is not exhaustive. There are hundreds more good books...

5 Dec 2010

New Books

Randa Abdel Fatah is an Australian writer of Palestinian origins and her first book - Does My Head Look Big in this? tells us about a young Lebanese Muslim growing up in Sydney, Australia, and how she copes with being called a WOG by  her own classmates, being ' in love' with the smartest, handsomest boy in her class and wearing the hijab.Its a very lively and  contemporary novel and most of the issues addressed are actually happening in many parts of the world. The book gives us a first person view of what life is like for the young Muslim growing up in a non Muslim world and themes such as prejudice, first love, boys, identity are dealt with in a witty, funny and no nonsense manner. Amal is a smart and well liked girl but when she decides to wear the hijab she realises that there is still a lot of prejudice facing her in her school. Randa Abdel Fatah gets us to see that Amal is like millions of other teenagers - worried about studies, boys, pimples and being popular. There are many instances in the story that made me want to laugh out loud - they are so funny. Yet some incidents on the other hand touches the heart.. A book that can be recommended to everybody who wants to know what its like to be a Muslim in a non Muslim country.

Her other books - Ten Things I hate About Me and Where the Streets Had a Name. I liked both books but not as much as the first. The first book - Does My Head Look Big in this?  scores big in the humour  departtment. Abdel Fattah has a witty way with words.

I still have a number of books to get through -Jeffery Deaver's The Vanished Man, A.S. Bayatt's The Children's Book, Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Relin and The Angel's Game by Carlos Luiz Zarfon.

26 Nov 2010

Still missing Chi Chi

We went back to Malacca today - Repin has gone to India for some meetings and since I haven't gone home to the Malacca house for ages I decided to do that while he's away. As usual Ginger came along, though this is the first time we're down here without Chi Chi. At first she didnt seem to notice - well she did look for Chi chi yesterday. I noticed she went round the bedroom sniffing and making mewwling noises, wondering where her best friend had got to. Then she went to Chi Chi's bed and slept there for a while. Not satisfied she got up and went under the bed and sniffed at Chi Chi's box there too. Still no Chi Chi so she jumped on the bed and slept instead.

Today once released from the pet carrier, she ran to the kitchen. Then she came over to us and looked at me, miawing a question. I said "She's not here Girl. She's gone." Then I went upstairs, with Ginger following, or rather leading me because she bounded up the stairs and quickly went into my bedroom. Sniffing under the bed she then looked at me with a long miaw. Who says cats can't talk? I understood perfectly what Ginger was trying to say - "Where the heck is she?"

Ginger wondering where Chi Chi had gone

I stroked her gently and held her. Now she's my comfort - at least I have her. The other three cats - Momo, Apin and Black are just not my cats even though I take care of them. Chi chi and Ginger have always been mine - the whole family knew that. Which was why when they all heard of Chi Chi's death, their first question was "How's mama?" Well Mama is coping. But it will take some time before I adopt another cat. Even a cute one like Min's grey Persian that she wanted to give me. In fact, right now I don't think I want to have another cat at all. Its too heart breaking when they die. And Chi Chi's is too sudden. I wish I knew what was the cause. If it's an infection - where did she get it? How come the other cats didn't get it? Why her?

25 Nov 2010

Loss of a beloved cat

Yesterday Chi chi was sick - she vomitted some green stuff which looked like leaves so I assumed she must have eaten a plant I had bought a few weeks ago. But then she looked tired and listless and refused her meal so I quickly took her to the vet. Her temperature was indeed high - 40 degrees! The vet gave her a jab for the fever and another one for antibiotic. When I took her back home she seemed okay - even played with Ginger for a while. Last night she ate a bit and slept on the bed. Early this morning at 5.30am she woke me up, kneading my tummy and purred loudly. But at 9.00 am she again appeared weak and tired and was lying down on her cushion bed with head down on the floor. I carried her and she was limp and lifeless. Her pulse was too high though she had no fever.  Suspecting something seriously wrong I quickly I took her back to the vet. After checking her for fever the vet told me she had no fever. There was no vomitting too so we didnt really know what was wrong. She was given water intravenously and the vet told me to leave her for observation. When I left her she was miawing in the cage, though her pupils were a bit dilated. I tried to calm her down as best as I could and told the vet I'll come back in the evening to take her back. But at 2.30pm I got a call from the vet. Chi Chi had had a couple of seizures and had died immediately. I just don't know what happened. She's not an outdoor cat - we live in an apartment and Chi Chi as well as the other cats stayed inside. They don't eat anything except what we give them, and that is Royal Canin cat food. In the morning they all have a little wet food - Fancy Feast. Chi Chi however is a picky eater and seldom finishes her wet food, which will be gobbled up by Ginger. So what went wrong? I've lost my beloved cat and feel like howling loudly. I just cannot believe that she's gone just like that.  Here are some pictures of her - you can see that she was indeed a lovely cat.

Chi Chi is curious about the fish and tries to get them out.

                                                           She'll sleep anywhere!

At home in the Malacca garden

Chi Chi and Ginger together

I'm sure Ginger will miss her too - even though they aren't siblings, they grew up together. Ginger was found as a tiny kitten, hardly bigger than my palm, back in June 2006. She was dirty and hungry. When we took her in we had to clean her up for two weeks before she was clean enough. Chi Chi was given to me by my aunt when she was about two months old, sometime in July 2006. She was a round furry ball of white then. But as she grew older her distinctive colour came out and she became more beige than white with brownish tips at her ears and tail. Her face too changed from white to grey and later a darker grey. She would be about 4 this year. I can only console myself by saying that she's gone to a better place. She was here only for a while - on loan as they say. Good bye Chi Chi my darling. I'll miss you always.

23 Nov 2010

Some historical romances

The past few days have been fairly hectic ones - reason being its Convocation time at the university. Its over now - today was their last day and everything went without a hitch, glad to say. So today I managed to finish my next book on the list - a historical romance. So different from the last one - Shadow of the Wind. This one is by Stephanie Laurens, The Untamed Bride and is one of a quartet.

I didn't really know that its part of a quartet, otherwise I wouldn't have bought it. Anyway I've just finished it and found it quite engrossing. The time is the 1820s and it started out in India - during the heyday of the East India Company. We learned so much about the East India Company when I was in school, the moment I saw the blurp I decided to get it. 

Colonel Derek Delborough and his four friends have been given the task of finding and unmasking The Black Cobra - a cruel and fiendish cult that kills and rampages in the Indian countryside. They know that the leader of the cult is an Englishman and one of the upper society people but with no evidence and nothing but rumours there is nothing they can do to get him. Until one of their own - James is caught and tortured while trying to pass them a letter that is clearly written by the Black Cobra himself. This letter James had managed to pass on to Del through the girl he was escorting. Now with this pice of evidence in their hands, the group has to quickly pass the evidence to England so that they can arrest the Black Cobra. But Del and his friends are followed and threatened. Del himself has another problem now - his aunts have asked him to escort a young lady, his neighbour's daughter, back home. With the cobra's men after him and a young lady in his entourage, Del has to be even more careful.
This book is quite a pleasurable read - it has adventure and romance and is full of suspense. Del is surprised to discover that the young lady he is supposed to escort is not the timid miss he thought he would find. Delia is full of spunk and is quite capable of helping him land some cobras on her own. The first time they meet she saves his life with her quick thinking action and soon a lot of other adventures come their way.

Other historical romances I'm keeping for another day are:

1.  Searching for Pemberley - Mary Lydon Simonsen
2.  Captain jack's Woman - Stephanie Laurens
3   A Secret Affair - Mary Balogh

I've also got a few young adult fiction, one of which I've been meaning to read for some time - Does my head look big in this? by Randa Abdul Fattah. This is about a young Muslim girl growing up in Australia and her decision to wear the scarf. I'll tell you all more about this book once I've finished reading it.

20 Nov 2010

Lazy days

I've had a long lazy spell - just lazed about reading and finishing my growing pile of books. Last week was the Big Bad Wolf Sale and as usual I over spent. But I'm quite satisfied with my haul - I got a total of 60 books for a total of RM333! If that is not cheap I dont know what is. Most of the books were romance - tried a few other writers besides my usual Nora Roberts.  I also went in for a number of fantasy stuff by R. A Salvatore and a few others. There were two good finds among the lot - Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game, both by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I also managed to bag a few books by A. S. Bayatt, who was ranked No 2 in last year's Booker. I finished reading Shadow of the Wind and completely fell in love with it. I love the way the writer described books - he's a book lover's writer:
"This is a place of mystery Daniel, a sanctuary.Every book, every volume you see here has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived it and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens."
These words were told to Daniel, a 10 year old boy by his bookseller father. That day Daniel was taken to this secret place - the cemetry of books, where books which were forgotten or which were obsolete were sent to. Daniel was asked to choose one book and it would be his forever. And the book he chose was called  The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax.
But there is something fishy about this book because the moment people know that he has it, there are offers from strangers who want to buy it. Daniel is pulled into the mystery and is even threatened if he did not give up the book. Daniel becomes piqued by this interest in his book and intends to find out more about Julian carax. But as he grows older he realises there is more to the mystery than meets the eye and what begins as mere literary curiosity becomes a life and death search for the truth behind the writer's death (or life?)

I found this book tremendously enjoyable - there's mystery, humour, horror and romance and for the book lover, beautifully written.

Other gems I unearthed at the sale were Emma by Jane Austen (beautiful cover), Alice in Wonderland (hard cover edition with illustrations by Sir John Tenniel) , Mansfield Park (my old one is really really old and shows it) and lots of chick lit stuff. I also got a few young adult fiction which I had wanted to read before but didn't get because of other priorities but were now being sold for a mere RM8/-. I was in book heaven! And the R.A Salvatore were also hard back editions, books worth keeping! My husband too got what he wanted - lots of books on travel as well as some on colonial life in Malaya. He loves books like that so the ones that I bought for him kept him really happy. I think this lot will keep me happily occupied - at least for now.

17 Nov 2010


Sophie and Pixel (in one of her better moments)

Sophie with her grandfather on raya day

She's getting better now - at least she'll answer when I call her on the phone. The other day she said, "Nenek, I'm going back to Singapore already..." which is a vast improvement on our phone conversations. Previously she would only say "Bye!"

4 Nov 2010

This and that

Am sitting here at the Nissan service centre waiting for my car to be serviced. Quite a long queue since tomorrow is Deepavalli and the beginning of  a long weekend. Luckily I've got Mary Balogh's book with me - One Night For Love.

Neville Wyatt, Earl of Kilbourne, is about to get married. His future wife is a step cousin and he has known her all his life. Suddenly just as the music is about to start, a young woman in ragged clothes rushes to the altar and says she is his wife! And true enough Neville is shocked to see that it is indeed Lily, his beloved wife whom he had married when he was in the army. But she had been shot and believed to have died. Neville himself saw the bullet going into her chest just before he himself was shot. Lying in hospital later and being told that Lily had indeed died made him realise that soldiering was not for him. He went back to his estate after his father died to resume his duties as a nobleman.
Lily meanwhile had not died. She was captured, first by The French and later by Spanish partisans who treated her badly. After the war Lily went back to Portugal to trace her husband to arrive just in time to prevent him getting married. But will they live happily ever after? What about Lauren, Neville's jilted bride? Can Lily be the mistress of Kilbourne Abbey?
Like her other novels about Regency and Victorian England, this book shows a fairly wide knowledge of life and society of the time. Mary Balogh does not shy away from the more gruesome stories of war like so many other writers who write about the era. Her women characters are strong and sometimes quite independent, even wilful at times. Lily is no less. When she discovers that her marriage to Neville was not legal she insisted on leaving him, in spite of the fact that Neville loves her and begs her to stay. Actually there are times when she gets on my nerves and I wish she would be less stubborn but it's a heartbreaking story and well written. When,  Lilly leaves Kilbourne she lives with Elizabeth, Neville's aunt who takes her under her wings and trains her to become a noble woman and one who can be with Neville as his equal.The  story takes a sudden twist when Lily is threatened with murder. There are lots of twists and turns in this story of thwarted love and is quite un-put-downable.

31 Oct 2010

Back in Melaka

The orchids are doing well - imagine that they're still in bloom after one month! Most of them anyway. The deep purple ones are already dried but hopefully will bloom soon. My roses are dead and gone I know... it's not easy trying to nurture a rose plant when one is more often not at home than at home. Anyway most of my other plants are all right.

I still have a lingering cough - no plegm but I hate this dry wracking cough especially at night. Must try the honey treatment my friend said would  work - a spoonful of honey mixed with warm water. Simple isn't it but I haven't tried it yet.

As for the cats - Momo and Karupin have to be taken to the vet for their vaccination. Then next month its GInger and Chi chi's turn. I think MOmo also is in need of grooming - his fur is really thick and long now and its so difficult to get rid of the tangles sometimes.  But last year when I took him for a grooming session, he was ill and was out of sync for almost a week. Poor thing - must be really stressful for him. He doesn't really take to strangers; the only person he allows to cuddle him are Sarah, shasha and me. So at the vet its always distressing to see him cling to the cage, miawing loudly and refusing to let go. I guess for him its the ultimate torture so I try to do it only once a year. Hope he'll be fine this year!

Last year after we had cropped of nearly all his hair - its the no 2 cut (GI Joe) - he was really out of synq. Even his close pal, Karupin, who is his twin, could not recognise him and when he came near Apin, Apin would run, or worse still growled at him. Then he would run and Momo would stand there looking baffled, and Momo would go to his basket to sulk.

A newly cropped Momo - taken last year looking very dejected

27 Oct 2010

Back home

Well I'm home now - after being away for more than 3 weeks. My cats are fine and so are the fishes and the plants and most important - me. Apart from being tired that is. And a bit dejected too - I lost a piece of luggage with a number of souvenirs from Turkey as well as some gifts for my children from London. I had left the bag at the hotel where we were staying (pre- tour) at the hotel storage and it seems the storage was burgled. Of course the hotel's insurance will try to compensate us but who can replace the lost souvenirs? Anyway that's it, enough said.

My body still thinks its in London - am waking up in the middle of the night and cannot sleep after that. And when I do sleep, I wake up at 8.30 am! Guess it'll take some time to catch up... meanwhile  I am catching up with daily chores, friends, bill payments and all those other things that make up my life. Life's good!

18 Oct 2010

Istanbul - London - Amsterdam

Repin at the Rue Scribe waiting for the Cosmos bus
 From Turkey, we went to London where we stayed at the Novotel in Hammersmith.  It's a 4 star hotel and is not bad actually - its fairly close to the tube and the bus station is within walking distance.We were in London, prior to the tour, for about 5 days. The tour started on 16th October, one day after my birthday which was celebrated with a our friends when we were in Istanbul. It was a surprise actually - one organised by Hanin.

I had a great time in Istanbul and in London, missed my friends for a while. They all went back to KL  after Istanbul. In London, we renewed our acquaintance with this huge city - we walked along the Thames, took a bus through its old streets and rode the London Eye. We went back to Melur the Malaysian restaurant on Edgware Road and had our first Malaysian meal for days. Then we went to Oxford Street and  I bought some pullovers for Shasha, the Kath Kidston bags that both Shasha and Sarah loved and a few souvenirs to take back home. 
( Some of these were stolen subsequently but were later replaced - some, not all).

The Malaysian Restaurant that we frequented is situated nearby!

On the 16th October we started the tour. First we were driven to Dover in a coach. Our tour director would meet us at Dover, it seems. But in Dover we found that our tour director was still in Calais and could not come over because of a labour strike in France. Then we found out that we had to carry our luggage on to the ferry, which was called 'The Pride of Scotland'. It was fairly big, with lots of restaurants catering to the different budgets. The journey was smooth and uneventful - no squalls or heavy seas. In fact the sun was shining brightly!

FRench and Belgian country side

It took us approximately one hour to cross the Channel and even from far we could see the famous "White Cliffs of Dover", made nostalgic by Jim Reeves' song of the same name. I took the time to read my book, window shop at the tax free shopping arcade and Repin had a little nap. At 2.00pm we berthed and an announcement told us to take our bags and walk down to the level 3 floors below us to meet the bus and tour director.

Our bus was waiting for us and so was our Cosmos tour director, Flora Anfuso, an Italian living in England. Flora seems okay, though I noticed that throughout the trip she hardly talked to us (Repin and I as well as Mr and Mrs Ho from Singapore.) Maybe she didn't know what to talk to us about. I find her not rude exactly but not  really friendly and warm. She was also a bit aloof, a bit standoffish. Whenever I said something to her, either she ignored it (if its not a question) or she would answer but very briefly. She definitely wasn't warm towards us. I could see how friendly she was with the others though. For sure I will refuse to take Cosmos again as a tour package. We enjoyed our last trip with Globus so much last year which was the reason we took the Cosmos tour - because it was a sister company. Nevertheless we did have a great time in spite of all this - we were in fun-filled Amsterdam and took a boat ride on the canal, went for a visit at one of  the cheese factories, visited a traditional Dutch village (very touristy though) complete with girls wearing clogs and windmills and also went to the Zuider Zee. At night we went to the red light district, which was really really, interesting! What I really enjoyed was not the Red Light district itself but the funny little jokes that our local tour guide gave us. She was nothing to look at, but she can talk and has a really good sense of humour.


Our walking tour of London started from Big Ben


On the Rhine cruise to Basle

Repin walking along one of the canals in Zaanse Skaans

12 Oct 2010


Interior of the Grand Bazaar (there are more than 25000 shops in the Grand bazaar!)
There are so many things to do in Istanbul and we had only 3 days. Yesterday we visited Topkapi Palace which is really really big. The queue to get in too was worse than Disneyland! Finally we managed to get in but the main attractions, which were the displays of the various ornaments and tools used by the Ottoman sultans, were so crowded, my group opted not to see them. Instead we went to the second viewing chamber which housed the jewels that used to belong to the former sultans. Cameras were not allowed inside so we could not take pictures of the jewels but there is a large display of precious stones - mainly emeralds and diamonds. There were necklaces, earrings, rings and made of all kinds of precious stones. There were also golden cradles that used to belong to the young princes and swords and daggers encrusted with precious stones and gold.

On Saturday we took a boat ride on the Bosperus. It was a cold and foggy morning but it cleared somewhat a bit later, though the clouds were still there. Istanbul seen from the sea is really magnificent.

 boat ride on the Bosperus
The Kamal Ataturk Bridge which spans the Bosperus
Beautiful houses along the Bosperous coast

Potter demonstrating the making of Turkish pottery

This is a Turkish pottery shop. The master potter is demonstrating the art of turning the pottery wheel using the special red clay from Cappadocia, in the south eastern part of Turkey. They have some of the most gorgeous pottery in the world. If I wasn't travelling on to Europe I would definitely buy them.

Gorgeously coloured bowls of all sizes

Topkapi, The Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia

Today's Istanbul was actually Constantinople - the eastern capital of the Roman Byzantium Empire which ruled Anatolia and Byzantine until the late 13th century when it was conquered by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey had been ruled by the Greeks or Macedonians (sometime in 343 BC when it was conquered by Alexander), then taken over by the Romans who formed Byzantium and finally by the Ottomans. When Sultan Mehmet the 2nd ascended the throne of the Ottoman Empire, he laid seige to Constantinople, which had already been weakened by corruption and numerous wars. Two years later, Constantinople finally fell to the Turks - on 29 May 1453.

The ancient Byzantine empire, with Constantinople as its capital

During Emperor Constantine's rule in Byzantium he had built a large church to celebrate his conversion to Christianity - the Hagia Sophia. When Constantinople fell, the church too was converted into a mosque at first. The Turks however did not destroy the beautiful interior of the church. However Sultan Ahmet the first,  his heir, realised that he needed his own mosque, and instructed Sinan, his architect to design the largest and most beautiful mosque on top of the hill, close to the Hagia Sophia. This mosque is today one of the most beautiful in the world, and known to most people as the Blue Mosque. Its actual name is Sultan Ahmet Cami (Sultan Ahmet's mosque). It is indeed a splendid structure, with its graceful cascade of domes, its six slender minarets marking the corners of the courtyards and the lovely grey colour of the stones, set off by gilded ornaments on the domes and minarets.

Next to the Blue Mosque, just acoss the gardens is the Hagia Sophia or at one time called Saint Sophia's Church. There are still beautifully painted frescoes in the central hall and in the domes. Pictures of the infant Jesus and the Virgin Mary decorate the high ceilings of the central area, with gold coloured lettering of the words Allah and Mohammed covering the pillars.

Inside the Blue mosque

The main entrance to Topkapi Palace or Topkapi Sarayi

11 Oct 2010

From Eskesehir to Istanbul

The drive back to Istanbul seemed shorter by contrast, though we took the same road going in. Maybe we were fresher and more relaxed and there was rather less traffic on the road compared to when we came. Anyway on Sunday at 8.30 am we left Eskesehir for Istanbul. We passed the same orchards mainly quince I notice, and a few manufacturing plants - near Eskisehir, they were mainly cars.

After a brief stop at one of the rest areas - we had a coffee break and bought some local fruits - we were back on the way. Marwan, the guide wanted to arrive at the bridge before 12 noon he said. The congestion would be bad after that he told us. Even then, we arrived at Istanbul a few kilometers from the bridge to a jam packed road. There seemed to be no end - it was going to be a long crawl. However our driver had a few tricks up his sleeve - he knew of a few short cuts and soon we were on the bridge itself, crossing the Bhosperous going towards the European part of Turkey.

Our hotel , The Titanic, is situated on one of the busy streets of Istanbul - Takseem Road. It's a fairly large hotel, very accessible to most of the large shops and close to many restaurants. Just leave the hotel and immediately you are invited into the numerous little eateries and cafes! Since it was already past lunch time, Marwan took us to a fish restaurant nearby. The soup was really delicious and so was the grilled fish that were served later. According to our guide, food is expensive in Istanbul, especially if one orders ala carte. So we ordered the fixed menu which came to about 98 TL ( double that for USD). There are about 6 people in the group so I think that is fairly reasonable.

After lunch we went back to our hotel for a short rest and came out again around 5pm. We all decided to walk along Takseem Road and just do some window shopping and maybe look for souvenirs to take home. Dinner was at one of the nearby kebab places and by 9pm we decided to go back to the hotel for the night.

7 Oct 2010

2nd day at Eskisehir

View of Eskisehir from Selale Park

Old Quarter of Eskisehir

View of the Posuk River in Eskisehir
Early on the second day we drove out of town towards Gordion, a small village  about 80 km away and famed for its ancient sites. It is said that when Alexander the Great came to conquer Asia Minor, he was asked to unravel the great Gordion Knot, which only a wise ruler could do. We all know that Alexander was a great warrior, but from this story we also know he was a practical and intelligent man! Instead of spending hours trying to unravel the knot, he just took his sword and cut it into two, thus unraveling the knot at the same time. He then went on to conquer the country, defeating King Darrius III and proclaiming himself Emperor of  Asia Minor. At that time Asia Minor included Persia, (today's Iraq), Turkey and Syria. We saw the ruins of the city that was built there in the early 7th century, the ramparts of the citadel and parts of the walls of this ancient city.
Ruins of the Gordion civilisation

Near Gordion too there's another famous figure, though this one  we all thought was only fictitious. This person is no less than the famous King Midas (pronounced as Mi (me) Das (Dust). Yes, the one with the golden touch. It seems there really was a King Midas and he did indeed had a golden touch, that is, whatever he touched turned to gold. The legend is that Midas had performed a good act for one of the gods (cant remember which one) and in return was told he could have anything he wanted. So he said that he wanted anything he touched to be gold and at once he got his wish. For two days Midas was very happy, running all over the palace and touching everything. Everything that he touched did indeed turn to gold. But alas, soon he realised the foolishness of his wish because he could not eat. Even the food that he tried to swallow became gold pellets and who could eat gold pellets? In sorrow he sat in the garden wondering how he could eat and drink when his little son came running to him. He turned to see the little boy and was so happy to see the child forgot about the wish. He carried his son in  his arms and found to his horror that the boy had turned into a golden statue. Regretting his greedy wish, he begged for forgiveness and told the God that he would give up everything, just to have his son back.  He was told to go and bathe in the river Oshu, near his palace and the gift would be overturned. And after he had bathed in the river, he found that everything was back to its original status and his son was again a normal boy. From that incident he realised how foolish he was and that he had to be grateful for what he had.

In Gordion we visited the tomb of King Midas, which was deep under a hillock. The museum c lose to the tomb had artifacts and even a statue of King Midas. I knew that Turkey had a rich history but never really understood how rich it actually is, with a civilisation that goes back to Mesopotamia, the Romans and later the Ottoman Turks.

At the Gordion Museum with a collage of Alexander the Great at the back.

Having coffee at the colorful garden of the Museum cafe