Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

“How do I find this place again?”

“Take a photo with your phone, that way you can ask for directions back here”

Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)
Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)

My husband was sitting at a café inside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with a steaming cup of tea. I was going to explore the bazaar but was worried I’d never be able to find the right café in that maze-like market. As it turned out, his advice was very helpful. When I had to ask someone for direction back to the café, I simply showed him the photo.

The jewelers’ corridor literally glittered. Each window was dripping with gold bracelets, chains, earrings, cuffs, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones in all shapes and sizes. The reflection of the light on so much gold made taking good photos impossible and made my eyes hurt.

One of the arched halls
One of the  halls

The displays were so beautiful: silk scarves, hand-painted isnik ceramics, pashminas, spices, handbags, silverware, and table linen. Even the trinkets and miscellaneous tourist tat looked pretty and enticing. The kilims, rugs and rug salesmen deserve a special note. These men are very insistent, they won’t take no for an answer. They will follow you and talk to you in different languages so pretending you don’t understand doesn’t work. We were polite but firm. No, thank you, we’re not interested in buying a rug.

Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets
Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets

I did, however, buy a leather handbag. I was coveting a gorgeous one embroidered with silk thread. I asked the price, TL (Turkish Lira) 500, more money than I had in my pocket. The young salesman then showed me cheaper ones embroidered in wool, very pretty too but not quite the same. These cost TL 380.

“I don’t have that kind of money right now, sorry.”

“How much do you have?”

“250 lira” I thought this might have been a mistake. No one needs to know how much I have. He said he was just an employee and was going to fetch the owner. I felt a bit uneasy; I do not like haggling at all. I was about to leave, anyway, because not having enough money felt embarrassing to me.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “This is just business. It’s not personal.”

Rugs and cushion covers
Rugs and cushion covers

The owner came in and asked if I had dollars? No. Euro? No. He smiled and let me have the handbag for the money I had. It felt like a bargain but it was definitely not at about US$ 120. “It’s made in Turkey, not China” said the owner. “Nothing from China.” A sign of the times, I thought. The young attendant wanted to give me a coin as a good luck token because I had no money left, which, apparently, is bad luck in Turkey. “It’s all right, thanks. I have some loose change.” This seemed good enough for him.

 

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Grand Bazaar

 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

To get here, take the tram and get off at either Beyazit or Çemberlitaş.

The bazaar was established by Mehmet II in 1453 in what is now known as the Bazaar Quarter. This labyrinthine indoor market has cafes, restaurants, a mosque, a police station, offices, public restrooms (tuvalet) and banks. The Grand Bazaar extends to the adjacent streets.

What to buy: anything you want! I bought gorgeous pashminas, an iznik ceramic bowl, silk scarves and, of course, a suede and embroidered fabric handbag. Spices and tea are a good option too.

Córdoba’s Natural History Museum

As my young nephews and I walked down Poeta Lugones Avenue, skirting the lush Sarmiento Park, their excitement mounted. The boys, aged 5 and 7, live in a medium-sized town, so taking the bus sans parents to the big city to see a glyptodon for the first time was a great adventure.

The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento
The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento

Our final destination was the Natural Science Museum of Córdoba (Argentina.) The current building was opened in 2007 and is located in the tony neighbourhood of Nueva Córdoba. The circular interior was designed in the shape of a spiral in which three levels are joined by a continuous ramp. The handrail is quite wide and even has backlit displays along the top.

The interior
The interior

The collections include rocks and minerals from around the world, which alas failed to create excitement among our party. However, the local flora and fauna displays did. The absolute stars were the fossil reproductions of local Pleistocene megafauna: sabre tooth tigers, smilodons, mastodons, glyptodonts, and the like. Actually, one glyptodon shell is the real McCoy and was discovered during the construction of a dam.

Hello Mr Glyptodon!
Hello Mr Glyptodon!

On the third floor is the newest exhibition, called ‘The Rebirth of the Giants” (El renacer de los gigantes). It consists of displays of fossils found in the area and studied by the Museum’s paleontologists, as well as photos and videos of the paleontological site and the scientists’ field work. The boys and I watched the videos; then they asked questions which I tried to answer to the best of my scant knowledge and made comments about what they saw. It was lovely to see them engaged.

I love taking my nieces and nephews to museums. My mother says it is my signature outing! I firmly believe that it is never too early to acquire all kinds of knowledge. Beside, creating lasting memories is so much fun.

 

Mr Glyptodon and friends
Mr Glyptodon and friends

Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales Dr. Arturo Umberto Illia

Av. Poeta Lugones 395, Barrio Nueva Córdoba, Argentina

Tuesdays through Sundays 10:oo to 5;30. Summer opening hours vary

Admission $15. Free for pensioners, students and children under 18. 

5 day trips from Buenos Aires

Visiting a big city like Buenos Aires can be overwhelming at times: chaotic traffic, noise levels through the roof, swarms of people wherever you go. This didn’t use to bother me when I lived there; on the contrary, I rather enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the big city. I found it exhilarating. It made me feel alive.

Nowadays, however, it’s exactly the opposite. I live in a quiet suburb of Dallas, where life goes by at a more sedate pace and birdsong has replaced car horns. So when I visit my family in Buenos Aires, I need to get away from it all, even a few hours will do nicely. My parents enjoy exploring the countryside and we used to go on day trips as a family. Now, they take my husband and me to visit old haunts and new places for a fun and relaxing day out.

The Basilica's nave - Luján
The Basilica’s nave – Luján

About an hour’s drive away is the town of Luján, Argentina’s biggest pilgrimage center. Its basilica attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, both people on foot and gauchos on horseback. I visited the basilica many times; I still remember how scared I was as a child of the bayonets and crutches that lined the walls, donated by long-ago dead soldiers as tokens of thanks. Fortunately, they were removed when the neogothic basilica was restored and tarted up. Interestingly, the bells were fashioned from melted World War I cannons.

I get my history fix at the Enrique Udaondo museum complex, across the square from the basilica. The old cabildo, where much of the country’s early history took place, houses a fantastic collection of historical objects. The country’s first steam locomotive, the first plane to fly between Spain and Argentina in 1926, and Mancha and Gato, the first horses to join Buenos Aires and New York in 1933 are on display at the Transport Museum, among other historic types of transport.

View of the basilica's towers in the twilight
View of the basilica’s towers in the twilight

Not far from Luján is the pretty little town of Carlos Keen. Carlos Keen is a railway town created in 1881 as a water stop for the steam engines. The disused station houses a cultural center now. Every weekend, there’s an arts and crafts fair on the station grounds. I love to browse the stalls and chat with the vendors. The station depot went to wrack and ruin through the decades but it has been restored and is used for art exhibitions and classes.

A leisurely stroll is much needed after a copious lunch. We have been to many of the restaurants in Carlos Keen and could not pick a favourite. However, in the colder months, I would rather eat at any of the restaurants in the town centre. In warm weather, I love the rural establishments where we can sit outside, eat fabulous food surrounded by nature and a flock of ducks or a cow or two. The menu is more or less the same everywhere: a picada de campo, Argentinean-style tapas with locally sourced cold cuts and cheeses and crusty bread, followed by either homemade pasta or asado (meats grilled gaucho-style).

The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend
The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend –  Carlos Keen

Cheese lovers will love Suipacha and its Ruta del Queso (cheese trail). It is as delicious as it sounds. Although I adore cheese, my favorite place was probably the antiques store located at the town’s entrance, where I bought an English china tea set from the 1940s. Once we got antiquing out of the way, we visited the local boar farm, called La Escuadra. The owner explained everything there is to know about rearing boars and took us on a tour of the premises. We decided to stay for lunch. The star ingredient was boar, of course and they served dishes like boar ravioli or boar stew, using family recipes handed down the generations.

The cheese trail consists of a guided or self-guided visit to local cheese factories. Some charge a small fee and provide a tour of the facilities but some don’t. It’s not all about cheese however; there is a blueberry farm as well as the boar farm. They all sell their products there and then. My dad’s car was considerably heavier on the two-hour drive back home.

Uribelarrea, 80 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires, is another railway town. Sadly, the town suffered greatly when some of the railway lines were closed. The disused station, red brick and dark green trimmings in the best English fashion, now houses the police station. Tourism has helped revive the town’s economy. Uribelarrea is probably my favorite rural town. Nothing beats the picada and the craft beer from the local microbrewery La Uribeña. The old pulpería, a typical bar and general store from the pampas, is also popular.

Microbrewery La Uribeña  -Uribelarrea
Microbrewery La Uribeña -Uribelarrea

On one of our visits, we went to the Escuela Agrotécnia Salesiana Don Bosco, an agricultural school founded in 1894 and run by Salesian priests. Thanks to their hands-on approach, students learn by doing, and then sell their products to the public. We bought the most delicious dulce de leche, which they are famous for, and mandarin marmalade.

On another occasion, we took our young nephews to the local goat farm, called Valle de Goñi. The boys had lots of fun trying to get into the corrals to play with the goats while we had coffee and cake in the garden.

Incidentally, some scenes of the film Evita by Alan Parker were shot inside the church built in 1890.

Capilla del Señor was the first rural town to be declared Town of Historic Interest by Congress. Its Museum of Journalism displays the printing press used to print the first newspaper of the province of Buenos Aires, El Monitor de la Campaña (The Rural Monitor) and is located in the home of the newspaper founder.

Serene countryside
Serene countryside

The local cemetery, opened in 1838, bears witness to a cholera epidemic unknowingly started by a traveling fruit seller. Visiting a cemetery may sound creepy, but this one is interesting in that some of the older headstones are written in English and in French, not something I would expect to see in the Argentinean pampas. I later learned that the Irish and French communities were very influential here in the 19th century.

The origin of Capilla del Señor goes back to the mid-18th century, when local landowner Casco de Mendoza started selling plots of his land around the church, following the traditional Spanish grid layout. The main buildings (church, town hall, school, and museum) are located around the main square, or plaza. We parked the car on one of its sides and took a stroll around, enjoying the peace and quiet while planning our visit with the help of the brochures form the Tourist Office. We then bought delicious pastries from a bakery and took a leisurely stroll along the river.

These towns are accessible by train and bus from Buenos Aires.

Ride the historic M-Line trolley in Dallas

Are you in Dallas and at a loss what to do next?

You have already been to the 6th Floor Museum and stood on the Grassy Knoll looking towards the spot where JFK was shot. You have been to as many steakhouses and eaten as much BBQ as you possibly can. You have hit swanky bars on McKinney Avenue. You have shopped till you dropped.

Now it’s the time to ride the vintage M-Line trolley.

The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney Avenue
The Green Dragon lumbering down McKinney Avenue

Head to the Arts District, allegedly the biggest in the country, and wait at the St. Paul & Ross stop, near the Dallas Museum of Art, until you spot a trolley trundling down the street. It could be Rosie (1909) or the Green Dragon (1913), Matilda (1925), Petunia (1920) or Betty (1926.) Watch out for cars when you step off the curb-some drivers are either careless or naughty. An attendant will help you, anyway. The ride is free of charge but a donation is appreciated because the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is a nonprofit organization.

The motorman will greet you warmly. If there are small children with you or if you are a child at heart, he will let you step on the horn pedal. What fun! You sit on a hard-backed wooden bench and away you go, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

Motorman and attendant
Motorman and attendant

You ride along McKinney Avenue, past bars and restaurants and chic boutiques, all the way to the M-line Uptown Station, where the trolley is turned around on the turntable. You have enough time to stretch your legs and snap photos of your trolley. Some passengers alight, some board and the trolley starts again. You might decide to get off at the West Village and take a stroll, do a little window-shopping, or actual shopping, soak up the ritzy atmosphere, and maybe have a cocktail. You hop onto the next trolley back to where you started.

Turning round at Uptown Station
Turning round at Uptown Station

You can hop on and off at any of the stops, should you decide to do a little exploring. Do you feel like an elegant French meal? Step off at stop 9 and walk a few yards to the Saint-Germain Hotel. Are you in the mood for art and culture? The St. Paul & Ross stop is right next to the Dallas Museum of Art and round the corner from the Nasher Sculpture Center. The gardens at the Nasher are, in my opinion, the most beautiful in Dallas. Would you like to enjoy some peace and quiet? Head to Klyde Warren Park, an oasis in the middle of a busy city. If you are into local history, go to Greenwood Cemetery, where prominent citizens and veterans are buried.

Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day
Klyde Warren Park on a sunny day

 

 

Hours of operation
Monday: Thursday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday: 7a.m. to midnight
Saturday: 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday and holidays: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Go to www.matag.org for information about stops

A guided history walk of Guildford

The first time I ever heard the name Guildford was in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson, which I watched in Buenos Aires. The movie is about the Guildford Four, a group of people wrongly convicted of the 1974 IRA’s bombing of two pubs in Guildford, England.

In a surprising turn of events, I first visited Guildford a decade later with my now husband, who grew up in the area. I’ve been back many times in the intervening years, whether for sightseeing or shopping. Only recently did I become interested in local history, which spans from Anglo Saxon times to today. After a little digging, I came across the Guildford Town Guides, a group of voluntary guides that take visitors on themed walks around the city, free of charge. They encourage visitors to donate money, which each guide gives to the charity of their choice.

High Street seen from the bottom
High Street seen from the bottom

On my recent visit to my in-laws, I chose to do the Historic Guildford walking tour. The meeting point was under the Tunsgate Arch on the High Street. The arch was built in 1818 on the site of the demolished Tun Inn to protect sacks of corn from the rain, as the corn market took place on the High Street outside the Guildhall directly across the street. Guildford had been a market town since Saxon times and a market is what distinguishes a town from a village.

Our guide, Jennifer, met us there. The tour started at 2.30 on the dot. We started with a little history of the High Street. This is one of my favorite spots and I never tire of admiring its gentle towards the River Wey.

The High Street seen from the top
The High Street seen from the top. The Tunsgate Arch is on the left, the Classical looking construction with the columns.The clock on the right hangs from the guildhall’s wall.

The village of Guildeforde, such was its Anglo Saxon name, ran along one street, the present day High St. At the time, they used ditches as boundaries between town and country. The present-day North Street was known then as Lower Backside (cue giggles) and Sydenham Street was known as Upper Backside. There are still passages between houses that run from north to south to the countryside. One such passage is known as Jeffries’ Passage, named after a chemist. Our guide said, rather cheekily, that it was an unfortunate name. Would any British reader kindly enlighten me as to why?

Jennifer told us a little about some of the buildings there. For example, the site of the local branch of Lloyd’s Bank was Guildford’s first bank. The original shop sold silk and other expensive goods. It was so secure that other merchants started to leave valuables there for safekeeping. The silk merchant then came up with the idea of starting the town’s first bank. A couple of doors down from the bank is Russell House, home of portraitist John Russell (1745-1806.)

The former silk shop
The former silk shop

In the early 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, Guildford was the centre of the stagecoach era thanks to its strategic position between London and the south coast and the west of England. There were many turnpike inns along the street, such as the Angel Hotel, a posting house and livery. The oldest part of the building dates back to the 13th century. The black and white front is beautiful.

The Angel Hotel and Posting House
The Angel Hotel and Posting House

Another historic building on the High Street is the Guildhall, where a medieval guild used to convene. Two charters, one from 1259 granted by Edward III and one from 1488 granted by Henry VII, allowed the town to be governed by a mayor and “men of good repute” (merchants.) Thus, 13 men and a mayor ran Guildford until elections became mandatory in the 1830s.

The bottom part of the building dates from 1588 (the year of the Armada) and was used for committee meetings and trials. The original coats of arms on the windows are those of Elizabeth I, Anne of Denmark and Guildford. In the right hand corner is a set of original Elizabethan official measures. The other extant set is in Winchester.

The meetings room of the guildhall. The judge sat with his back to the window, the witnesses to his left and the accused to his right.
The meetings room of the guildhall. The judge sat with his back to the window, the witnesses to his left and the accused to his right.

The top part of the Guildhall was built in 1683 and housed the council chambers. It has the only source of heat in the building, a 1633 fireplace salvaged from a demolished house. The insert (metal bit) is Regency. The floor is askew because of old age.

The photographer was not tipsy, the floors are slanted.
The photographer was not tipsy, the floors are slanted.

The landing was added in the 1900s and was –I believe it still is- used as changing area for councilors and judges. This is where the robes are kept: red for aldermen, black for councilors and blue for honorary freemen. Each robe has a tag with the name of its wearer.

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Red robes for the aldermen

At the top of the High Street is Abbott’s Hospital (1619-1622.) George Abbott, a Guildford native, attended the Royal Grammar School and went on to become an Oxford don, bishop of London and Coventry and archbishop of Canterbury. He was grateful to his hometown for the education he received and founded this hospice for the poor. It was modelled after Oxford colleges with a quadrangle (yard) in the centre, a warden and a porter.

The quadrangle at Abbott's Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.
The quadrangle at Abbott’s Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.

Although men and women slept separately, there were common rooms for meals and a chapel. The place was financed by rents coming in from farms owned by the hospice. The building still functions as a hospice; an extension was built on the original garden in the 1980s. Prospective residents have to meet one or more of these conditions nowadays: having lived 20 years in Guildford, having served the country or have nowhere else to go.

Abbott's Hospital at the top of High St.
Abbott’s Hospital at the top of High St., opposite Holy Trinity church

We ended the visit in the Undercroft. This one dates from the 1290s and is located under a croft (Scots for house) near the bottom of the High Street. In the Middle Ages, undercrofts were used for storage: dairy in the north end because it was cooler and animals at the opposite end. This undercroft was thought to have been used as a shop, possibly selling wine from France. The borough rents the undercroft from the shop above and is open to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon from May to September.

 View of the undercroft.
View of the undercroft. Robert is wearing 13th century clothing. Guildford was a wool town and has a blue dye named after it. Guildfrod blue was made with local yellow flowers and urine.

There were people from all walks of life and ages in my group: locals who were interested in the town’s history, as were a couple of pensioners, tourists and university students (I was the only non-European, though.) I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and I sincerely recommend it.