Poland saw unspeakable hardship during WWII. My family traveled to Krakow several years ago and was delighted by the beautiful, historic town we discovered. Because my children were still too young, we didn’t tour the historic Jewish ghetto, and didn’t see Oskar Schindler’s factory. My heart still broke as I realized the horrific events that transpired to such a peaceful people, on such pristine ground, not only in the city but in further parts of Poland like Auschwitz. I will travel back there one day and pay my honor and respect to those who gave all during WWII.
While living overseas our family took one Thanksgiving break to tour London. Since I’m married to a WWII expert and enthusiast, of course we had to visit where PM Churchill and his staff kept the country running while the German’s pummeled the city. The simple, Spartan lifestyle they maintained is at once sobering and inspiring. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that Churchill kept to his usual routine which include naps as much as possible. Great minds need their rest, too.
As much as I love Moscow I decided to take my first adventure outside of Mother Russia. My daughter and I went to Istanbul, a short 3 hour flight from Moscow. It’s like going to FL if you live in NY–how different could it be?
Completely. Totally. Amazingly.
Istanbul is a feast of color, spice, and most of all, warmth from the Turks. I have never met such friendly, heart-warming people. Of course I “get” that many of the Turks I met wanted to sell me something, be it a great meal or a beautiful lamp. But the warmth of Turkey goes far beyond the vendor and the product. It’s in the heart of the people.
[We covered a lot of ground for the 4 short days we were there. The highlights of the trip included the Hag Sophia and Blue Mosque. But let me get to the important part–the shopping.
Shopping is the local past time in Istanbul. Do you want to find vanilla beans or saffron at great prices? Go to the Spice Market. A lamp or rug? The Grand Bazaar. Forget to get something when you were at either? Then hit up one of the dozens if not hundreds of gift shops that line the main drag, along which a super-modern tram runs at regular intervals.
The sights and sounds of Istanbul fed my writer’s muse, but the food, oh the glorious food, fed my earthly stomach in a wonderful way. Of all the delicious plates served to me, I still can taste the couscous “meatballs” that appeared to be held together with tomato paste and chili sauce.
The rug-buying experience for me was exceptional. I did my research before I went. I knew what kind of rug I’d want and what I absolutely did NOT want. I knew that the first price offered by the vendor would most likely be 2-3 times the value of the rug. You can find many tips (I especially appreciated the article at National Geographic.com) on the Internet.
What sold me on the vendor I chose was that I chose him, he wasn’t one of the many who approached me first in the Grand Bazaar. I was walking with my daughter and saw the type of rug I liked hanging above the doorway of a shop. When I did meet the vendor, I made it clear that I was in the market for something quite modest, and I wasn’t going to “b.s.” him. He in turn offered me the same respect, and from this initial base of understanding we were able to work together to find a deal that would please us both. Of course the most important thing is that I fell in love with the rug! There are many vendors and many styles of rug in Turkey. My suggestion is to be well-informed but then also be ready to enjoy the entire experience and savor the Turkish Chai (tea) with whichever vendor you choose. What worked for me was the Galeri Tanboga owned and operated by Emre Topuz. He’s located at Hahcilar Caddesi No 41 in the Grand Bazaar, and for more information you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m reading this off of a business card, so please understand that some of this information can change by the time you travel to Istanbul. But I wouldn’t wait to go–Turkey is now my top travel place, and I’m wondering if we can move there after Russia…
I’ve lived in Russia for over a month. An entire month–longer than most vacations, shorter than any Navy deployment I ever completed. Yet I feel the hands of the Russian culture as they beckon me to explore.
Reminders of this nation’s culture and history are everywhere. From the statues throughout the city, to the breathtaking views along the Moscow River, to the varied architecture, it’s obvious this is not a young country by any means. Moscow was founded in the middle of the 12th century. Keeps my own years in perspective–I’m still young!
What’s impressed me most is the constant flow of ideas for my writing. Whether I’m looking at a statue of Pushkin on the Old Arbat or watching folks sunbathe in Gorky park as I float down the river on a city cruise, ideas and themes abound.
I had an opportunity to visit Tolstoy’s estate, approximately 3.5 hours south of Moscow. Used to these types of bus tours, I packed appropriately. Knitting helps writing ideas come to mind, and I have a notebook with me at all times.
The bus ride was bumpy and seemed endless at times, until we wound through the town of Tyla and then into Tolstoy’s estate grounds.
The view as we started our walk is one I’ll always treasure and associate with Russia. The birch-lined road felt more like a cathedral as the sun filtered through the tallest boughs. The white bark contrasted with the lush greenery and it was clear this was a place of respite and serenity.
From the cafe-laden streets of Moscow to the majesty of one of Russia’s, and the world’s, greatest author’s home, I daresay this is a place for writers.