Here’s a rundown of our Christmas travels 2011!! :)
Day 1 – Ash had celebrations at school that lasted until about 2:30 at which point we were on a bus to Chisinau to exchange monies, have lunch/dinner and catch our overnight bus to Brasov, Romania leaving at 7:30pm. All went well with only a minor hiccup when we realized we somehow exchanged our Moldovan lei for British pounds instead of Turkish Lira… happy we caught it before arriving in Brasov! Outside of the border crossing in which we had to get off the bus and show our luggage/passports both in Moldova and (an hour later) again on in Romania, the ride to Brasov went rather well.
Day 2 – We arrived in Brasov around 5:30am were we met the woman renting out the apartment we would be staying in for 3 nights… so nice!! We found it on www.airbnb.com … where you can find apartments or rooms for rent all over the world that are usually less expensive than staying in a hotel. Anyway, we then slept for a few hours before setting out in search for some brunch, we found a great place where we enjoyed croissants, coffee, a veggie omelet, and poached eggs for an incredible price… a great start to our vacation!! We walked around for a bit and attended a Christmas Eve church service in the historic and beautiful Black Church both the singing and message were in German, which made it all the more majestic (even if we couldn’t understand anything that was happening).
Day 3 – Merry Christmas!! We made ourselves mimosas (orange juice and champagne), which is a Christmas morning tradition for Ash’s family. After a long walk around Brasov, where it was lightly snowing (perfect for Christmas), we read for awhile in a local coffee shop and returned to our apartment to watch holiday movies before going out for a nice Christmas dinner. We made our way back to the center of the town where we took pictures in front of the Christmas tree and bought ourselves some vin fiert (malt wine) – yumminess!
Day 4 – We woke semi-early (actually setting an alarm on vacation – wow) and took a bus up into the mountains to Poiana, a ski resort, just for the pleasure of being “in” the mountains and seeing the trees covered in snow. We walked around for awhile and then took the bus back down into Brasov where we decided to check out the gondola just outside the old city walls. We took the gondola up, up, up and then after enjoying the view and taking a ridiculous amount of pictures we made our way down, down, down on foot…. Perfect! After a coffee break, absolutely necessary of course, we made fools of ourselves ice skating but had a blast in the process.
Day 5 – Said goodbye to Brasov and hello to Istanbul via train from Brasov to Bucharest and flight from Bucharest to Istanbul. The flight was delayed, but we finally arrived in Istanbul around 7pm and quickly got lost after taking a cab and ferry to the neighborhood of our next apartment… after speaking with many cab drivers one gracious gentleman actually called the woman we were renting our apartment from and she ended up meeting us just a couple of blocks from the apartment without issue. And then sleeps…
Day 6 – Walked around the Asian side of the city and found a great local café were we enjoyed our first cup of Turkish coffee… we were instantly hooked. A short ferry ride later we were on the European side and found ourselves looking at the marvels that are the New Mosque, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar, Spice Market, and every side street that leads to new and exciting areas of the city. Slightly exhausted we headed back to our apartment, found dinner on the way and ended the evening watching a movie.
Day 7 – Up bright and early and on the ferry for our amazing Turkish bath experience at Suleymani Hamami (the only Turkish bath for couples in Istanbul that we know of). Basically we sat on hot marble for half an hour while sweating more than we ever have in our lives (sounds appealing doesn’t it? It gets better I promise), after which we were scrubbed, bubbled (bubbles!!), and massaged for another 30 minutes. Lovely and relaxing… the best way to complete said experience was to find a orange juice stand and enjoy two large glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice as soon as possible afterwards. :) Life is good :) For lunch we shared a ridiculously large sandwich from a street vendor and walked around the Galata Tower and Taksim neighborhoods for hours before grabbing a couple of beers and Turkish pizza and heading back to the apartment.
Day 8 – Our last day in Istanbul… sad face. Wondered around the Asian side some more and ate what we dubbed a breakfast tocaniţa – basically, pure yumminess in the form of scrambled eggs and veggies all mixed together! Finally we made our way to the airport via the metro and arrived in Capadochia (central Turkey – look it up!!) around 9:30pm.
Day 9 – Happy New Years Eve!! Enjoyed breakfast and tea at our hostel before heading out for a long walk/hike around Capadoccia – gorgeous and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. We found a local café and shared some spectacular lentil soup and fresh baked bread with Turkish coffee. We are now hooked on both Turkish coffee and lentil soup – we’ll be giving both a try in the kitchen at some point in the near future. :) For New Years night we found a great local restaurant where we enjoyed some great food and live Turkish music… the music was done by a father and son with the father playing a drum and singing and then son playing a Turkish guitar, absolutely beautiful. Another unexpected find…
Day 10 – Hello 2012!! Went on our first “official” tour ever after finding out there wasn’t any way via public transportation to reach a couple of different sites that we really wanted to see before leaving Capadochia… decided it was definitely worth it in the end (it’s called the Green tour throughout the region so if you ever find yourself in Capadochia check it out!). It started with a panoramic view, beautifully breathtaking, but ridiculously windy. Then a short ride to see an underground city, the largest in the region, where people used to live in order to find safety from attacks. On to the Ihlara Valley with a short, but very worthwhile hike along the river at the bottom of a stunning canyon ending at our lunch spot. After lunch we had a bit of a longer ride to see one of the many cave monasteries in the region – imagine a labyrinth of rooms built into the side of a mountain… incredible. Last stop was a local artisan center, aka an obvious ploy to get us to buy jewelry (although it was beautiful) and finally back to the center of Goreme (the name of the town where we stayed, Capadochia is the region name). We finished our day with a bowl of lentil soup, homemade hummas, fries (which one of these is not like the other? Haha) and some delicious tea. Perfect!
Day 11 – Ridiculously early morning alarm at 4:00am to be on the shuttle to the airport by 4:30. Easy flight back to Istanbul where we spent the day wandering, finished with going to see Mission Impossible 4 (don’t judge :) to pass the time and rest our tired legs. We drank Turkish coffee for the last time and found some beautiful traditionally painted mugs to remind us of the city. On to the train at 10pm … yay to first class sleeper cars!! Boo to border crossings at 3:30am!!
Day 12 – Day on the train!! Note to self (and others :) – there are not restaurant cars on every train regardless of the length of the trip, so pack snacks!! Yay for reading, enjoying the country side of Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, listening to music, talking, playing games, drinking French press coffee, and generally enjoying the trip back to Moldova!! Next stop Bucharest… We had only 25 minutes between one train and the next, but managed to get food and find our train without any problems. The train from Bucharest to Chisinau only got better … We didn’t even have to get out at the border crossing between Romania and Moldova – so spoiled!!
Day 13 – Arrived in Chisinau safe and sound around 9am and there you have it!!
We hope that everyone else was able to have as blessed of a holiday as we were. We definitely missed our family and friends back home and look forward to when we can spend our holidays together again. Love and light to you all and Happy New Year!!