Film: Early Man

Reading time: < 1 minute...

Val and I went to the Odeon today to see the recently released, Early Man. This was a very family friendly film from Aardman’s Nick Park, who’s been away from our screens since his Wallace and Gromit short, A Matter Of Loaf And Death for the BBC in 2008.

The car-park was surprisingly full when we arrived for the 2.15 showing, but on looking at what was on offer when we picked up the tickets inside, we couldn’t work out what everyone was there to see. Strange!

Well, certainly no-one had flocked to ‘our’ film as Screen 3 was mostly empty – but as things turned out, it was probably their loss, as it turned out to be a mega giggle-fest.

The plot is 100% predictable (which makes a pleasant change these days), and forget everything you know about the Stone-age/Bronze age – this isn’t a history programme! Instead, consider the following: If you like your sheep to be called Shaun, your puns delivered with the rapidity of a machine-gun, and your gags on the very visual side – this is a must-see. Consequently it’s guaranteed to leave you with a massive smile on your face!

As a bonus for the grown-ups, a large part of the fun is working out who is doing the voices. If you stick around for the credits, there’s more than a few, “Oh, it’s him” moments to savour!

Laptop Coaching: Return to the Store

Reading time: < 1 minute...
Old Logo
Today, we revisited the Windows 10 ‘App Store’, now renamed the ‘Microsoft Store’ to see what’s changed.
New Logo

Turkish Delight: Day 3 – Istanbul (Mosque Mania)

Reading time: 3 minutes...

The Blue Mosque and The Hagia Sophia are right here on our doorstep, but every day we’ve passed them, the queues have been far too long.

As it’s our last full-day here in Istanbul, the plan today is to have an early breakfast and try and get to them both ahead of the crowds.

We’re also going to squeeze in a local Bazaar near the Blue Mosque and the Cistern Baths.

It seemed to be a good plan as there were no queues at all at The Hagia Sophia. Here are a few facts about the Mosque/Cathedral…

  • One of the largest Cathedrals in the World
  • Over 1500 years old
  • Great examples of Byzantine Art and Architecture
  • Has also been a Mosque
  • Now a Museum

There is plenty to see here, and it runs to TWO floors…

…with some stunning mosaics…

…and as you would expect, it’s a pretty big place.

Currently though, there’s a lot of scaffolding in place as extensive renovation work continues, so it was best to look UP rather than ACROSS!

Next stop was Cistern Baths (Basilica Cistern). It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine emperor Justinian and is an underground chamber filled with columns partly submerged in water. Back in the day, this is where the locals collected their fresh water supplies.

We steered ourselves round a horde of oriental tourists all armed with the obligatory selfie sticks and headed for the ticket booth. Moments later, and for just 20TL (£3.75), we were soon heading down some very wet stairs into the darkness. It was more-or-less pitch black down there save for a few strategically placed downlighters.

There were plenty of signs up to warn visitors NOT to use flash, but that wasn’t stopping the hoards of camera-phone users regularly lighting-up the whole place. Clearly some enforcement was required here, if the relics weren’t to suffer! It was only the fact that our ‘proper’ camera was able to function (to a degree) in the dark that we got any pictures at all!

Whilst I recognise to need not to flood the place with lighting, it could have done with some ‘smarter’ type of lighting – it was almost impossible to see the settings on the camera and I think we ended up deleting far pics more than we kept.

Film fans will be pleased to hear that a James Bond film has been shot here (From Russia with Love) as well as one of the recent Dan Brown novels (Inferno). Worth a look, but watch your step, as it’s very slippery.

Continuing our Mosque Mania tour, next on our list was The Blue Mosque. Here come those factoids…
  • Built between 1609 and 1616 years, during the rule of Ahmed I
  • Erected on the sight of the old Royal Palace
  • Sedefhar Mehmet Aga was the Project Manager
  • The Mosque its name from the blue tiles on the interior
  • Also known as ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’

Once again, there were no queues and after removing our shoes (placing them in the handily supplied plastic bags) and Ann ‘scarfing-up’, we were in! Good to see that the officials on duty were suitability-checking head-gear – I saw at least one disrespectful ‘twatty’ trying to get in by using her ‘hoodies hood’ as a head-covering’ – and it obviously failed because later, inside, she was wearing a brown scarf!
Thumbs up
Being an active Mosque, it was a lot busier, but somehow, it all felt a bit lack-lustre

We’ve seen quite a few Mosques on our travels and I think all-in-all, although impressive, it wasn’t quite as ‘Wow!’ as some we’ve seen elsewhere. Still worth a visit though!

Then it was off to the local Bazaar – not so many Spice Shops though these days, mostly Jewellers and Carpet/Cushion retailers! – Oh, and quite a few obligatory cats too!

This led us to the entrance to imaginatively titled Mosaic Museum – not surprisingly, a museum full of ancient mosaics (from the site of the Emperor Justinian’s Palace).

Most of the 6th century finds were from excavations in the 20s, 30s and 50s, these were a great collection from times-gone-by – and all in pretty good condition too!

Impressive stuff and so much variety too! – Eagles, Deers, Snakes, Ducks and a horned, winged Tiger-ey thingy!

Our final morning stop was due to be the Carpet Museum but (as we discovered later) some little funster had turned the road sign round and consequently we headed-off in completely the wrong direction. We didn’t quite end up in Syria, but it felt like we’d travelled about the same distance!
Sad smile Sad smile

On re-treading re-tracing our steps, we did eventually find it, but by then, we’d lost the Wilton will to live and headed back the Hotel for some well-deserved R and R!

Into the afternoon, and a trip to nearby restaurant territory – just across the road from the Mosques. We settled on Sura Restaurant (but there were loads to choose from) and it turned out to be outstanding, both in service and food quality and quantity.

Then it was back to the Hotel to pack, update the Blogs, ready for the taxi tomorrow morning. We finished the day with a Netflix Binge:- ‘Designated Survivor’.
Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up Thumbs up

Wow! It’s been a great break in the old part of the City and we feel we’ve got a real measure of the land, the people and the culture. It has been cold though, and I think that ‘took the shine off it’ a little. Still, I’m sure we’ll be back!

“Güle güle” Istanbul!

All the photographs from our short trip to Istanbul can be viewed HERE

Turkish Delight: Day 2 – Istanbul (Turkey on a Bus)

Reading time: 3 minutes...

Turkey on a Bus? No, not a packed lunch! Today, we took the easy way for seeing Istanbul – by Bus! – courtesy of Big Bus Tours. The morning trip was the ‘Red Route‘ and in the afternoon, the ‘Blue Route‘. Total cost, just under £30 each and that included both routes (free wi-fi too).

The Red Route is a two-hour hop-on-hop-off tour taking in over 20 landmarks. We picked up the Bus near the two Mosques in Sultanahmet, just a short walk from our hotel.

11.15. We’re off! It’s a cold morning, but they’ve thoughtfully closed the roof on the Bus to keep the heat in (what heat?) pic In hindsight, choosing to sit upstairs wasn’t one of our better decisions of the holiday – Even with the roof ON, it was freezing! Eventually, we moved to the lower deck where it was a healthy +2C
Sad smile

Maybe because it was a Saturday, but the majority of the trip consisted of moving from one traffic-jam to another (Istanbul can be a busy place by car). So, all-in-all, temperature and traffic combined, it turned out to be all a bit lack-lustre. I’m sure if the weather had been warmer, and the traffic quieter, it would have been more enjoyable – over 20 stops should be a really good way to get a sense of scale of this ancient city.

Symbolically (and eventually) we did cross the Bosphorus Bridge from Europe into Asia – and back again.

Because of the continued traffic congestion, our trip got us back to base a little later – at 1.30pm. We decided that as it was so cold (even with gloves, scarves and a double-layer), extreme measures were called-for in preparation for our second bus-trip of the day – the Blue Route.

So, it was a quick walk canter back to the Hotel, grab a hot drink, a nibble and then ‘suit-up’ with even more layers – and even a hat! (have you seen me in a hat? Scary stuff!)

We had about 20 minutes for the top-up of clothes before the Blue Route departed – and we made it with about 5 minutes to spare. The reason for taking this route was that it took us in the direction of a very, very (very) old Church in the old city – St Saviour in Chora – dating back to 1315. Armed with just a map and a heavy sense of purpose, we jumped off the Bus just a few stops later and headed into what could be described as ‘authentic Istanbul’. Of the four people we stopped and asked for directions, none spoke any English, but the international language of ‘pointing’ and ‘waving hands about’ worked – and after a thirty-minute yomp (mostly uphill) we eventually got to this unique destination.

Was it worth it? Oh yes! Although the Church was mostly closed-off because of extensive renovation work on its ancient collection of mosaics and frescos, what we did see was beautiful… and some!

We took a more direct walk back to base – a south-easterly direction taking in the following roads: Macar Kardesler Caddesi, Sehzade Basi Caddesi, Vezneciler Cad and then followed the Tram route back to where we’d started this morning. Macar Kardesler Caddesi and Sehzade Basi Caddesi were a bit like Oxford Street back in London although the first 20 or 30 shops (really!) were all Wedding Dress specialists – very bizarre… but definitely NOT a Bazaar!

Still, it would keep most most betrothed guys happy as Istanbul must be one of the few places in the world where you can literally pop next door for a Kebab, whilst the other-half is trying on her wedding shoes!
As we continued our walk, Retail Outlets gave way to loftier matters in the shape of the Monument Fatih…

and the magnificent  Valens Aqueduct

And of course, you don’t have to walk far here to encounter a Mosque you’ve not seen before – and this afternoon’s walk was no exception…

Another 25 minutes and we were soon back to familiar Mosques in the shape and size of The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia – and therefore close to base. We were feeling pretty smug having walked ALL the way back – some four kilometres (which is good for us – and good for us!!). Next stop? Feet up for a few hours before heading out, back into the city in search of an evening meal.

7pm: Off into the City to find some nosebag! We didn’t need to travel far – five minutes later, we were being offered a seat in The Han an authentic looking Turkish restaurant, just down the hill from our Hotel.

Compared to a Saturday night back home, it was very quiet – but that meant we experienced great service! pic We managed Starters – Cheese Pancake for Ann, Mince Pancake for me…

…and then the main event – The Han Special Kebab…

…and to finish – A cup of Turkish Tea each…

Oh, and somewhere amongst that lot was a glass of white wine and two beers. Total cost? Just under £47! 🙂 We then took the short walk back to the Hotel for a spot of Netflix. Tomorrow is our last full day here and we aim to see:-

Service resumed?

Reading time: < 1 minute...

If you’re seeing this, it looks like Mr Google has sorted out the issue where posting Blogs with photos included weren’t posting. Now they are!

The Blue Mosque, Istanbul
The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Turkish Delight: Day 1 – Istanbul (Topkapi Palace and More)

Reading time: 3 minutes... With Istanbul’s ‘call to prayer‘ meaning there was no need for an alarm clock, we woke at around 7.15! Eeek! that’s 4.15am back at home! Oh joy! Smile And to add to the challenges, the weather forecast doesn’t look that good either – but on a more positive note, at least it’s going to be dry. First task of the day was to sample our first Turkish breakfast! There was plenty of variety – cheeses, cold meats, olives, yoghurt, corn flakes, fresh fruit, cheese-filled pancakes, spicy scrambled egg with peppers and chillies – an maybe most surprising of all, Soup-of-the-day!?? Confused smile With our bellies now full, we planned our day, and after a quick look at the local map, we decided to visit nearby Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Best of all, they’re both within walking distance of the Hotel! 🙂 However, although our two planned visits were on our doorstep, it’s very hilly in the old city, and together with the cobbled streets, it took a tad longer to arrive than we thought. First stop, as planned, was Topkapi Palace and with us being slightly ahead of the masses, we only queued for a few minutes (a lot different from when we left about an hour later – the queue was snaking almost beyond the barriers). We opted for the ‘Museum Pass‘, that for a paltry 85 TL (£17) each you gained access to a whole range of cultural stuff in Istanbul. Well, that’s what we expected – and the massive poster on the wall next to the ticket booths suggested the same. Not according to Captain Turk from the good ship Enter Prize (geddit!?), he insisted on 125 TL – in spite of Ann pointing to the 5 metre-tall sign next to his booth. He was having none of it, and so, to preserve Anglo-Turkish relations, we let him off! pic Whatever the price, it was worth it! There was so much to see here and it’s all been very well looked after… Beautiful and colourful architecture… …Stunning exhibits… …and plenty of decorated walls and ceilings. Before leaving, I just had to take a snip snap of this… DSCN2889         Confused smile Confused smile Confused smile Confused smile Confused smile
Next stop was Istanbul Archaeological Museum. DSCN2910 This was just as impressive and included the largest collection of sarcophagi sarcophagusses sarcophaguses sarcophagi we think we’ve ever seen – and fantastically well-preserved too. Spooky and impressive in equal measure! Wow! DSCN2918 The Museum seemed to be endless (in a good way)… …with a wide variety of exhibits… …across multiple floors… …a lot of it un-earthed when they were excavating the ground for the new Metro system here in Turkey..! …a few paintings too …and even a replica boat …more decorative archways too… …and totally OTT interiors… All-in-all a very welcome experience and well worth a LONG look! On our way out, we immediately noticed that the 85TL five metre sign had been replaced with one now proudly displaying 125TL! Captain Turk must be feeling more confident now! Smile
It was now getting on for 2pm, so we looked for a quick bite. This meant passing through the main area by the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque (photo below) Being a Friday, it was packed! And as we manoeuvred our way through the crowds, we headed further into the old city, looking for a restaurant that was more on the authentic side rather than designed for tourists (with prices to match!). Our search didn’t take long as we eventually stumbled over Akbiyik Balik Evi where our decision to eat there was ‘helped’ by the guy on duty outside whose job was clearly to encourage potential customers like us to ‘make the right decision’. He proceeded to recite every item (over 75) from the menu. After giving inmaking the right decision’ we were escorted inside where it was clear the staffing levels hadn’t been arranged by Sainsbury’s! – it seemed there was a waiter for every item on the menu!! Smile We were soon seated and helpfully (given the temperature outside) an electric fire was placed within scorching distance. We opted for the Mezé selection and it turned out to be delicious. The mackerel was so delicious, it was eaten before I took this photo! Smile £15 went a long way and we were soon attempting to leave having politely declined dessert and tea/coffee. It had all been a great experience (although I’m sure the Owner wanted us to spend more) – In hindsight, it’s a good job we hadn’t read many of the online reviews then, because this place came out with an average of 2.2 out of 5! We headed back to the Hotel for a short siesta before deciding to try out the Hotel’s restaurant – Matbah. Unlike Akbiyik Balik Evi the reviews here were that it was one of the best places to eat in Istanbul! Well, the restaurant punched well above its weight. The presentation was fantastic and it all tasted delicious. Just a pity it lacked atmosphere as we were the only two eating there! What did make us smile though was that it only cost 200.70 TL (£37.73) and that included a glass of wine and a service charge! Smile We finished the evening with a walk down to the Mosques and back. pic Mosque at night Tomorrow, we’re on the Bus enjoying a sight-seeing tour around Istanbul.

Turkish Delight: Day 0 – Istanbul (Arrival)

Reading time: 2 minutes...
We dropped Biscuit off at Val’s yesterday, leaving us all set for a early(ish) departure from ours. We left just after 7.15 and looking at the volume of traffic on the A14 & M6, we were soon reminded of the ‘joys’ of the daily commute! Next stop was Birmingham Airport and a date with a chocolate muffin! We’re boarding at 11.00am, and hopefully, unlike our snow-bound experience last time we were here, we should be away up, up and away without any fuss. Thoughtfully, to make us feel at home, Turkish Airlines had laid on a queue for the Departure Lounge! We later discovered that this was down to a passenger attempting to carry on a bag for someone else! I mean, really, is there anyone left on the planet that thinks that’s an OK thing to do!?!?! Luckily, through a combination of hand-gestures and a Translator, things were soon resolved – even though the bag was easily twice the size permitted! First impressions of Turkish Airlines? Our plane was 25 minutes late taking off, but the service on-board and the quality of the lunch more than made up for that. They even had a comprehensive multimedia system in the seat-backs – and that was in Economy Class! Looking ahead, it’s not the best week – weather-wise – to be heading for Turkey, but a deal’s a deal (and a good one too) so it would have been rude not to! …and I know we’ll make the most of it!  So, a new country and an untried Airline where our ultimate destination will be the Ottoman Imperial Hotel in the old part of Istanbul… It was a good flight and the Pilot even made up for the late take-off. Immigration at Istanbul was a different story however – gazillions of people were queuing to get through, and although the queue was moving (mostly), it still took us an hour to get through! Once we were in the Arrivals area, all we had to do was spot our name on a placard. There were only about 100 to choose from, but we soon spotted it, and were escorted out of the Terminal building by the ‘Taxi-Meister’ into the busy, busy (busy) Taxi area. Once on-board our transport, it was a trouble-free journey to the hotel and a VERY warm welcome by the staff. It’s an ‘olde-worlde’ type establishment but it has all the essentials – including blisteringly fast Internet and a coffee machine (what else do we need?) Thinking about our stay, if the weather turns out to be as predicted, over our next three full-days here we’ll make the most of Turkey on the inside – Museums and stuff like that. We can soak up the Sun and hunt for the infamous ‘Twizzlers’ on a future occasion. More tomorrow! Nighty-night!