Friday, January 30, 2015

Budget stay at Nobel Hostel @ Istanbul, Turkey

Near to Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Located just behind those landmark. Good breakfast, clean bedroom and wifi function well. I went there during winter and the heater is water based which is good. Around the hostel has many restaurants to hang out. However, you may watch out for narrow stairs. Need to be careful when carrying heavy luggage via the stairs in this hostel. I was lucky to get first floor which only need a short stair walk. There is also not enough power plug in the room. The room that I stayed have 4 beds but only have 3 power plugs. Due to this, I have problem to charge my electronics items as all power plug were occupied. The bathroom is limited with only one bathroom with toilet together on each floor.

Rating:8/10(Recommended. Good for budget and solo traveller. A clean room is all you need to enjoy istanbul).
Price: The price that I paid is around MYR50/EUR12 a night. Its quite reasonable as the location is good and near to many attractions and eating places.

Nobel Hostel.

Breakfast provided. Cheese are provided.

Simit or sesame bread ring provided as breakfast.

Very healthy breakfast. Olives and cucumbers. Very fresh and sweet.

Very sweet and tasty green grapes.

4 beds in a room.

Double decker bed.

Good view of Blue Mosque if you walk up to the top floor of Nobel Hostel.

Street view nearby Nobel Hostel.

Overlooking New City of Istanbul.

Be careful with the stairs.

GPS/Coordinate: 41.005163, 28.978767
Address: Mimarmehmet Aga Sk. No:16 Sultanahmet, Fatih, 34112 Istanbul, Turkey
Public transport: 10 minutes walk from Sultanahmet tram station.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Underworld of Basilica Cistern @ Istanbul, Turkey

Basilica Cistern which was built underneath the city of Istanbul is the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul. It was constructed using 336 columns and built symmetry. Its an amazing feat to have such symmetry and built underground during the time back in 6th Century. It was built to store water delivered via 20km aqueducts from a reservoir near the Black Sea. It was closed down by the Byzantine emperors and was forgotten by city authorities until rediscovered in 1545 by scholar Petrus Gyllius. During that time, Petrus Gyllius was told by the local residents that they are able to obtain water by lowering buckets into a dark space below their basement floors. Some are even able to catch fish from there. Based on this discovery, Gyllius explored the neighbourhood and accessed the cistern through one of the basements. The cistern was cleaned and renovated in 1985 by the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality and opened to the public in 1987. Basilica Cistern is now one of the Istanbul most popular tourist attractions. When you walking along its raised wooden platforms, you will feel the water dripping from the vaulted ceiling and water ponds with swimming fishes below the platforms.

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici) dated back in 532.

Huge columns was built in symmetry. Water pond below served as a reservoir previously.

Write up about Basilica Cistern and Medusa.

Main attraction is the Medusa head. War weapon to turn enemies into stones?

90 degree rotated Medusa head. No one know exactly why the head were rotated that way. Its still a mystery until today.

Lighten up columns in Basilica Cistern.

Walking on the wooden platform.

Fishes underneath the wooden platform.

GPS/Coordinate: 41.008368, 28.977835
Address: Alemdar Mh. Yerebatan Cd 13 34410 Fatih/İstanbul
Entrance fee: 20 Turkish Lira for foreigner.
Public transport: 8 minutes walk from Sultanahmet tram station.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beautiful Hagia Sophia @ Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia is a holy place which during the history of the building it was a church and a mosque. The architecture are impressive. Now it is converted to a museum. Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Its interior is decorated with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings of great artistic value. You can learn about the historical event by visiting here. I went there in the evening on weekday during month of December and the queue was short. The ticket cost 25 Turkish Lira. Hagia Sophia is just 5 minutes walk and easily accessible from Istanbul Tram Sultanahmet station.

Huge number of visitors in Hagia Sophia. The left section of the museum were closed for restoration work. Hagia Sophia is the second most visited museum in Turkey after Topkapi Palace.

Medallions and pendant chandeliers.

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements.

Apse mosaic of the Theotokos (Virgin Mother and Child).

An artistic meeting of Christianity and Islam in the Hagia Sophia.

The architecture are huge and amazing.

Islamic elements on the dome.

Interior dome.

Walking thru building tunnel to second floor.

Hagia Sophia interior view from second floor.

The Deësis mosaic. This mosaic depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, who holds a scroll and makes the sign of benediction.

Another unique mosaic in the museum.

GPS/Coordinate: 41.008559, 28.980164
Address: Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Public transport: Sultanahmet Istanbul Tram station.

Turkish coffee making demonstration @ Istanbul, Turkey

Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi is a famous Turkish coffee shop in Turkey. I visited their outlet in Spice Bazaar and you can see the long queue of people just to buy their coffee. Since I am not a coffee drinker, I just brought a small packet for myself to try. In order to make Turkish coffee, you need a good ground coffee powder. Then you will also need a cezve which is a small pot with long handle to heat the coffee over charcoal. Below I have snap the sequence process of making Turkish coffee and also to show how does Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi coffee shop look like.

Small pot with a long handle. Known as "Cezve" in Turkey.

Start the Turkish coffee making by mixing water and ground Turkish coffee powder.

The mixture of coffee powder and water were heated over low heat. Keep stirring the mixture.

The staff at the restaurant demonstrates the Turkish coffee making process.

My cup of strong Turkish coffee. Do notice of the foam on the coffee. Strong taste and fragrant. Never stir the coffee once it's in the cup. Make sure that you sip it gently so as not to disturb the grounds.

Long queue to buy Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi coffee in Spice Bazaar Istanbul.

Packaging of coffee were done by hand at Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi shop.

Pillow packets of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi coffee in many sizes.

Cekilmis Kahve(pricing of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi coffee by weight). Famous Turkish coffee of Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi. Do try out their coffee when you visit Istanbul.

GPS/Coordinate: 41.016587, 28.970092
Address: Tahtakale Mh. 34116 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey. The shop is located in Spicy bazaar. Walk towards the Yeni Cami Mosque (New Mosque/Valide Sultan Mosque).
Public transport: Istanbul Eminonu tram station.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prince William Sound Cruise via 26 Glacier Cruise by Phillips Cruises @ Whittier, Alaska

I visited Prince William Sound during September 2014 to view the spectacular glaciers formation. The timing however is not so good as it was among the wettest month in Alaska. But I don't have much choice since I came here on the extension from a business trip. I visited Prince William Sound via 26 Glacier Cruises tour package from Phillips Cruises. The journey start at 9.30am from Anchorage and return to Anchorage at 7.00pm on the same day. The cruise will departs at 12.30pm and ended at 5.30pm. Yes, the whole cruise is 6 hours long. During the whole 5 hours, its just around 2 hours you will get to see beautiful glaciers. The rest of the time is used for travelling. Since I will travel from Anchorage, I book their transport as well.

The timeline of the journey as below:
9.30am : Departed from Captain Cook Hotel located at 5th Avenue in Anchorage. You will board the Magic Bus.
10.30am : Arrived Gridwood for short break.
11.00am : Enter the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The tunnel is 4.1 kilometres and it is longest combined rail and highway tunnel in North America. Do take note that this is a single lane tunnel. The one-way tunnel operates on a schedule to allow traffic to pass. If you missed the time, you will have to wait for another hour.
11.30am : Arrived Whittier.
12.00pm : Since there is still time before the cruise check in time, the bus tour guide drive us around Whittier which can be visited in less than 30 minutes. The village is so small that the population is only around 200-250 persons. Most of the population resides in one huge apartment building.
12.30pm : Board the cruise ship to start the glacier tour.
5.30pm : Reached Whittier.
7.00pm : Reached Anchorage.

Do bring jacket for this tour as weather in Alaska is very unpredictable and temperature does drop significantly when the boat approaching glacier. It was raining and cold during my cruise day but this does not hinder me from having good photos. This is the only cruise company which offer Prince William Sound glacier tour up to end of September. Most of the tour companies ended their glacier tour at mid September. Besides glacier, you will also see specular mountain views and the ranger narration onboard does give great insight about the area and direction on what to look out for.

Rating:9/10(I satisfied with the tour although it was raining half of the journey. The captain trying his best to bring us to the best glacier view and not going to the smaller glaciers. Although it was advertised as 26 glaciers cruise but you don't get to see them all. I think I only seen about 6-7 if I not mistaken).

Travelling from Anchorage to Whittier via Magic Bus. Depart from Captain Cook hotel.

The weather is not so good during the day of the tour. Cloudy skies.

Beautiful scenic views at Turnagain Arm and Cook inlet.

Scenic Turnagain Arm with mountains slope towards the sea.

Very cloudy day with rain noticed at far mountains side.

Non stop continuous mountains view. The Alaska Railroad Corporation track located beside the main highway.

Dangerous mudflats.

Stop by Gridwood for toilet break. Tourist trap souvenir shop.

Deer head replica in the tourist souvenir shop.

Typical tourist souvenir shop selling clothing with word "Alaska" imprint.

Continuing the journey to Whittier.

The last part of journey to Whittier. There is schedule that we need to follow to enter this Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This is a one way tunnel and only allow one direction to pass by the tunnel each hour. Once you missed the time, you will have to wait for another hour to go back to the other side. This is the only road/land transport available to reach Whittier.

Inside the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel also known as Whittier tunnel. Its dark and vehicle travelled on top of railroad. Interior is exposed rock.

Approaching the end of the tunnel.

Begich Towers. More than half the population of Whittier stays in this building. Inside there is school, police station, hospital, grocery store and apartments. It is truly a city under one roof. The population in Whittier is very low. The harsh weather with high rainfall, cold and limited access have contributed to the low population.

Reindeer in cage near the huge building.

26 Glacier Cruise by Phillips Cruises

Boarding the huge catamaran Klondike Express.

Boarding pass and seat map. The ship was half empty when I boarded the ship.

The view inside the ship. Its a huge catamaran. Comfortable ride, stable and not much people getting seasickness.

The tour come with one lunch. I choose the Alaskan Amber beer battered cod fish served atop Alaska Chip Company potato chips with freshly prepared coleslaw. The meal was good and the coleslaw were tasty. The fish were delicious. I would give 8/10 rating for this fish and chips. There are other lunch options such as white meat chicken strips with chips, teriyaki bowl with tofu, vegetables and brown rice served with rice pudding and all beef hot dog which were their kids meal.

Travelling on the ship.

First sight of glacier flowing downwards. You can see how cloudy it was on that day.

Glaciers will illuminates in blue when skies are cloudy and dark.

Beautiful large glaciers.

Approaching glaciers on icy water.

Mint chocolate Polar Bear Smooch given.

Map on the display screen showing the current location and orientation.

Ice on dark water.

Water flow from mountains.

Me enjoying the cold weather. Its rainy and wet day.

Harriman glacier.

Me with Harriman glacier. Fortunately my leather jacket have extra layer of wool inside and I am wearing a layer of thermal wear. Else its freezing cold.

The thin flow of waterfalls looks very beautiful on foggy weather.

Another selfie with icy water.

Very cold day. The temperature maybe around -5 C.

Loud thunder sound when glacier broke.

Large chunk of glacier flowing down.

Large piece of ice broke away from the huge glacier.

Blue colour of glacier.

The glacier is like blue crystal. Glacial ice is not just frozen compacted snow. There are other things in the ice that make it much different from the ice in your home. Glaciers move through rock and soil as they carve their way down a slope. This means the ice is going to have a lot more ingredients than just water.

At almost the end of the glacier tour, we were served freshly baked hot chocolate cookie. Its delicious. I would give 9/10 for the cookie.

Shop selling drinks, snacks and souvenirs on board the ship.

Approaching Whittier.

Buckner Building are the huge famous abandoned government building at the back. It was constructed by the military in 1953 as a combined mess hall, sleeping quarters, recreational, medical and administrative facility and was formerly one of the largest buildings in Alaska.

Port of Whittier.

Back to the bus heading back to Anchorage. Hope you have a good read here covering from beginning of the trip until the end of the day.

GPS/Coordinate: 60.777668, -148.697239
Address: Phillips Cruises and Tours, W Camp Rd, Whittier, AK 99693
Fees: 26 Glacier cruise ticket price at USD149.00. There is tax and fees at USD19.95. If you need return transport from Anchorage to Whittier, please add another USD55.00. The total sums up to be USD223.95 for one adult).