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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

397: Krasnodar - a quick in and out

After my few days in Istanbul I flew from there to Krasnodar in Southern Russia. Neither Turkey nor Russia concern themselves overmuch with night flights bothering the populace so my flights in and out of Russia were in the middle of the night. I sneaked up on them as it were. Except that you can't sneak up on Russia as you have to apply for a visa beforehand and give them most of your life history. So as soon as you land they know all about you........
I went to Krasnodar to visit an old friend of mine, an English guy who had been teaching English out there. He's really quite ill so I thought a morale-boosting visit from me would be appreciated. And so it turned out. 
One of the first things I wanted to do was change my left-over Turkish Lira into Roubles. I tried all over town but to no avail. The banks in Krasnodar are interested in buying and selling US Dollars or Euros. Nothing else. Not even the once noble Sterling. After I'd tried a few banks I began to lose my temper and called them a Third World country. Well, they might, or might not, be a Third World country but calling the bank staff names wasn't going to change the price of bread. I realized I had gone too far and took the rest of the day off to allow my mood-meter to swing back to its more usual happy(-ish) position. The next day was a different day entirely and I notched up a major success with the Unicredit bank. I had left a little bit of money in there when I left Moscow a few years ago. Then I lost my bank card and from that moment on I had no way of getting at my money from abroad, try as I might. So it was very nice, last Friday, to walk out of the bank with my £150. No great sum, I know, but my sense of achievement knew no bounds. The piece of paper that we filled in to get at the money was signed in several places by me, then by their 'expert', then by their 'senior expert' and then by their cashier. If you want to know about bureaucracy go visit a Russian bank. But not the one shown here. It is defunct. It is no more. The sign says "Attention:the bank doesn't work (closed)" The inference being, closed for ever. This is Russia - banks come and banks go.
Flushed with success, I made my way to the nearest cake shop (пекарня) which happened to be called, somewhat intriguingly, "Patrick and Mary". Here, as well as nice coffee and cake, there was a glass for tips which had a cardboard sign sticking out of it emblazoned with "for our smiles". Surprisingly (?), the glass was empty of coins. I put a couple of coins in out of gratitude for my irony fix. It is possible to make Russian people smile but it is not always easy to do.

I stayed in a cheap (and cheerful) guest house because I hadn't wanted to spend too much money in case my visa was refused. It was strange. There was no dining room so breakfast, such as it was, was brought to your room because there was no dining room.  All part of life's rich tapestry! Please excuse the partial thumb print on the photo!

Today's video clip has to be "back to the USSR"

Sunday, 21 January 2018

396: Do the hustle (Turkish delights). Alternative title: round the horn.

I fell for it - the oldest trick in the book. There was I, earlier this week, walking over Galata bridge in Istanbul, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard something drop to the floor. I turned to look and it was a shoe brush, which had fallen (did it fall or was it pushed?) from the shoe clean boy's kit. Being the gullible soul that I (sometimes) am, I picked it up and called to him. He thanked me profusely and then, somehow, the very next second he was halfway through cleaning my shoes! I was left with no choice but to pay him for the unasked for service. The shoes did look nice I must say, but not for long as it was a wet, dreich, kind of day with lots of puddles everywhere. 
From there I went down to the lower level of the bridge and ordered some lunch from one of the fish restaurants there. You can't visit Istanbul without eating at a fish restaurant on Galata bridge. There are probably 10-20 restaurants on the bridge and they all have hustlers outside inviting you to come inside and try their wares because theirs is the tastiest and the best value. It is the same walking around the restaurants just off Taksim Square - they all seem to have a man standing outside whose only job is to help you part with your money by eating in their august establishment. They have my every sympathy - this time of the year it is rather cold standing outside trying to drum up business, especially in the evenings - they were wrapped up to the nines. 
The map shows Istanbul with the Sea of Marmara to the South (which then leads, past Galipoli and through the Dardanelles, to the Med), the Bosphorus snaking off to the North East to the Black Sea and the Golden Horn to the North West. I took the almost obligatory boat trip on the Bosphorus. Of course, once I got back, everywhere I looked had cheaper prices than I had just paid. That's life.

Istanbul then - rip-off city. But for all its faults I like it very much. The gateway between Europe and Asia. This was my third visit and I may well go back again. 

hot chestnut sellers (the chestnuts were hot, not the sellers)

This pulley was at the top of the funicular up to Taksim

Two video clips today - how could I not? Pan's People dancing to Van McCoy doing the hustle in 1975 and 'Round the Horne' from some time in the 60s!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

395: Late? or early?

One of the great joys of being (semi-)retired, and living on my own for most of the time, is that I can do things on a whim. Yesterday's 'whim' wasn't altogether successful when I stood waiting for a bus at two different bus stop and saw the buses go whizzing past without stopping. I was not impressed at the time but, hey, no big deal. Eventually I ended up in Tarragona and the day managed to put itself back on an even keel.
Today's 'whim' involved a short trip to Reus, a lovely old town 15 minutes away by bus. This time I was standing at the right bus stop at the right time and the right bus stopped. Marvellous! Once I got to Reus I decided to wander around some streets I hadn't visited before. I took pictures of the following unusual, for me at any rate, sights:
Evidently Santa is still doing his rounds. Unless he's very early for next year...

A shop window display. These bears were all moving

A log with clothes and a face. The basket between its legs contained small packets of food.
For a video clip I thought of Donovan's 1960's hit: "sunshine came softly through my window today" - because it did! Roll on Spring!