Wednesday, May 23, 2012

High culture - at low prices?

This post is not about one of my trips. I didn't leave the country for what I'm telling you about, not even the city. 

But it might be interesting for those of you who decide to come to Vienna, because that's what it's about: Vienna. Or, to be more specific, the Vienna State Opera. Or, to be more specific, how to go the opera and enjoy a show without having to pay huge amounts of money and dressing up like it's your wedding day. 

Music is important in Austria, what with all the famous composers who are (or rather were) Austrian. Therefore, for many people music is what brings them here. They come to experience the athmosphere that inspired Mozart or Schubert or Liszt or Wagner or Haydn or Beethoven (not an Austrian, but he still worked here) or Strauß father and Strauß son or any other of the many musical geniuses who lived and worked in Vienna (and Salzburg and other places, but for this blog's sake, this is just about Vienna now). 

Obviously, the history of the place is important too, all the architecture and the art and oh my, there really is a lot to see, do and experience in Vienna, I might even blog some more about it. But, to get back to what I'm talking about, music is just a very important part of the whole thing. 

You can always just get a CD or listen to classical music by Austrian composers on the internet, even. But to sit in a concert hall in Vienna and listen to an orchestra is a lot better, believe someone who's done both. There's the Musikverein, the Wiener Konzerthaus or places like the Kursalon Wien, where you can get a Concert & Dinner Package (although I, personally, find that just tasteless and disrespectful, I feel like the music deserves your full attention). Those places are all wonderful and definitely recommendable (apart from the ones including dinner, which can also be really tacky), but to get the real experience of Imperial Vienna, you probably should go see an opera or a ballet in the most beautiful venue possible, even if it's not by Mozart: 

Opernring 2
1010 Vienna

I don't have any pictures of the Opera on my computer and if I start searching now on my external hard drives, I might as well discard this post and you'll never find out what I'm trying to tell you. So just go to (the .at is important) and enter Wiener Staatsoper and the go to images and enjoy. 

I know the place is beautiful and huge and impressive and majestic. I went a few days ago - which got me the idea of this post - and I can tell you, when you walk around in there on carpeted floors and staircases between decorated pillars and gold-framed paintings and frescos in your pretty dress and high heels (or nice shirt and tie, if you're a guy) you feel almost like royalty. Seriously, the place is like a palace. 

OK, so this is a blog by a traveller for other travellers and here I am telling you how great it is to dress up elegantly and pay hundreds of euros (yes, hundreds - unless you don't care having a crappy view from your seat, then there's cheap(-ish) tickets too) to watch an opera or a ballet and in the interval have a six euro glass of champagne... am I crazy?! 

No, I'm not. 

I know that when travelling you don't have an evening gown with you, especially when backpacking. Usually, you wouldn't even have shoes nice enough to go to the opera with. I know that when travelling you can't spare that much money just for two hours of entertainment, no matter how special it is. Heck, most of us can't even spare that kind of money when we're not travelling, I know I can't (I took my mom to the opera for her birthday, I couldn't tell her no just because it's more than I can afford.). I know  that for a traveller it's even difficult to reserve a ticket weeks in advance, because we can't be completely sure we're really going to be in a certain place when we think we will, at least with backpacking that's the case. 

But there is a solution for all that. I wouldn't be rambling like this and trying to keep you reading for nothing, I have something for you: 

You can go to the Vienna State Opera for 3-4 euros. You can go to the Vienna State Opera in jeans and flipflops. You can go to the Vienna State Opera without having to save the date weeks in advance. And you still get the carpeted floors and the paintings and frescos and the pillars and the staircases and all that kitschy yet beautiful stuff. 

How? Standing! Yes, I'm serious. I've done it a few times and it's not as hard as you probably imagine it to be. 

Just check the schedule and see if there's something you'd be interested in and if there is, all you need is to take that day's late afternoon off from sightseeing. Standing tickets are available at a separate box office, which you find at a separate entrance to the building in Operngasse, on the left side of the building if you're looking at it from the Ring. The standing room box office opens 80 minutes before the show starts, so try to be there like 2 hours before the show starts, to make sure you get a ticket. That's because there's always a line, which only proves how awesome the standing room is. Simply bring a book for the wait (or your smartphone...), and bring a scarf, tie or large handkerchief. 

When you get to the counter, ask for the € 4 ticket for Stehparterre (perfect location). They only sell one ticket per person and you can't hold people's place in the line, that would be unfair to the other people waiting. As soon as you have your ticket they'll let you through to the standing room so you can choose where you want to stand and bind your scarf (or whatever) on the railing there. That'll be your spot and noone can take it from you, so you can leave again until the show begins and don't have to wait inside. 

During the show - and this is not exaggerated - you'll have perfect view of the stage, the acoustics in that section are also perfect and you can always lean on the railing behind you if you get a little tired from standing (which is not even 1,5 hours, it's 45+45 minutes, with a 15 minute interval). And, honestly, if you do get tired and want to leave after the first half, go for it, you only paid 4 euros. But it's really, really not difficult to stand - I've seen Swan Lake, the Magic Flute and the Flying Dutchman from the standing room and it was no problem. And I'm a lazy bastard! 

So there, this is how you can see a spectacular performance of world-class singers and dancers in one of the most beautiful venues of the whole of Austria (maybe even Europe) without having to dress up and spend all your money. 

Thank you for sticking with me and actually reading all of this. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Best shop in the Spice Bazaar

So, there's this place. This really nice place. It's cool too, this place. It's a shop, this place. And in my own personal opinion, it's the best shop in the Spice Bazaar /Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul.  Does this double name business confuse you? Sorry, both names apply, I just want make sure you really find the place! 

Now, what makes the place so special? The salesguy! The salesguy we talked to when we went there (like three times...) was extremely nice and funny, seriously. He's the one that inspired Point 3 in the post about 5 Things that I published a few weeks ago. His English is really good and his Spanish is simply amazing and his Sales Skills - I've got no words for those! Telling you that we went there three times should be enough to get the message across, right? I mean, I don't even wear scarves and I bought five! And three of those were presents and I don't usually bring home any souvenirs! Let me just tell you, the guy is good. 

Why is he so good at selling? Because he doesn't pressure you into buying anything. He makes you want his stuff (merchandise, of course, stop those dirty thoughts). And there's lots of stuff there: scarves in every colour and pattern you can imagine made of pashmina and silk and cotton and cashmere, beautiful framed tiles with islamic calligraphy, carpets and prayer rugs, clothes like kaftans and shirts in all sizes, plates and tiles and vases and bowls and ashtrays and cups, also there's bags and pillow cases - in short, if you've ever thought about converting your place into a setting for the next Arabian Nights movie, this is the place to go! 

And if you just want something nice for yourself or a present for someone (or someones) you like, it's the place to go as well. 

Now, I promised my new best friend that I'd tell everyone about his shop and so I will tell all of you dear three subscribers - I hope that's enough for him..? 

Anyways, this is where you find my friend: KARAM YUNUS

It's stall Nr. 16 in the Spice Bazaar / Egyptian Bazaar. That's on the right side when you come in from Eminönü, on the left when you come in from the back entrance. 

Here's the proof that he really exists: 

We're all best friends now!!!

Here's some random pictures of more of the stuff he sells - don't let the bad quality of the pictures fool you! It's just that I still haven't learned to adjust white balance and shutter time on my camera so pictures turn out horribly as soon as there's no perfect sunshine anymore... 

Some of the nice scarves and ornamental vases and plates. I swear this stuff looks pretty when you actually stand in front of it! 

Random cute bits and pieces that will scream "I went to Turkey and I love you so much!!"

But on a serious note, this blog post is not an exaggeration. This guy is smart, nice and funny and will help you find the perfect present for yourself or anybody else and on top of all that he's extremely fair when it comes to prices and you can be sure he's not ripping you off. Obviously, the same goes for his colleagues in the shop. If you don't believe me or think he might be having a bad day (he's human after all, I think), go and give it a try, compare the quality and prices there (after negotiation, obviously) to that in other shops and then you'll see for yourself. 

The various Bazaars are part of the sights you just need to see when you're in Istanbul, and I'm sure you'll enjoy walking through them; through this one just like though the Arasta Bazaar (which is highly overpriced, by the way, even though the products are almost the same) and the Grand Bazaar. Of course, you don't have to buy anything. But if you want to, do it here, because you'll get to combine shopping for presents with a nice chat about your country and theirs, culture and customs,... and you'll learn how to knot your scarves in a beautiful way that nobody else knows about - apart from the other customers of that specific shop! 

And when you meet my friend, tell him I sent you - the girl with the eyes that tell you the weather, maybe he remembers me. I hope you'll like it! 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do you like getting lost?

Because here, you will. But in a good way, don't worry. 

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul... what can I say about it? It's pretty grand. Look at it on any map, it's pretty much it's own district, there's entire streets in there. There's an inside part and an outside part and I bet there's sort of an underground part, because sometimes vendors will want to show you more of their merchandise by luring you down some stairs in a back room. You decide for yourself if you go with them or not, I know I didn't. 

So, because I'm really at a loss for words here ("Grand Bazaar is Grand" is really not much of a literary achievement for a writer...) I'll just post some of my favourite pictures. And then you just go yourself and explore and haggle and buy: souvenirs, bags, clothes, shoes, household articles, food, drinks, jewelery, accessories, etc etc etc 

Grand Bazaar is high.

Grand Bazaar is friendly. 

Grand Bazaar is surprising (and helpful when you're lost).

Grand Bazaar is pet-friendly. 

You can get everything here, from a future as a superhero to 1 million lamps.

You'll need breaks. Fortunately, there's cafés in there. And kebab stands. 

Marmeladetasche. You don't have to understand what that means. Just buy it and bring it to me, thank you.

Go, and may the force be with you. You'll need it!!

Evsen - a hotel recommendation.

I'm often lucky (knock on wood), especially when it comes to travelling (knock on wood again). I'm also somewhat supersticious, if you haven't noticed. But the reason I'm telling you this is that on this recent trip to Istanbul I was especially lucky with the hotel. 

Hotel Evsen 
Ibnikemal Cad. No: 19 

This hotel is right in the middle of everything there is to see in the Old Town of Istanbul. Seriously! For real! You're in walking distance of the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, Galata Bridge and Galata Tower, and tons of other places that won't come to my mind right now because it's just too much to try to remember all the beauty of that part of the city. Check on a map, I'm not lying or even exaggerating.

There's also lots of little cafés and restaurants in the streets surrounding the hotel and the tram is close by as well, in case you want to go further and don't feel like taking a taxi. 

The rooms are very comfortable and cute and have TV, there's free WiFi in the hotel (that works in the rooms, not only in the lobby as so often is the case), the breakfast is good and plenty and the staff are just so nice, I can't even tell you just how nice the are. Just imagine two guests who won't stop asking questions (some normal and smart, others ...not so much) and the receptionists as well as the bellboys answering every single one of them - and with a sincere smile on their faces! They even searched the internet for us when we felt like eating waffles one day and didn't know where we could get any. I mean, who is that nice? Nobody, I tell you, apart from the staff at Hotel Evsen. 

If you ever go to Istanbul: Stay there! 

And if I haven't convinced you yet, here's some pictures of their newest room they just renovated. 

There's also normal light bulbs, not only the blue ones, obviously. But the photo looks so cool like this!!

And this is the - clean! - bathroom. So pretty!!

Convinced yet? No? What, seriously, you're not convinced yet? OK, then just let me just quickly mention the value for money you get in this hotel: incredible. Nuff said.