Monday, September 28, 2015


After Lake Como, we returned to Milan for one night then caught a flight to Istanbul where we had 4 days to explore before boarding a Celebrity Cruise ship located on the north side of Galata Bridge. Istanbul, with more than 14 million people and 12 million visitors annually, is a busy crowded aggressive city where vehicles speed pass within inches, hawkers perched on storefronts solicit your business, and chaotic crowds converge. Kay and I arrived just before the weekend during a traditional 4 day holiday, the Sacrifice Feast, so the crowds were heavier than normal, particularly on Saturday and Sunday. We visited the mosques, palaces, and museums; ate on the streets; browsed their colorful stores and markets places; used their crowded trams and ferries; and wandered Istanbul's neighborhoods on both the European and Asian continents. The hectic pace and endless street activity of this lively city often reminded us of Hong Kong. It's a constant hustle from the busiest streets to the narrow crowded hidden walkways and corridors. The people are friendly, but business comes first. Love it or not, once you visit Istanbul, you won't forget it. This is the first Islamic country we have visited and hopefully it won't be the last.

The Blue Mosque above and below.

From the Galata Bridge area.

Busy Istiklal Street in the Taksim area above and below.

Galata Bridge above and below

After sunset

Busy waterfront on a Saturday evening

Blue Mosque below

Visiting the Basilica Cistern below

Cruising the Bosphorus River above and below.

Meeting up with friends who are joining us on the cruise.

Kay and Pam at the Grand Bazaar

Dining out

Suleymaniye Mosque above and below

Spice Market above and below.

Topkapi Palace of the Sultans above and below

Visiting Hagia Sophia below, an ancient mosque now a museum.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Break in the Storm

With a mid-afternoon break in the 16 hour storm, we ferried to Menaggio for a late lunch and a walk about with some window shopping. Our conclusions on the three villages we visited along Lake Como are that we would stay in Menaggio if we came again, mainly because that's where most of the locals lived, offering visitors a more authentic experience compared to the places that cater mainly to tourist with all manner of shops and eateries. The highlight of the day was the sight the Alps dusted with snow from the storm. Below are pictures from our visit of Menaggio.

Ferry to Menaggio

The Alps covered with snow dust.

Menaggio harbor.

My lunch in Menaggio, the mother of calzones.

No, George Clooney doesn't live here

Wandering Menaggio above and below

Ferry back to Varenna

Our home away from home.

Visiting Lake Como in Northern Italy

After hearing about Lake Como in northern Italy from others, Kay and I final made a short 2 day visit. It's truly as beautiful as everyone had been saying, a mountain lake of serenity for us after all the business of Milan. What a contrast! Kay and I are staying at a local hotel next to the ferry dock, the Hotel Olivedo in Varenna, one of many countless small lakeshore villages around Lake Como interconnected by a network of ferries or private boat taxis. Our timing was not the best with a significant weather front expected to move through in few days. With little time to waste, we managed to complete a walk about of Varenna, including a short strenuous up hill hike to Castello di Vezio for great views, and to ferry to Bellagio the following day, for a full day of wandering before the continual rains finally arrived accompanied by wind, periods of heavy downpours and thunder. Overnight, visitors changed from light summer garments to rain gear, heavy parkas and hoodies. Good day for Kay and I to get some needed rest and down time.

Lakeshore villages, like Varenna, Bellagio and Menaggio, feature numerous shops and eateries along narrow stone streets and corridors emanating in antiquity that cater to the tourist. The topography of these village settings are hilly which means there are many uneven stone steps to maneuver, testing your stamina and balance. I must say that we have enjoyed most of our meals within these locations, though we paid a higher price. In fact, our meals to date have been good to great more often than not. Below are various pictures from Varenna and Bellagio.

Varenna above and below.

Beware the many stone steps in these villages.

Maria delle Grazie above and below.

Hiking to the Castello di Vezio

Views from above the hillside

Square Giorgio

Varenna streets

Ferry to Bellagio

View of Bellagio from ferry

Evening light on our hotel.

Evening in Varenna.