Tuesday, December 13

2 nights at the Opera - Istanbul, Turkey
5 Stars This place was Amazing visited Dec 13, 2005
After the sad performance of West Side Story (see my earlier post) we were slightly trepidatious at spending another whole 10AUD on two more tickets to the opera, but I have wanted to see a production of Carmen for a long time, so we decided to risk it! I'm very glad we did! Far from the mess of WSS, Carmen was a wonderful production both visually and musically - the costumes were beautiful and colourful, the sets incredibly elaborate, the dancing polished (I think they might have actually rehearsed more than once!) and the singing beautiful. There were a few moments when I thought a little more drama and actual acting would have helped those of us who were having trouble with the turkish subtitles (opera is hard to understand in any language and the non-native french was mostly impossible to decipher) but overall it was a great experience. I don't think I had ever realised just how much famous music there is in Carmen. Hearing it all at once was fantastic. On the strength of that, we bought tickets to Madame Butterfly this week - another famous opera I have often wanted to see. Again a very traditional performance, with elaborate sets (well, set, this time, in the singular) and traditional costumes. Actually very traditional costumes - possibly modelled on original costumes from the 1904 premieres - designed by someone who had had a kimono described to them, but probably had never seen one! Butterfly's dress was something like 1900's dress with japanese features, such as long rectangular sleeves and an obi on the back! Quite pretty, of course! Like 'Carmen' the music was wonderful, though a few moments could have done with a little more drama to help those of us who couldn't understand their turkish-italian diction or the subtitles. I had to stop myself trying to understand the words after a while - both in Carmen and Butterfly, I found myself getting a headache after the first act or so - from trying to decipher singing in one language, subtitles in another and translating what I could into English for Kate! And it wasn't just the multi-lingual aspect that got to me. I suddenly realised at one point that we were australians watching a opera set in japan about an american sung in Italian performed by turks. Argh!

Thursday, December 8

I think I like Eastern European food! - Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria
2 Stars This place was Poor visited Dec 8, 2005
I had to leave Turkey to get a new visa, as my three month one was coming to an end (we've been here three months already, it seems!) and, after much discussion with Kate (Beirut? bad flight times. Lesbos? only one overpriced ferry a week. Cyprus? let's just not even go there) we ended up retracing the path we took to get here three months ago and headed for Bulgaria. We took an overnight sleeper train, and had our own two-bunk cabin with wash basin for the trip! It left from the station that was the terminus of the Orient Express, and I'm not sure they aren't still using the same train carriages. It felt quite luxurious, and not overly expensive (50AUD each way for a 12 hour trip) and, apart from being woken up for the border formalities (you have to get out in the cold for the Turkish part) we pretty much slept comfortably the whole way. Veliko is not the world's most exciting town, despite being billed as the number one highlight in Bulgaria. It was pretty, being situated on a gorge with a hairpin bend in the river at the bottom of it. It has a nice fort that is nearly 1000 years old or so, a few museums we didn't even bother with, and a wonderful restaurant (actually two - they are a chain!) where Kate and I ordered far more wholesome eastern food that we could possible eat all for 20AUD. It was so good that we went to the other branch of the same restaurant the next night to try a few more things. The enormous salads and feta cheese and stewy things were all amazing. We stayed one night there - in a hotel that was billed as the best deal in town, but where the lady who ran it was rude to us pretty much non-stop. We should have left right at the beginning - it certainly isn't the only hotel in town! We hadn't made a reservation, figuring it wasn't necessary in December, and so walked in off the street (it was easier just to walk there than to work out coins or whatever for the public phones). We asked to see the room, which seemed to annoy the woman, and she showed us a cell with two narrow beds, a dubiously beige bathroom and a view of the street. We asked about rooms on the other side of the hall (the ones with a view of the gorge). 'No. Full.' Then we asked about a room with a double bed. 'No double bed'. She grumbled to herself all the way back down to the desk. We should have left then, but it was definitely cheap, and for one night we decided we could handle it. While registering our passport details, she paused to complain about something at great length to a friend who had come in. Neither of us understand Bulgarian, but I am positive she was complaining about us. Her eyes never so much as flickered towards us, but her friend was not so well controlled, and by the way her eyes slid over us occasionally, we could tell we were the topic of the discussion. She spend longer whinging to her friend about us than we had spent in the hotel so far, so goodness knows what she was saying! I even started to think about reclaiming our passports and leaving, but didn't. She was short and unapologetically rude to us the whole time we were there, which thankfully wasn't much. At about 9pm, we were in our hotel room considering an early night, when we heard a commotion outside. There was a parade of what appeared to be morris dancers who had taken a few fashion tips from the KKK, all with what looked like cowbells of various sizes tied around their waists waving flaming torches. Half the town seemed to be following them, and not surprisingly we decided to join them. After putting on our many warm layers, we caught up with them easily (flaming torches and cowbells are not hard to follow) and followed them to a square and monumnet outside a shiny new hotel and casino. We joined the crown watching what looked like morris dancing. Then there were speeches. Then a bit of theatrics, complete with fancy lighting and atmospheric music - a guy in chain mail and a group of women in white robes and veils clutching tealight candles came through the crowd and posed and danced about a bit. Then things got confusing. Some strange little man in a bow tie and cape wearing a great big gold-coloured wreath around his head recited some sort of dramatic poem. It was all highly entertaining, even though we barely understood a word (Bulgaria was mentioned frequently). Then there were fireworks from the top of the hotel. Everyone craned their heads back to watch them explode directly overhead and then were forced to look down to avoid the rain of ash. Then we all spent some time dusting off our clothes. We finally worked out what was going on when a ribbon was stretched across the entrance to the hotel and a large pair of scissors appeared. The ribbon was cut, the people in fancy clothes all went in, and the rest of us rabble dispersed into the night. I wonder if that happens every night in Bulgaria...