Istanbul – Turkish delight

by Garry Cook

Some fantastic facts about Istanbul.*

*WARNING: Not your typical fun-filled happy facts.

Turkey has the second largest army in NATO after the Yanks.

Turkey has the third fastest growth rate of Gross Domestic Product in the world (2004 to 2008), after China and India. In 2017 it is set to surpass India.

Turkey economy is the sixth largest in Europe.

Turkey is Europe’s second largest supplier of textiles and second largest supplier of automtive goods.

One out of every two household appliances in Europe are made in Turkey.

Turkey is the world’s leading exporter of the chemical element boron.

Turkey is the seventh most popular tourist destination in the world.

Three of the world’s eight gene centres are in Turkey.

There is so much traffic in Istanbul it seemed like the entire 12.5million population were trying to get to the same restaurant as me on Friday night.
But the negative points about this city stop there. Tourists are treated with respect. No areas are no-go to tourists and the history, culture, shopping and leisure trades were fantastic. That’s not to mention the tremendous food. It is an exceptional destination for all of these reasons.
From the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia to a Bosphorus boat trip and the Istanbul Modern, this place is fantastic destination.
It’s like experiencing the grand scale Cairo without fear for your safety and without pestering from locals.

Travel photography competition

by Garry Cook

A cruel lesson in budget flying. Thank you Ryanair.

It was noon on Wednesday when I booked my flight to Treviso, the Italian airport one hour and 10 minutes from Venice.

I was a little bit peeved that the ticket price had risen £10 for the return journey from when I checked the night before. I have a feeling it would have gone up again had I went through the booking process a third time. Ditto the tax for each flight for which the outbound journey differed vastly from the inbound journey, though I am sure it is exactly the same distance involved.

Both flights were cost £25 – before Slyanair’s creative additions. The total price came to a saddening £92, not quite what it said on the tin. It’s what you expect from these type of airlines. No price is upfront, a caseful of hidden extras.

As soon as the flights were booked, I arranged insurance (a snip at under £2.50), car parking place (£19 with online discount) and a hotel (45 euros). And then I went off to change my GB pounds into European Euros. On Wednesday night I packed my bag.

And when I say bag, I use the term specifically. I decided to use just one bag for my clothes, documents, toiletries and rather substantial camera equipment. Yes, it was heavy but it’ll save lumping two bags around Venice and even help out Ryanair as they’ll have no big bag to put in the plane’s hold. Only thing to worry about is my tripod, which thankfully comes wrapped in its own bag. Big mistake.

It’s not by choice that most people visit Liverpool, Speke, or travel through Knowsley. But I found myself hurtling down the M62 at 9.30am on Thursday morning towards John Lennon Airport (I had know idea he was as famous for being an aviator as he was for being Paul McCartney’s straight man). My credit card entrance to the single-lane, barriered car park didn’t work. And with reversing not an option due to the queue behind me I pressed for a new ticket, something the online booking website said not to do. I’ll worry about that when I come home.

After standing in a long check-in queue I handed over my Ryanair print-out sheet and passport. ‘No luggage?” She asks. ‘Just this’, I say, holding up my tripod. ‘You need to go to the Ryanair desk and pay a £10 oversize luggage charge’, she says. I’m not best pleases. This is the same bloody tripod that I usually ft into my non-oversize bag when I go abroad. And if I had done that, I wouldn’t be charged any ridiculous extra fee, even though I’d be taking up more room in the plane’s hold. Honestly, you try and do someone a favour by being resourceful, less wasteful, reduce your carbon footprint. Total bollocks.

I paid the £10 fee. Right, I want some water for the flight. I’ll pay for an over-the-odds litre bottle.

This was mistake No.2. When I go upstairs to passport control I am told that my unopened bottle of water must go straight in the bin. You can’t take liquids through security, even if they are unopened. The bucket bin outside the security gate is three-quarters full with unopened Ribenas, Cokes and Fantas. Water bloody waste. Did a terrorist ever hide explosives inside his Coke bottle?
Unfortunately, it got worse when I actually went through security. My hair gel and deodorant was also confiscated for being above 100ml. My toothpaste, thankfully, escaped the bin. I’m fuming. I reasoned that my gel is only half full, making it only 70ml. The security guard says and insincere apology.

Before booking my flights, people told me that Venice stank because of all the stagnant water in the canals. This is in correct. Venice stank because I sweated like a pig for two days but had no deodorant to rescue my armpits. Even if I could have found a shop to buy some Italian Lynx, it would only have been confiscated on the way back. Incidentally, coming back, it was an extra 12 euros for my tripod – payment by cash card only (I’m yet to discover the real cost of that).

The moral of the story is… whatever Ryanair claim the cost of flights are, double it and then add some more. This clarity pricing issue still has some way to go before it is consumer friendly. And don’t try and do Ryanair a favour by bringing less luggage – they’ll hammer you for it (as will passport security).

It’s fair to say I didn’t have a clue where I was when I got off the bus in Venice. Thanks to a very good website aimed at visitors to Venice (, I knew there was a bus service from Treviso airport, costing under 10 euros for a return, which was timed to coincide with Ryanair flights, so there would be no worry in getting to the city of lovers.

After an hour on the ATVO bus I could see Venice. When I got off the bus I could see a canal. This was going to be easy.

I walked over to the canal. There are over half a dozen bus ferries in front of me. No point in getting on one because I don’t know where they go, nor indeed where I’m going. My only hope was a small, poorly defined map I had printed off which showed where my hotel was. However, it only showed the part of Venice specific to its location and, as I noticed on the long road bridge in, this place is bloody massive.

One hour later.

It’s very hot. My heavy bag is digging into my heavy shoulder. I’m sweating. It’s 4pm and this holiday has started. Over a bridge. Over another bridge. And another. No sign of a Tourist Information bureau. Still, I can tell I’m going the right way by the exponential increase of people and cheap tat souvenir stalls.

Eventually I find a shop which sells maps. After ten minutes comparing my slightly inaccurate google print-out with my new purchase I think I know where I should be heading.

Seven bridges later – or was it seventy? – and I’m walking down Dorsoduro High Street towards my quaint little hotel, the Tivoli. Okay, there’s no High Streets in Venice, just narrow alleyways, but you get the idea.

After checking in, I was directed up a short flight of stars, down a short flight of stairs (that’s another bridge in my book) through a charming sun-trapping courtyard, up some more stairs and voila – or the Italian equivalent – there was my little haven, my box room. Single bed, tiny sink. Clean and comfortable. Just like it said in the online review (rating 8.2).

After dumping my stuff I end up going right around the full length of the Grand Canal, over the Rialto bridge and down to Academia bridge. I hadn’t planned to walk that far down, but I passed my hotel without realising.

Still, photography-wise I got some street scenes, some of the Rialto Bridge, seemingly the most famous in Venice, and some alleys (though I intended to get most of those after dark). It only took two pints of beer with my scallop and mushroom meal to knock me out. I had to go to bed for two hours. When I get up darkness is already falling. I race up to the Rialto bridge again.

I do the night shots thing with my tripod. Then it’s straight to bed, early to rise. St Mark’s Square and more photographs. Back at the hotel the continental breakfast is a little bit ropey but beggars can’t be choosers and I eat as much as I can. I have to be out of the hotel by 10.30am, so I have another lie down, then a shower.

The shower is further up the stairs, a tiny cubicle next to a tiny toilet in a tiny room. Really, it was tiny. There is no soap in the shower, as I realise once I have stripped off. And, as I packed lightly, I do not have any soap either. Bit of a problem that. Still, there is a tiny  complimentary bars of soap lying next to the sink in my room. Do I risk streaking down twelve stairs to my room to get the soap? Nah, this isn’t a Carry On film and I’m not Sid James. Get dressed, get soap, come back.

The remainder of my day – until my bus at 2pm – consists of visiting churches and museums, including the Guggenheim art house (too abstract for me, especially the three Jackson Bollocks).

By the time I got near the bus station I had an hour left to kill. I bought myself a can of something and found a place to rest. Time to sit on a wall and watch fat Americans pile on to gondolas. My back is saturated with sweat. Pity the poor bugger who has to sit next to me on the plane.

Still I managed to snatch a load of photographs in a tourist-style way and that is what this project was about. My only worry is the £200 budget. I’m close to the tipping point and I know I’ll have to pay for my tripod again. And I need some food at some point. I get an awful chicken sandwich at the airport, certainly not Italian food at its best. But at least it’s cheap.

The cost

Return flights: £94.21
Oversize luggage charge: £10
Car park: £19
Insurance: £2.50
Water: £1.20
Return bus to Venice: 9 euros
Map: 3 euros
Meal + two beers: 25 euros
Tip: 5 euros
Water: 0.90 euros
Hotel: 45 euros
Drink: 0.90 euros

Total: £197.21

All images © Copyright Garry Cook