The three cities (Istanbul, Vienna and Moscow) we visited were all wonderful. Istanbul is amazing. It is a city steeped in history and straddles both Europe and Asia. It reflects this dual identity of east and west in every area of life. There’s the hurried pace of city life, trams and cars and the quiet village at night when all the villagers sit around relaxing. Men playing backgammon and women in a huddle reliving their day to each other, while the children run playing in the narrow streets and small parks. Istanbul is truly the city of Mosques.
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Wherever you look, you see them and the call to prayer, when it first falls on Western ears, is not a pretty sound, a bit harsh. A bit scary, especially to a certain 10 year old we had with us. But after a while, I found it to be hauntingly beautiful, just like this teeming colorful city it fell upon and as beautiful as the people and the inside of the Blue Mosque. The palace and underground ruins are also a must-do, as well as the spice market and huge indoor bazaar which are a dazzling sight, full of sounds, people and color. You can buy Turkish delight and nougat by the pound! Istanbul should be on everyone’s travel list.
There was so much to see at the Indoor Bazaar in Istanbul!
Vienna is full of history too and a history we are familiar with. Filled with street after street of the most beautiful buildings, a tour of the city by “Fiaker” (horse drawn carriage) is an absolute must. A perfect ending to a day of falling down escalators! Also a must, going to a Mozart/Strauss concert in the most amazing surrounding. What really gladdens my heart in Vienna is that people are proud of their musical heritage and all embrace it. An outdoor concert of the old composers will most likely draw the young and teenagers in their thousands. A very unusual sight! Spend a day at the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, walking the mazes and gardens, or if you have kids, dressing up and having fun pretending you live there.
Mbali and I enjoy the beautiful Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
The gardens at Schönbrunn Palace
A tour of the Vienna opera house is also a must, and there are so many museums to visit. Visit The Museum of Music if you fancy trying your hand at conducting a virtual orchestra. They refused to play for me, all shouting that I was conducting La Cucaracha and not Strauss!
But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the sheer beauty of Moscow’s Red Square. We arrived on a busy Saturday afternoon when people were milling all over the place and at least two brides at any one time were having their photos taken. We were blown away, and so too were many of our Americanized feelings towards Russia and the Russian people. From St. Basil’s Cathedral, to the Kremlin, to the beautiful glass roofed Gum mall (hard to believe it was built in 1898), to the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Revolution park and, on a more somber note, a visit to Lenin’s tomb. My husband remarked that it felt like we were in a theme park, and it did. Everywhere we looked there was something more wonderful to see.
St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
There is also no going to bed early in Moscow because at night the city is even more beautiful with the lights of Red Square are reflected on the waters of the Moscow River.
To top it all, we went to a live show and saw the most fantastic Russian dancing. We also splurged on a river boat dinner cruise. After all this, the too-tired can relax on one of the huge beanbags in Gorky Park, just like we did.
What a spectacular view of the Red Square and the Kremlin.
I kept thinking while walking around that if I was dumped here I would manage to learn the alphabet and the language. Well sometimes anything is possible and we all can be capable of almost anything. In my case, flying on a plane – yes. Answering the phones and dealing with the public – no. The little green pills won’t help me here. But whatever you do, please, please don’t ever think you can’t afford a trip somewhere foreign. Yes vacations can be expensive but quite doable for all if you are prepared to travel unconventionally. You don’t have to take Fodor’s advice, (sorry, libraries!) – in fact please don’t take their advice, unless you have a big travel budget. Roughing it is all part of the fun and recharge package. Open yourself up to other possibilities, take the opportunity given by the City – or wherever you work – with your annual leave and get out there! Be adventurous like me, if only for a few weeks of the year!