Wowing us in travel: from Italy to Istanbul

Happy gelati eaters in San Gimignano 2000.

Happy gelati eaters in San Gimignano 2000.

Among my memory box collection is a piece from a long-ago Weekend Australian article. It was written long ago by Barry Oakley, an Australian writer and journalist who captured the absolute essence of travel with its mix of challenges, frustrations and joys. Inspired by that article I did fulfil one dream: to stand in the square at San Gimignano, eating a gelato, listening to the midday bells ring out, along with the unanticipated strains of harp music. It did feel a little like heaven on earth.

Mr Cassmob and I have been fortunate to travel to many places over the decades and while many give great pleasure, and very happy memories, “WOW!” moments don’t come along every day…those jaw-dropping scenes when your eyes pop and you draw in a huge breath.  It seems in the last couple of trips we’ve done particularly well in the WOW stakes…in regard to both scenery and animals.

The view of Sleeping Warrior from reception.

The view of Sleeping Warrior from reception.

In 2013 we visited our daughter in Kenya, Africa. One of the places we stayed was Sleeping Warrior Lodge near Lake Elementaita. As we walked into the reception area we were all stunned by the beauty of the scene before us. All we could do was constantly repeat “wow” “ that’s amazing”, something the staff told us was pretty much everyone’s reaction.

Sleeping Warrior caldera from the balcony of our cabin at dawn.

Sleeping Warrior caldera from the balcony of our cabin at dawn.

Not  an out-loud wow moment but absolutely awe-inspiring was watching the wildebeest make their annual migration crossing. The sheer determination held us in thrall, and silence, for the whole time of the crossing – about 20 minutes and estimated (by our guide) at 4000 animals.

View of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.

View of the Acropolis from our hotel in Athens.

This year we’d chosen an Athens hotel from Trip Advisor reviews (as usual) and so we knew it was supposed to have great views. Even so we were still astonished when we arrived at the restaurant for dinner. There before us was the Acropolis in all its glory, backlit by the setting sun. How amazing to eat a meal watching the shadows fall over this ancient site, the flag taken down and then the lights turned on. Spectacular!118 Istanbul sail in_edited-2

The finale of our trip was a cruise on the newly-refurbished Oceania ship, Insignia from Athens to Istanbul. I’m sure there are some ports world-wide which are arresting in their magnificence and I imagine Sydney would be one such if you hadn’t visited it before. Sailing into Istanbul was that type of experience…we were silenced (almost) by the city scape and scenery before us. It really was a huge WOW moment which set the scene for our experience of Istanbul over the subsequent days…we absolutely loved it!

Sailing into Istanbul on a summer's day is a WOW moment.

Sailing into Istanbul on a summer’s day is a WOW moment.

I’m hoping to revisit this blog more often in the coming weeks and share some of my photos from the tour just to whet your appetite for travel –and indulge myself with some reminiscences.

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In my beautiful balloon

Following on from last week’s post of our balloon flight in Kenya, here were just some of the animals we saw.

Drifting peacefully.

Drifting peacefully. That’s our breakfast being set up under the tree.

No great “Out of Africa” moments with herds of creatures below us, rather a defensive elephant mother, a pair of rhino and a startled young giraffe.

645 elephants balloon flight

The great thing about two balloons being in flight is that you can get one in your photos. The two rhino had gone into defensive mode while the ostrich appeared indifferent.

The great thing about two balloons being in flight is that you can get one in your photos. The two rhino had gone into defensive mode while the ostrich appeared indifferent.

The rhino weren’t a common sighting in the Mara but our guide could identify where they’d been in the photo, and with some assiduous searching we were able to find them the next day. Believe it or not, one of them was only a baby.

WHAT is THAT?!

WHAT is THAT?!

656 giraffe Im out of here

I’m out of here!

And after all that we got an exciting (read bumpy) and hilarious landing and a fabulous breakfast in the bush with eggs ordered as desired from the chef. We had great chats with the other people round the table over breakfast. It was a tough life on safari.

671 breakfast in the bush

676 breakfast to order

Shadow Shot Sunday: Sunset Giraffes in the Masai Mara

How could I resist adding a giraffe photo or two today? My friends on Facebook are all having a go at a riddle, which if you get wrong, you have to change your FB profile to that of a giraffe to three days. Now I don’t see an issue with that, given giraffes are pretty handsome creatures!

© Pauleen Cass 2013

© Pauleen Cass 2013

So going along with the theme, here is today’s post: not my favourite photo of giraffes on our recent trip, but an appropriate end-of-day photo. These two guys were snapped as the sun set over the hills. They may look like they’re feeling rather amorous but in fact they’d been engaging in a protracted bout of necking. Unlike the 1960s human version, this is actually a way of ascertaining dominance of one male over another. Our guide said these fellows were not very old (teenagers maybe?) and were really practicing rather than taking it seriously.

© Pauleen Cass 2013

© Pauleen Cass 2013

In a serious bout, which this had looked to me, there’s a lot of bashing of necks going on. If the fight was severe enough it would be entirely possible to break the other guy’s neck.

So, an initially serene scene with a hidden tension.

It’s Shadow Shot Sunday so why not pop over and see what others have written and photographed.

Shadow Shot Sunday