Tag Archives: food

Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

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Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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FODMAP food fun

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I have had a rocky ride with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I was diagnosed with it as a university student in 2007, after I had agnoising abdominal pains that kept me awake and horrific belching.

Blood tests ruled out coeliac disease and I had an ultrasound which was clear. I was offered an endoscopy – an investigation where a tube is shoved down your throat – but mum warned me off, telling me what a traumatic experience it was for her.psyllium

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Psyllium looks about as great as it tastes.

I tried all sorts of remedies. Peppermint tea which helped in the short term, a low dose of antidepressant medication, which completely stopped symptoms but induced vivid nightmares, and psyllium husk (found in the brand Fybogel) which made me feel sick. You had to quickly drink grains floating in water. It was hard to pinpoint which particular foods set me off. No pain relief medication helped.

A 2013 medical study concluded that  the low FODMAP diet offers leads to significant improvement for the majority of those with digestive disorders, around 15% of the world’s population. Research suggested that certain carbohydrates were responsible in 1988 and the diet was developed following further studies. I have found that I no longer have stomach pains before or after eating and I no longer get bloating. It has given me significant relief.

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Around 75% of patients in two small studies found that their symptoms had improved. More research needs to be undertaken as this could be a cheap option for the National Health Service rather than relying on medication. It should be recommended to all patients complaining of digestive discomfort. A Gastroenterology journal entitled A FODMAP Diet Update: Craze or Credible? concluded: “evidence indicates that the FODMAP diet provides an effective approach to managing patients with FGID [digestive disorders].”

I discovered the FODMAP diet through online research. This stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols.

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The theory is that some fruits, animal dairy products, wheat products, beans, garlic and onion (containing Fructose, Lactose, Fructans, Galactans and Polyols) are incompletely absorbed and are harder to digest. IBS sufferers appear to be particularly sensitive to them. For a full list click here and go to the bottom of the page.

A main plus point is that it is not a restrictive diet. You could still have trigger foods, just less of them. It was only onions and garlic that the diet recommended completely avoiding. This only caused a problem with curries. Spring onions were a decent substitute for stir fries and garlic puree in stir fry sauces did not cause me any trouble.

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The aim is to try the diet for six weeks and then introduce one trigger food a week and see how much it affects you.

A typical day included:

Breakfast:

Porridge or muesli with lactose-free milk, banana and coconut flakes

I like lacto free milk by Arla, it is still cow’s milk and tastes the same, but with an enzyme added to break down the lactose. There is no point trying goat or sheep milk instead – it still contains lactose.

Almond milk tends to stick in the back of the throat, hemp milk tastes too watery and coconut milk is too sweet. Forget soya milk as soy beans are on the list of foods to limit.

I’ve saved money by bulk buying a kilograme of oats rather than ready-made porridge sachets. Simply add a quarter of a cup of oats to half a cup of milk and half a cup of water (or 40g oats, 175ml water, 175ml milk) and microwave for two minutes, microwave for two minutes more. You may need to practice this on a weekend first as it depends on your microwave wattage.

I got ready-baked oats which are a minute or two quicker, but they don’t taste as nice as standard Scottish ones.

Lunch:

Pasta or potato salad (I was able to handle the small amount of gluten pasta for lunch)

Green salad with mozzarella slices

Leftovers

Dinner:

Gluten-free pasta and sauce or

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or steak, spinach and potatoes (for days when I’m tired and need an iron boost).

Dessert

Snowconut frozen yoghurt – gluten and lactose free as it is made from coconut milk this is a tasty alternative

Melon (not watermelon – this is high FODMAP)

Strawberries and a little cream

Unfortunately there is not much lactose free yoghurt available but I find that in small quantities I can usually tolerate it.

I recently had wheat pasta again and as anticipated, I had a sore tummy approximately an hour later. Rice pasta is just as good if you get thicker varieties such as penne and fusilli. I will be eating lunch portions only. Before sport I avoid any trigger foods. I have also cut down on my alcohol intake as this makes my symptoms flare too. If I am out drinking I try to alternate with juice.

If you try it let me know how it goes. You can find checklists online to take when you’re shopping, such as this one. Remember you need to reduce/avoid intake of any high FODMAP foods for six weeks before you start reintroducing foods on this list. It may be helpful to keep a food diary during this time.

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Food for Thought

homeless-robbie-from-preston I am someone who likes the feeling of fullness. I am always eating. I buy food for one so I am guilty of contributing to our massive problem of food waste.

While I scoff myself and throw half-eaten food away, others are so starving that they dig into bins for something to eat.

I am talking about the “hidden homeless” that we walk past every day. I recently saw a programme about this desperate group of people called “Where am I sleeping tonight?”. The hidden homeless are not registered as homeless and therefore do not receive additional support. Those that sofa-surf (sleep on friends’ sofas) or sleep on the streets because they feel safer there than in hostels.

Research by the homeless charity Crisis indicates that as many as 62% of the homeless fit this category. For every month that the respondents spent in accommodation provided by the council, they had spent over three months sleeping rough.

There are estimated to be 1 700 hidden homeless people a year. The documentary really opened my eyes to something I had no idea about in my sheltered existence (literally). They lived with so little, not knowing where they would sleep at the end of the day or whether they would be safe. They were completely dependent on the goodwill of others just to stay alive.

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It could have happened to any one of us if we had been less fortunate.

One boy of just 17 had struggled with anger-management issues and had beaten up his family until he got kicked out. He wished he could turn back time or that they could see how he had changed.

Another boy had fallen out with his mother, who then moved away leaving him with his grandmother. She fell out with him so he had to go. He said he hadn’t eaten for about a week and his eyes bulged with ravenous desperation as he waited in line for food, white as a sheet.

A girl was sofa-surfing as a messy divorce had made home hell. She said it had been friends at first, then friends of friends and then people she did not know at all. One man had tried to make a move on her and she had to find somewhere else to stay that night.

These vulnerable young people seemed to have little or no chance of escaping the endless cycle of hunger, cold and sleep deprivation.

Once someone I knew did a sponsored rough sleep for a homeless charity and he said it was he hardest thing he had ever done. He did it at the start of winter and he didn’t sleep at all because he was so cold in his sleeping bag and the concrete was so uncomfortable. homeless

The programme got me thinking. Surely there is something we can do to share the wealth. I have been brought up with everything and I take basic needs like food and shelter forgranted.

I have given food to beggars before. Just extra food that I will not eat or snacks like cereal bars. They are always gratefully accepted.

But I want to do more.

I am planning on buying a full lunch for a homeless person so they can at least have one proper meal that day.

I will get a sandwich, a flapjack (more filling than crisps) and some fruit. Perhaps a hot drink to go with it.

I want to start a movement like the famous “Pay It Forward” one. This one involves buying food for the needy. Some incredible people already do.

So how about you join us, reader, and buy a homeless person a sandwich.

If you do it let me know how it feels. When I have donated before I have always felt content. It is a feeling that only helping someone in need can bring. A deep satisfaction that you are making a small difference in an indifferent world. The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

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I asked some Muslim colleagues to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling and got ill from the flight food. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. We stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport as it was Ramadan, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a few weeks (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg. I was doing it to improve memory and alertness. I didn’t notice a change in either, but maybe I didn’t try it for long enough.

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

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The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1pm, the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. By the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. Seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth.

I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have.

It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t eat non-Halal meat…

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Introducing Turgutreis

My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.

To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.

It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…

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The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.

When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.

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Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.

 

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The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.

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We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.

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We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.

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We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.

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Turkish delight

We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.

 

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Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.

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I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.

We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.

 

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After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.

We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.

 

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It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.

On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.

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Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.

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On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.

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After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.

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June 1, 2014 · 8:55 pm

Buxton day trip

I have had a lovely couple of days off lately. On Wednesday I went to a shopping mall and bought some presents, on Thursday I went to Buxton and on Friday I joined a new gym, went swimming and had a haircut!

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Buxton is a lovely place to visit in the Peak District. It is a village of around 20,000 with some nice cafes and quaint OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAold-fashioned shops, including a chemist that looks like it is still stuck in the Victorian era.

In 1572 Dr John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. The spring waters were believed to have healing properties. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited to benefit from them. In the Victorian era it was a popular spa town and there is still a baths. You can drink the natural mineral water for free there and it is still bottled and sold today.

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We went to a tea shop for a drink. It was a bit of a disappointment and tasted the same as when I make it at home.

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The “Devonshire Dome” there is a feat of civil engineering. It is hard to believe it was the roof of stables. It was built in 1789 by John Carr, commissioned by the duke for Buxton Crescent, converted into a hospital and is now restored by the University of Derby. Go in if you get a chance. I only got a chance to view it from the outside but the inside looks impressive just from looking at pictures.

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Buxton_Dome_South_Elevation1000Mum’s main mission was the charity shops. Relentlessly we hit every single one. There were rail upon rail of cheap but tacky clothes, clothes only geriatrics wear and probably had. When I am that old I’ll wear charity shop clothes because I won’t need to look presentable anymore. I’ll be like the lady in the Purple poem.

But surprisingly we did find some that weren’t from M ‘n’ S, Tesco or Primark – Coast ones. I got a painted silk-style sleeveless ruffled top with a dark beige pencil skirt and a 1950s-style A-line dress. It’s blue with roses on and I can’t wait to wear it. Even mum laughed at the “vintage” charity shop. The clothes were like fancy dress for a 1970s party.

We went back to the tea shop for lunch. I was impressed with the selection – chicken curry, jackets with cream cheese and spring onion, steak sandwiches and “Buxton” burgers.

Mum said the burgers were good so I went for one of those. This was served with salad and posh crisps. Salt and vinegar, my favourite. I was enjoying it until I crunched on a couple of bones. I got one and thought that was it, continued eating and then got another…and another. Luckily I didn’t swallow them as I may have choked. I was slightly put off. The meat had been lovely, but I didn’t want to be reminded that I was eating an animal. The whole point of cooking meat is not just that it tastes better but also that you don’t feel like an animal eating another animal, like a lion at zoo feeding time.

I didn’t want to make a scene but Mum insisted we say something. They’d be nice about it, she said. So I told the manager.

“Ohhhhh.” She said, haughtily, the disdain all too audible, “we haven’t had that before. We’ve never had a customer complain about that.”  I thought I must be imagining her tone. I went to the toilet. It was cold like the cafe – at least the food was hot. There were flannels to dry your hands on that you put in a little basket, a nice touch.

On the way back, I saw her poking the burger meat around angrily with a knife, peering at it from the side. She then triumphantly reported to mum that it was “gristle” I had nearly taken a tooth out on, not bone. She said “I poked it with a knife and it wasn’t hard, so it must have been gristle”. How gristle was better than bone I don’t know. One woman walked out having hardly touched her “spicy potato soup” a thick orange lumpy broth. Mum was served hers with stale bread, the staff urging her to “help yourself to more if you want”. Clearly they needed to get rid of it.

Mum bought some cake and they charged her full price for that and the meal, despite my bones of contention. It had butter icing, not even cream cheese icing like mum does, which is much better and tastier. Cheaper ingredients and maximum profit. I stalked out indignantly. Mum was apologetic as I grumbled about the disgusting lack of customer service skills. I wouldn’t be going there again. Its name was “The Cafe at the Green Pavilion”.

Anyway then we went to the library and art gallery, which was a much more enjoyable experience. It was combined in an old building with wooden doors and stained glass windows. But it had also been converted into a museum about Buxton’s history. I expected it to be poor as it was only two floors and looked poorly funded. We went into the exhibition space of a dire modern artist, abstract shapes in different colours spoiling the walls.

In the corner was a dark corridor. I went down it and there were little labels indicating different periods of time hanging from the ceiling and a video showing the passing of time from prehistoric to modern times in photos and drawings. I turned a corner and walked into the Cretaceous Period.

A massive dragonfly clung to a tree and there were noises of the forest around me. I walked on and into a cave.

There were bones of mammoths, bears, hyenas and in the corner roaring at me, a bear that looked rather too life-like. I quickly walked on into the “hunter-gatherer” age and a skeleton lay in a glass case, a man of 25-30.There was a little burial tomb reconstruction that you could crawl into. There were knife and axe heads on display. I went under an arch into the Roman period.

This interactive journey through time just kept on going, a maze of corridors and passages making you feel like you were actually in that era. It was fantastic.

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There were Roman columns all around me and a life-like centurion in full armour standing by the wall.

A ceremonial washing basin was on the right with a bronze head above it. Further on was a Roman rubbish dump – much nicer than modern ones – all broken jars and animal bones. I wonder what future ancestors will make of ours.

There were videos playing and you could hear the audio so you could take it in as you looked at the exhibits without having to watch them. I heard that to become a Roman citizen you had to serve 25 years with their army. Many Anglo-Saxons did and were posted away from their families in the Empire. Some would never have seen their families again.

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Due to space there was only a corridor linking this age to the 1700s, telling of medieval hunts in the forests. Then I went into a 1700s sitting room.

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You could sit on an imitation chair by the fire surrounded by fancy things. In the next room was a reconstructed “Buxton” black marble workshop.

The public went mad for this rare marble in the Victorian era and would buy loads of the stuff while on their spa breaks. It was made into everything – tables, chairs, jugs. But production virtually stopped when the craze was over. You can still buy it though.

There was a corridor dedicated to more recent years and all too soon I was back from my time-travel journey. I enjoyed it so much I went back in time instead of forwards. I couldn’t believe the collection box was empty. Museums are poorly funded these days so if they do a good job they need financial backing. I gave them a little. The time travel machine was too good to be free.

We then went round the flowers in a conservatory, enjoying the sweet scent that filled the air. We passed by the Pavilion Gardens on the way out but sadly it was too cold to enjoy them.

On the way home we saw what looked like World War Two bunkers but they were in fact enclosed kilns (enclosed to conform to blackout regulations) for the production of quicklime from Derbyshire limestone, which was produced in Buxton from the late 1800s until 1944.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire or England for that matter, don’t miss Buxton and its museum. It’s great for adults as well as children.

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Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

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delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

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We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

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We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

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I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

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The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

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The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

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We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

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The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

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I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

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December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm