Travel Journal

Istanbul

(Sunday 12 December 2010) by Mike and Julie's sort of round the world trip
Day 118-123 -- 11/30-12/5/10 Istanbul
We slept most of the four hour trip waking during the large wait for a ferry that the bus would use for a shortcut. Arriving at the station, we got on a shuttle bus that I determined would get us to the section of town our new hotel was at but we did have to get off and catch the tram from our drop off point but it wasn’t that hard getting to the hotel.
The room was fine except that the toilet was wedged in a corner so that you had to sit on it sideways because the sink was in the way. Since we were having a buffet breakfast the next morning and were still tired, we skipped dinner and went to sleep.
Breakfast was a very good deal – probably the best for a long while – so we filled up completely before heading out. The first stop was the Blue Mosque which is incredible.
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The outside is beautiful and the interior cavernous yielding perhaps more to function over form but the open space, windows and columns are remarkable. We next visited a tomb next to the Blue Mosque whose name I don’t recall but perhaps will look up later.
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Across the street is the Hippodrome or I should say was the Hippodrome. I’m not really sure why this is mentioned in the guidebooks though. The track is buried several meters below the surface so there is nothing to see other than the street and buildings set off the track so you get a feeling for the size and shape of the Hippodrome. There are three interest structures here though: the obelisk Theodosius, the rough stone obelisk and the spiral column which are worth checking out.
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On the far side of the Hippodrome from the Blue Mosque is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts which has a nice collection of items.
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We happened to be there on the last day of a temporary Koran exhibit and found the stands to hold the book and the illustrated Korans quite beautiful.
We finished the day at the Aya Sofya or Hagia Sofia which seems to be the opposite of the blue mosque.
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The exterior, while huge, is similar in style to the hundreds of mosques peppered throughout the city. It’s the interior that is the draw. The building was a church first and when converted to a mosque the murals and mosaics were tiled over but not destroyed. When this was converted to a museum, the tiles were removed and the Christian art was put on display. Most notable are the mosaics on 2nd floor which are rich and show incredible detail. Julie was happy with the fish sandwich she purchased that they make on the boat tied to the dock and they cost less than $3.
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Afterwards we did stop by the Grand Bazaar where Julie checked out some lamps.
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The house she’s having built is always on her mind and I can sense she’s thinking over decorating ideas. The place had no allure for me though. All the stalls seem to be selling the same Chinese crap to Japanese tourists.
The next day we got on the public ferry for a tour down the Bosporus. You can take private tours which cost more and have less sailing time but do go closer to the shore and have a guide explaining sites over a loud speaker. The guidebook I had and the binocular which I have been carrying for months were adequate on the public ferry. The major sites we saw were: Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyl Palace, Kuleli Military School, Rumeli Hisari and Anadolu Kavagi Kalesi.
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The last was a fort at the last stop looking out over the beginning of the Black Sea which was very scenic. If was unfortunate that the castle was close for excavations but the view was worth the twenty minute hike up the hill.
Along the riverbanks are some very wealthy houses, some industrial buildings, some dilapidated structures next to grand buildings, while the harbors have restaurant and shops for the tourists. It’s definitely a working river with cargo ships coming and going from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and beyond amongst fishing boats hauling nets on the river.
We devoted most of the next day to Topkapi Palace which deserved it.
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A sprawling complex with many rooms, its treasury houses expensive gifts bestowed on the sultans and unfortunately the no photo policy is enforced here. Another section holds religious artifacts such as a hair from the beard of the prophet Mohammad. I think that, much like the splinters from Jesus’ cross, if you put all the claimed pieces together, you would have the end product twenty times over. I would recommend paying the extra ticket that grants you access to the Harem which allows you insight on how the royal family lived when away from the court.
We caught a bus to Chora Church (Kairye Muzesi) and were awe of the murals which were on my bucket list. Thank goodness Julie was there as my camera took sucky pictures inside so I am indebted to her for the photos.
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We visited the Spice Bazaar which is near the bridge and the bus station which was more to my liking than the Grand Bazaar. We examined the various goods, bought a lamb sandwich and stocked up on some good cashews.
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The next morning I made a solo trip via the public ferry to the Asian shore. I walked down near Kiz Kulesi
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which is a small island (and I do mean small) which has one building occupying most of the space and was naturally featured on the Amazing Race. It had a chain which spanned the river which could block river traffic for military purposes and for exacting tolls on merchant ships. The river taxi there was too expensive to justify so I just admired it from afar.
Rejoining Julie who revisited the Grand Bazaar, we took the tram, which is a great way to get around, to the end of the line and walked to Dolmabahce Palace. When the sultan tired of Topkapi palace, he built this palace which is very opulent. We arrived just as the changing of the guard was finishing and got a picture of Julie with her new boyfriend.
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Photographs are verboten in the palace but take my word that it is over the top. The crystal stairs with glass railings, the 4 and a half ton chandelier, elephant tusks are a bit too much for me. We also took the Harem tour and got to see the residence area where the sultan and his four wives lived together along with four concubines which I believe rotated according to his mother’s taste. We had considered traveling on to the Fortress of Europe which is a large structure further up the river that we had seen on the Bosporus tour but we were a bit tired and called it a day.
Sunday the weather turned cold dropping to about 48F. The hotel clerk said it might snow which I took for a joke but he was serious. Apparently it does snow here but the snow melts as soon as it hits the ground. I set off to visit the Archeology Museum which has a fantastic necropolis section. The museum was original built to house the collection of tombs and has since expanded to other treasures. Pop quiz - which of these items have you seen me post in another country?
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I spent the rest of the day trying to track down a hostel or bookstore where I could exchange or buy a book on Egypt but had no luck. I even tried the book bazaar next to the Grand Bazaar but there were only guidebooks on Turkey. Julie refused to go outside because of the weather so we just relaxed inside.
The next day we packed up, checked out, and hopped on a tram to the airport.

  • strong relationship by The Elder


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