Published: April 23rd 2009April 23rd 2009
Streets of Sultanahmet
This is one of the wide ones. They get skinny but that doesn't normally slow people down.
I suspect that we were all just about ready to leave India. It is a great country. Incredible place, but you do get to a point when it is either time to stay on for a long time or move on. We moved on with the assistance of Qatar Airlines on a flight leaving Delhi at 5.00a.m. With the need to be there 3 hours ahead of departure time, a possible 1 and a half hour drive to the airport and the apparently pretty standard old people's need to be a bit early for everything, we decided to head out there after dinner in Delhi.
Oh and, by the way, that was one of the great dinners - even though there were those amongst us who did not realy appreciate it. We went to a Kashmiri restaurant recommended by our friend Mithran. No two plates are the same, the salad bar is a vintage car, our table was an old four poster bed. The food - provided you enjoyed lamb cooked in different ways and with exceptional skill - was excellent. Pankaj and I had a lovely time. Barnes - with an attack of something - didn't, Pat is not
From the Bosphorous
on a boat this is a view of some of the city. Looks a little rough from this perspective.
overly fond of the more fatty lamb and Trish, well there were some vegies about but they didn't feature highly.
They wouldn't let us into the airport when we arrived at around mid-night but sent us across the road into a large eatery/waiting room place where, wonder of wonders, we could access free wifi. Great stuff. I was able to deal with emails and up-load posts on Delhi and the Thar Desert.
Check in and immigration were uneventful until we hit the second security gate. Pat's bag caused consternation. It seems that she had what looked like 3 cigarette lighters in there. You are only allowed 2. She actually did have one but no more. A search ensued - by Pat, by one security staffer and then by another. Nothing, so the bag was emptied of its little bags and they went through in turn. Eventually, it was clear that there were in fact no more cigarette lighters. There was, however, a flash Swiss Army knife which had been a present received after she had one confiscated many years ago. (I probably should file this story under 'Ideas for Birthday Presents'. Of course, it has been there before.
Looking Down the Bosphorous
from up near the entrance to the Black Sea
May be it will just keep happening. That would be handy.)
Qatar is an OK airline but it has a downside. The transit arrangement at Doha is a schemozzle. 10 or 20 planes land within an hour of each other. Most of the travellers are transit. They head into the transit area where they are confronted with a solid mass of people moving oh so slowly towards 6 security gates. To add a little pressure, there are constant announcements about onwards flights. Those passengers who don't appreciate that there is little chance that their particular flight can go without them while their luggage is on the flight and they are not can become just a bit stressed. After a fair bit of pushing, edging, easing and shoving we made it to what, in other places, might have been considered a formal queue. On this occasion people had helpfully dismantled pieces of the barriers to remove the need for queueing. Eventually, things were brought into a little more order and, eventually, after an hour or so in the crush/queue, we made it through.
Anyway, this post is really about Turkey so I had best get on to that rather
The Black Sea
not the bloke in the photo but the water behind him
than whinge about transit lounges.
Istanbul can be summed up in three words for those who have been travelling in Asia - What a Difference! We were met at the airport by a pick up from the hostel we had booked in Sulanahmet - a touristy sort of place close to the Blue Mosque. No difference in that. All of out pick ups have worked everywhere. Then we drove out of the airport. No cows anywhere. No bikes flying everywhere. No horns blasting. No autos zipping into every spare space and nobody singing out 'where you from'.
They drive their cars fast here. There seems to be a 50km limit is various places so when you see a copper brakes are hit and everyone slows down, for 30 seconds, and then away again. But they also follow other rules. Like red lights. You stop and wait. You stay on your side of the road, more or less. All very organised.
We took a run in a ferry up the Bosphorous. Went up as far as the entrance to the Black Sea. This is all standard tourist fare but, for me, travelling up the Bosphorous is pretty exciting.
Took off the Hat
Now who will be to blame for my skin cancers eh!
After ploughing through Homer's Iliad and Odyssey years ago and spending much time reading about ancient history it is pretty special to be moving through this country, wandering over ground that the ancient Greeks, Romans, Hittites, Byzantines and many others were operating in thousands of years ago.
Istanbul is a beautiful city overall and in places. I have read that they had a rule here many years ago that prohibited the demolition of a building constructed overnight. Basically, you could squat on government land provided you could build something - anything - overnight The result of that phase is a lot of jerry built houses and not a lot of town planning in some areas. For all of that the city, in the parts we have visited, has a lot of charm with old houses, winding cobblestone streets that are clean and air that is good enough that I have worn my contact lenses everyday.
We were staying at a place a little more expensive than our norm called the Saruhan Hotel. This is a very nice place in a street close-ish to the railway and on the edge of Sultanahmet. We were able to walk all over
Fort on the Hill
And a very good spot for a fort right there where they could nail any boat coming through.
the area and did so a few times.
One bit of Istanbul not different to India is the muezzin calling at times during the day. The difference here though is that there are so many of them. In Istanbul around Sultanahmet one would fire up quite close to our hotel - he didn't have a bad voice and was more or less in tune - the next one would then kick in and then the next. They were definitely not in tune with the first and they were louder. There must be some good money spent here on sound systems. They can really get the word out. As far as I understand it they always call the same thing. I have to say that it doesn't sound like it.
The Blue Mosque was up the road. This is one of the prime tourist sites for Istanbul. Our first attempt was made a couple of days after we arrived. On that day over 25,000 people also fronted up but they weren't there to see the Mosque as such. It was the 16th anniversary of the death of ex-President and Prime Minister, Mr Ozal, who died in what some consider
Bridge Over Bosphorous
Hasn't the ring of 'Bridge over Troubled Waters' but probably more useful
suspicious circumstances. This was the man who took Turkey closer to the West, introduced liberal economic policies and, if you believe some cold hearted commentators, was the person most responsible for the culture of corruption and inefficiency that is said to exist in some parts of the public service in Turkey.
We gave up on a visit to the Blue Mosque and headed for places where there may not be quite so many people. The Aya Sofia/Sofadya was next on the list. It is more or less next door to the Blue Mosque and is a building that was originally developed as a Byzantine temple, then a Christian Church and, later on, as a mosque. It has been a museum for some time now with all previous religious duties now over. Couldn't get in there either.
Wouldn't you know but the only one of the other major attractions open on that day was the Grand or Main Bazaar so we went there. Not every one of the 4,500 shops was open but enough were to get the feel of the place. Provided that you are not in a hurry and don't really want to buy anything, the Bazaar
No shortage of mosques in this country
isn't a bad wander. It looks spectacular, sounds fantastic with all of the talk, spruiking and singing out, and there is as much to look at as any reasonable set of eyes could want. We didn't wander too long but, as we left, there was the MacArthur statement - we shall return!
Eating in Istanbul is also different. Our first night out we decided to celebrate the fact that we were by the coast and in a fishing town and eat fish. Headed to an area where there are a lot of fish restaurants and away we went. There were over 50 fish restaurants in the street. Did they each want us to try their wares. My word they did and they all tried hard to get us in the door. We finally succumbed to a charming set of lines from one bloke and sat down to a pretty good dinner. Not brilliant mind you but good. Also expensive and, after India, very expensive.
Stung a little by our first experience we looked for slightly cheaper places in the next few days and found them successfully. You can get kebabs anywhere from a lire or 2 up to
People in the Park
view from hotel window on a Sunday/Pazar arvo. They do get into the picnic/barbque scene here.
the flasher ones at 10 or 12 lire. A Turkish lire (TL) is currently worth about $A0.85. A cup of Turkish coffee normally costs around TL 3 or 4 but you can get stung up to 8. Pat and I did well sharing a large kebab and a salad for about TL 6 and then blew it with a couple of serves of baklava for TL 8 per serve.
Far and away the cheapest way to eat is to buy food in the supermarket or the small shops. We bought provisions for a feed for a little over TL5 and are still eating it a couple of days later. Wine goes for around TL10 up to whatever you can afford. So far the ones we have tried are light reds and, while not like Australian reds, have been enjoyable. Beer is pretty good as well although I have only had one or two.
We made it to the Blue Mosque finally. Shock, horror but the place is not really blue much at all. Truth is that the building is more spectacular from the outside than the inside. I am never totally comfortable going into 'working' churches so didn't
Center of the World
Or Constantine thought it was and that is why he built a column
really hang around inside but it is not that impressive and even the effect of the very large dome is somewhat reduced by the hundreds of power cables hanging from it to fire up the many lights that are apparently needed.
The Aya Sofia is another matter. The building is impressive and no more so than the history of the place. There is a major restoration job underway at the moment which, from the look of the place, will be underway for some time to come. If I were visiting again I would take a better guide to the place with me or even hire one of the guides that hang around the entrance. The price of guides is too high at TL40 for an hour and you are given no information as you walk in which is a pity.
We decided to try to get our mobile phone working here if possible and spoke to what seems to be the major local provider, TurkCell. The first attempt using a new SIM card didn't work because apparently Telstra lock the phone. We are now having a second go with the lock supposedly coming off in a few days.
I have no faith so Skype is still the best and only way of contacting us by phone.
The most obvious way for us to travel from Istanbul is toward the West to Gallipoli, on to Troy and then on down the Western coast. We hadn't appreciated, though, that we would hit Turkey right in the Anzac Day period. I am very keen to see Gallipoli but we were not keen to get mixed up in the whole Anzac Day business there. Not that we are not patriotic Australians but this sounds just a bit more jingoistic than anything else. Interestingly, when we arrived at the guest houst in Istanbul we were greeted with delight and relief by the manager because we are, well to put it bluntly, old. Young Australians apparently descend on Istanbul around this time of the year and often make a bit of a pest of themselves, drinking and playing up. There are fights with young Turks and it all gets pretty ugly. But old Australians are fine.
So the decision is that we will take a swing through the area around Gallipoli and Troy when we come back to Istanbul and before
Celebrating the life or mourning the death of Ozal - 16 years on.
we head off through Thrace to either Bulgaria or Greece and Macedonia. In the meantime we decided to make a leap from Istanbul down to Pamukkale near Denizli about 1 hour's flight from Istanbul.
So I will stop this post now and deal with the wonders of Pamukkale, Aphrodisias, Heirapolis and probably Ephesus in my next epsiode. So get ready for some ancient history.
There are more photos below