Turkish Delights: Istanbul and on to Troy and Canakkale.

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July 23rd 2015
Published: July 23rd 2015
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Wednesday 22 July:

We got a sleep-in today with Zachary not waking up until 8:40. We got straight into the appropriate clothing so that we could visit the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace after breakfast.

We got to the mosque and it is very well organised. Lots of information in the form of signs and people explaining what to do and where to go. We walked through the outdoor area and found the line to go in. It looked to be about 45 – 60 minutes long. As it was already after 10 we decided to go to the palace instead. The queue for tickets was about 20 minutes and then at least that again to go in. We didn’t have a huge amount of time as we wanted to do the other bus loop plus find a park for Zachary, so we decided that we could actually manage without them. Standing in queues for an hour in the 30+ degree heat isn’t a lot of fun. Instead we went to the Basilica Cistern which we could get straight into. This was really cool! It is an underground water storage facility built around 570 AD and has columns and domes as well as a couple of Medusa statues. There are varying theories as to how they got there, but they are certainly ancient Roman. This was something quite different and we enjoyed it. There may be a chance to get to a mosque at some other point and while it would have been nice to see a different type of palace, we have seen enough castles and palaces on this trip to keep us going for a while!

We then headed back towards the palace as it has Gulhane Park outside it. This is a very nice green and quiet space – a very rare thing in old Istanbul. Zachary played on the playground and we rested. He managed to find a girl, I guess about 13, to push him on the swings and he announced that he now has a grown-up girlfriend. He is not going to marry her though, just visit her.

We then hopped on the other line of the bus which travels along the coastline of the Golden Horn. This line certainly wasn’t as interesting as the other one but we saw another part of the city. Traffic chaos began as we approached the end of the line again and we got off one stop early so we could check out the spice bazar and the Galata Bridge. The bazar was madness. A mass of humanity shoulder to shoulder trying to manoeuvre along the paths. We didn’t spend too long in there as I have a very low tolerance for that sort of thing and Zachary found it a bit overwhelming, however we did get a fancy lollipop with a turtle toy for him.

We then had to go through an underpass to get to the Galata Bridge. Unlike road underpasses in Europe this one was not so straightforward to navigate. Again it was shoulder to shoulder as the underpass had been transformed into a marketplace. There is an incredible amount of selling going on in Istanbul. Everyone is trying to earn a lira so you can’t go anywhere without being confronted by a salesperson – many of them children. We got through though and onto the Galata Bridge. This connects old and new Istanbul and is very popular with people fishing and we enjoyed walking along and seeing what was going on. At one point near the end we went down some stairs and there is a second level under the road full of cafés. It was easy to cross here though and there were some pieces jutting out where you could watch the sea. We returned to the end of the bridge, negotiated the underpass again (Heather did buy a fan) and hopped back on the bus. We had thought about walking but it was just too hot. Sitting on top of the bus was much cooler. The bus actually moved a bit more than yesterday when we were in this area but just as we turned back into the Sultanahmet area we ground to a halt. It was now hot sitting upstairs so we moved down and waited. We could see traffic stopped out the front and lots of people looking at something. Just as I was about to suggest we ask the driver if we could get off and walk a police car and motorbike pulled up and a couple of officers, with nightsticks and guns, started walking down the road. We waited a bit longer but noticed people were walking in the area, so it hadn’t been closed off. The driver told us it was just a traffic problem so we got off and made our way through the crowd back to the hostel. Zachary and I hung out while Heather went to buy some pants for her and some presents. When she got back (having not haggled ferociously enough in my opinion, although she doesn’t like doing it which is fair enough) we went for dinner a few doors down at the number 9 restaurant on Trip Advisor!

We ordered from the Turkish food menu and the food was very good, although I’m not sure I actually got the dish I ordered. Service was a wee bit slow though I thought.

We got Zachary to bed on tie and asleep by around 7:30 as we have an early start tomorrow. I went down to reception to organise transport to Ankara on Saturday. The first thing I established was that the bus would be a better option. Although there is a fast train it goes from Pendik and it would require a tram, two metros, and a bus to get there. A taxi would be really expensive. The bus station is much closer and about a €10 taxi ride. Overall then the bus would only be an extra hour or so and a lot less hassle. We have seen how ridiculously busy the trams are and don’t fancy getting ourselves and all our luggage on one. So I booked the bus leaving at 10.

The next thing I established from the man at the desk is that our resort isn’t in Ankara! It is in Beypazari, which is about 90 km away. This is going to cause a problem as we fly out of Ankara at 10am on Saturday. So we are going to have to go to a hotel near Ankara airport for Friday night. I’m not too happy about this – we pay quite a bit of money to belong to the Holiday Club so their consultants need to give the right information. So I’ll be giving them a call when I return. The fact that when I enter the resort name into Google Maps it shows up as being in Ankara city (it must be showing the address of the office) doesn’t help. The guy at the hostel is from Ankara so he knew straight way when I showed him the address. He kindly rang the resort for me and established that from Ankara bus station there is a regular service to Beypazari. So getting there will be a long trip on Saturday, following on from our long two day trip. But we will just have to cope!

Thursday 23 July:

Zachary woke up at 5 which wasn’t surprising after his early night. However we had to be ready to go at 6:30 so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

We met our bus outside the hostel and headed off. The itinerary has changed in that today we will go to Troy and stay overnight in Canakkale and then go to Gallipoli tomorrow. We’ll be back probably 10ish tomorrow night. This will be a tiring 3 days then with the transport to Beypazari on Saturday.

We are the only kiwis on board although there are a few Aussies too. We headed off just after 7 and we stopped at a café about 2 hours away for a break where we could get coffee and juice. We were heading directly west and once we were out of the city the landscape soon became agricultural. We saw thousands upon thousands of hectares of sunflowers and at around 1130 we had lunch. This was included as part of the tour and was very good.

Next we headed for Eceabat where we got on a car ferry and crossed the Dardanelles Strait into Asia to Canakkale. From there it was only about 20 minutes to Troy. As many people have noted, there is not a lot to see at Troy (especially when compared to Turkey’s main archaeological site, Ephesus). There has not been a lot of restoration and excavation and further restoration is in progress. However there are many original remains to be seen and plenty of information. We had a guide which sped things up a bit and overall we did enjoy this. Some of the people on the tour were heading back to Istanbul after this and it seems like a lot of effort for a day trip, but as a part of this trip we thought it was worthwhile. It is quite amazing to think that ancient cities stood here and, of course, that the Trojan Horse episode occurred here.

After that it was back to Canakkale to check into our hotel (the Grand Anzac). With the Gallipoli peninsula just over the water this city attracts a number of Anzacs. The waterfront area is very attractive and we headed down there for dinner. We were keen to have some fish and we were persuaded to go into a restaurant sporting the NZ and Aussie flags. We chose a freshly caught sea-bass which was oven baked and served with fries and salad. That was washed down with Turkish beer and wine. It was perhaps a little over-priced but the fish was superb. We very much liked the restaurateur’s 100th Anzac anniversary t-shirt and found out where he got it. We have acquired a couple for ourselves. Unfortunately sizes were very limited so we couldn’t get any others for people we had in mind.

Then we went to another café for ice-cream and headed back to the hotel. As Zachary was in the shower Heather realised she hadn’t packed a nappy for him (we just took an overnight bag and kept our room in Istanbul) so I headed off to find a supermarket. Hotel reception was very busy so I went round the block without success before getting back to the hotel and getting instructions – I never would have found it!

So, a long but enjoyable day. Troy was interesting but also very hot and very windy. Tomorrow our guide, Jimmy, will meet us at 10am and we will go to a local museum and have lunch. From there it is off to Gallipoli where we will see all the major points of interest. This should be one of the highlights of the trip.

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