Istanbul, Turkey


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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet
June 9th 2014
Published: June 10th 2014
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First EveningFirst EveningFirst Evening

Spent in a promenade cafe overlooking the bridge to Europe and an old fortress.
It is evening. A fingernail moon hangs in the clear sky. We sit at an outside table along the promenade eating spinach pastries and drinking the local salty-yoghurt concoction known as Ayrun. At the cafe next to ours, young girls in diaphanous pastel gowns celebrate their middle-school graduation by dancing to electronic bouzouki music. Before us rolls the dark Bosphorus. Its surface bulges with eddies and the reflections of foam-starred spiral galaxies. Powerful, ancient currents propel water and ships from the Black Sea southward past the Dardanelles to the Marmara Sea. A long suspension bridge slung between Asia and Europe changes color as we watch, from deep sea-blue to lavender to shades of red and white. An old, crenelated, thick-towered fortress lies just across the seaway. We are in Istanbul, Turkey and it is more than we had ever hoped for.

In Chandigarh we caught a flight to Mumbai. A huge, sprawling, sea-side metropolis with soaring apartment buildings at its center that crumble like Grand Canyon mesas into blue, tarp-roofed, corrugated-metal slum shacks at their periphery. The acrid smell of raw sewage permeates the cabin's interior when we land to refuel before our next leg onward to Chennai which is
KJ Gets Her Look On Outside The Blue MosqueKJ Gets Her Look On Outside The Blue MosqueKJ Gets Her Look On Outside The Blue Mosque

The rains were fierce this day my friends.
located in the far southeast corner of India near Sri Lanka. Chennai is peopled by dark-skinned, courteous folks who had us wishing that we had started our Indian adventure there instead of New Delhi. We had now been flying for 5 hours but we weren't finished yet.

Our next 5 hour leg was to Abu Dhabi. I alternated between watching 'Ben Hur' on one channel of my seat-back monitor and a GPS map on the other channel. Row! Ben Hur of Judea, Row! We flew over the Emirates. It was night and high above the clouds we could see a plethora of bright stars. Below us, halogen-bright cities and towns were all connected by brightly illuminated roadways that looked like strings of amber pearls from 35,000 feet. Abu Dhabi is a far-flung affair. A monetized desert. Miles and miles of wide, street-light boulevards with no buildings in sight. It looks like an ambitiously planned Arizona subdivision that lost its financing before actual construction could take place. We landed and spent 10-minutes taxiing to the terminal. There are no jet-ways in Abu. Everyone must take those long accordion-flex buses to the terminal but oh, what a terminal. Free showers and
Mumbai Mumbai Mumbai

Sprawling city on the sea fringed with slum dog neighborhoods. We could not believe how extensive the metropolis was nor the gap between the high-rise dwelling rich and the shack bound poor.
WIFI. Great restaurants and television and prayer rooms along with the cleanest public restrooms I have ever encountered on any of my travels. Coming from rustic India; KJ and I were in ecstatic, plumbing culture-shock.

We had 7-hours to kill and we did it with movies and good coffee and tiny worthless naps that killed time but not fatigue. We boarded our last plane at 7 AM. This would be our 19th flight of the trip so far. In Istanbul we cleared customs quickly after we paid our $30 visa on arrival fees (cash only please). Outside the terminal we grabbed a $5 shuttle bus ride to Thaksim Square in the city center. Istanbul is a very modern town. Beautiful residential neighborhoods marbled with wide, flower-filled public parks. Cars everywhere and they are new cars. My first impression of Turkey was; Money. There is a lot of money in-country and it appears to be very well distributed. There is food everywhere which is a good thing because corpulent Turks love to eat. They eat in restaurants and Doner cafes and standing at street carts which deal out breads and cakes and fruit by the bushel. I was now looking
Lonely In Abu DhabiLonely In Abu DhabiLonely In Abu Dhabi

No matter where we sat the local Muslims would give us a wide berth unless we smiled at their kids. They really liked that though they wouldn't sit any closer.
forward to the dining portion of our trip.

We had used my Couchsurfer contacts to locate a gentleman who was willing to put Karen and I up for three nights. Whenever I go to an unfamiliar spot I prefer to use Couchsurfing for 2 reasons. Number one it's cheap. Crashing in somebody's guestroom is always the lowest-priced option. More importantly you now have a local to show you the ropes. What to see, what to avoid, how to use public transport, where the best restaurants are and the best sights. Our host this time was a 33-year old computer engineer named Tolga. He lives on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Every person here is identified by their location on the Bosphorus; Asian (east) or European (west). Asian is considered preferable though it takes a little longer to get into town. Fortunately Istanbul has a Cracker-Jack public transport system with beautiful new Mercedes buses, streetcars, subways and ferries. It feels like Seattle but with better traffic and more varied hot beverages. Tolga loaned us a cell phone and a public transport card which can be used on all conveyances from ferries to streetcars. A ferry ride costs 75-cents. Same
Mike, Tolga and KJMike, Tolga and KJMike, Tolga and KJ

On Asian side of Bosphorus.
for a bus ride. If you look confused, a Turk will immediately come to your assistance and if they cannot speak English they'll get somebody on their cell phone who can but in the end you WILL be helped no matter what, because hospitality is the greatest of all Turkish virtues.

Outside his apartment we watched Tolga's neighbors harvesting white mulberries and bright-red cherries from trees next to his building. Turkey has some of the best fruits I have ever eaten. They can grow anything here except bananas and oranges. Fruit is one of Turkey's biggest exports. Turks are most engaging folks. I ran into an elderly man who had just collected a 3-gallon bucket full of red and yellow cherries. He held the pail out to me and motioned me to help myself so I did. He rattled on in animated Turkish while I responded in English. I told him about my experience picking cherries in the Washington Cascades 23-years ago with Liz and her family and how cute Noah looked in his blue-denim coveralls while walking along the sunny riverside paths and my new Turkish friend responded animatedly about something in his life, gesticulating with wide, worn,
The Bosphourus....The Bosphourus....The Bosphourus....

Is filled with ships of all types from container vessels to high-end cruise operations.
red-stained hands. After I had had my fill he shook my hand in both of his, smiled and ambled on home to bake a pie or perhaps, to make a crumble. It's just that nice here.

The next day KJ and I braved the rainy day to go to the old Spice Market and Bazaar. Two mandatory stops on the tourists' trail of tears here. We took the 15SN bus to the Asian ferry terminal. Ferries leave every 15 minutes so waits are minimal. We chugged across the Bosphorus, passing other ferries and docked cruise ships and tug boats and dry goods cargo vessels. There was a 4-masted tall ship in port painted in dazzling white. As we neared our destination we saw the Great Blue Mosque anchored by 4 slender minarets that looked like 60-foot tall, sharpened, number two pencils which made me think of taking the SAT's and that made me sad.

The old bazaar is a high-priced tourist trap. Narrow aisles crowded with westerners who, while at home, can barely throw together a Toaster Strudel are now perusing high quality Iranian Saffron at hundreds of dollars an ounce. Turks love to eat candy so there
KJ On The Ferry; First DayKJ On The Ferry; First DayKJ On The Ferry; First Day

Best part of our visit to Istanbul were the ferry rides we took across the Bosphourus.
is stall after stall of Turkish delights and hand-made, gelatinous cubes of diabetic-coma inducing sweetness in a rainbow of colors. Outside the main building are stores specializing in brass-ware, carpets and household items. The further you range from the bazaar building the more realistic are the prices of goods so range far and wide my amigos or suffer greatly. Food carts are everywhere. You can purchase a large pretzel-shaped pastry big enough to feed two for a single Lira or fifty-cents. Bathrooms are in short supply but every Mosque offers a very clean public facility to all comers. In separate blue-tiled rooms, Muslim men wash their feet before going inside their Mosques to pray.

Politically; This is a time of great change in Turkey. After purging the old military order, the current leader (with White House support) is re-establishing an Islamic influenced system. Those of a more secular persuasion are being suppressed while black-scarved, gray-garbed women of dour expression run roughshod over Istanbul and endow the city with an atmosphere akin to that of Tehran after the 1979 US Embassy student takeover. Think of it as a reverse 'Arab Spring'. The more secular Istanbulites express their dismay at changes
Approaching the Old City By FerryApproaching the Old City By FerryApproaching the Old City By Ferry

Sixty-cents for a ride up the Bosphorus on the local ferry. The best deal in town.
within Turkey in frequent street demonstrations to the accompaniment of tear gas and water canons. The Turkish media outlets follow in lockstep with the sitting leadership and every newscast here is back-dropped with fluttering, digital, Turkish flags. Our increasingly half-hearted support of the sitting Turkish Prime Minister and our lack of leadership in the Syrian crisis have left a bad taste in the mouths of many Turks. Karen and I hear about it from time to time but only politely. I tell the Turks with whom I speak that most Americans couldn't find Turkey on a map if they had to and that the problem lays primarily within our flip-flopping US policy in the Middle East and not with common American citizens. It's not as if 'We the People' have any real influence in these matters. The Turks would be better off complaining to Goldman Sachs.

Tolga starts showing us around as soon as he gets home from work at 6 PM. We eat this and look at that and go over there and wonder at it all. This ancient city. The gateway to Asia. I look at the Bosphorus and I remember Peter the Hermit's 'People's Crusade' in
Tolga and FriendsTolga and FriendsTolga and Friends

Our host with his two buddies. We shared a picnic in a park overlooking the Bosphorus. Talked about every little thing and laughed a great deal. The Turks are a marvelous people to be with.
1096 to retake Jerusalem with his 'Army' of over 80,000 poor, starving, unarmed peasants who crossed the Bosphorus at this spot only to be slaughtered upon reaching the Asian side. The strategic importance of the Bosphorus led Darius of Persia and Xerxes to build huge bridges out of boats to transport their armies across the channel and attack Greece. It is one of the most strategically important bodies of water in the world. Seeking control of it cost the British and ANZAC forces tens of thousands of lives during WW I at Gallipoli. The number of bones and relics laying at the bottom of the Bosphorus are anybody's guess. Today, it is covered in commercial ships and pleasure boats. It's a beautiful spot to sit and ponder our collective histories.

On our last morning here, Tolga packs a picnic and takes us to a flower-strewn public park overlooking Istanbul. We are joined by two of his friends. Good guys who want to hear all about Karen's and my travels. What we liked. What we hated and what we think of Turkey today. I haven't put it all together yet but this I know; We will be coming back here.
Rainy DayRainy DayRainy Day

Karen sticks out in this fundamentalist Islamic area where scarves are de rigueur.




BIG shout out to Chris Smith for super long-distance help with the last creepy vestiges of India. I owe you big Chris. Winner of the 'guess where we're going' contest is Raquel who is now entitled to a flimsy; it'll break the first time you use it, souvenir. To John M.: I love you John. To Tolga: I cannot express our appreciation for all you did for us in words my new friend. To Reed and Stace; Getting any sleep yet? To Karlie: You need to see Canakkale. 7 hour bus ride from Istanbul and worth it. What a town! To everybody back in Bradenton; How's the A/C holding up? To John and Kelly; What are you feeding that cat?!

We are in Gallipoli now and loving it. What a marvelous place. We had planned on 3 days here but are now extending indefinitely. It is THAT nice. Plus they have the Trojan Horse that Brad Pitt rode around in down here. How can you not like that?


Additional photos below
Photos: 28, Displayed: 28


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Ogatepe Neighborhood in Asian IstanbulOgatepe Neighborhood in Asian Istanbul
Ogatepe Neighborhood in Asian Istanbul

Beautiful residential areas. Well maintained streets with access to good public transport. Looks just like parts of Germany.
The Famous Blue MosqueThe Famous Blue Mosque
The Famous Blue Mosque

15th Century construction. Beautiful minarets and long lines of tourists snake around the courtyard.
Baby HeadsBaby Heads
Baby Heads

Display outside old city child-wear store.
Need A Bathroom?  Fifty-cents Please.Need A Bathroom?  Fifty-cents Please.
Need A Bathroom? Fifty-cents Please.

If you can find a public restroom you can expect to fork over half a buck to use it. You can always find a restroom at any of the local Mosques in Istanbul and there are; Oh, so many Mosques.
Big Bang TheoryBig Bang Theory
Big Bang Theory

After a hard Turkish day, KJ relaxes with American TV.
CatsCats
Cats

Turks love their cats; Even the stray ones. People will feed any and all they come across.
Mike and KJ With Their First AyrunsMike and KJ With Their First Ayruns
Mike and KJ With Their First Ayruns

This salty-yogurt drink topped with meringue takes some getting used to which we were never able to do. Very salty concoction much favored by the locals.
Asian Side Of The BosphorusAsian Side Of The Bosphorus
Asian Side Of The Bosphorus

Nice shot taken by Tolga.
MeatballsMeatballs
Meatballs

Tolga took us to this neighborhood eatery for meatballs and suddenly all of this other food appeared on the table. Some of it good and some of it was great.
First DayFirst Day
First Day

We killed time waiting for Tolga with thick Turkish coffee and phyllo pastries.
Ogatepe ParkOgatepe Park
Ogatepe Park

Istanbul is full of huge and meticulously landscaped parks with cafes and restaurants.


10th June 2014
Street Vendors

Wonderful Post
WOW, this place sounds amazing! All of the places you have been have sounded exciting, educational or adventuous, but this one is the easiest to relate to so far! Never really thought about Turkey, now I'll do a little reading! Thank you for sharing with us; and also thanks for allowing Kelly and John to be next door! Last night Brad was at a meeting and about 8:30 John popped in to borrow a game we have! I thought of you two and was thankful to have the kids so close! Hugs Also with the temps over 90 every day and humidity at a high, no rain here just all around us, mosquitoes EVERYWHERE (little ones, kind of strange), we are in paradise! LOL Btw, I saw Gaahl a couple of times recently, he has certainly enjoyed the local food here, as you two are enjoying Turkey! Think of him when you eat your next sweet roll; although I happen to know he is only eating cat food, he is enjoying it as much as I have ever seen! I warned J & K that they just might get a strong word or two when you return! Continue on and it was "less worrisome" to read this post, you two look so refreshed and beautiful (handsome)! Live for all of us at home who are not there with you having the time of your lives!! Jane
10th June 2014

Istanbul
Thank you Mike for the more detailed and historic view of Turkey. I seem to only get fractions of info from Karlie but I think she is enjoying herself-not as much as y'all, but she is good. Hope Turkey has many more good experiences in store for you two!
11th June 2014

I have gotten a lot of fun out of your adventures, really a lot of envy. You are living the life i wished for before life as is i chose it got in the way of the life i dreamed. Don't know where you are bound next but have always wanted to visit Iceland or Greenland would be nice if you could do so and send the pictures back. In the mean time good luck to you and keep you right hand cocked in case of Indian adventures
26th June 2014

Thank You Cliff
I remember reading all of your blogs as you tried to set a new record for avoidance of the always uncomfortable 'return home'. I don't think I'll ever come close to your time spent away. At least as long as I am not traveling solo. Alone, I think I could give you a run for your money. It is an honor to know that you're reading my stuff and though Iceland ad Greenland have never been on my list I will now have to give them some consideration. Tchuss.

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