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Published: November 27th 2014
Map of Istanbul
European Istanbul to West, Asian Istanbul to East
Blog Entry Two
Before we get too far along I want to make it clear that Istanbul is fantastic ... great city ... super clean (more on that later) ... warm and welcoming people ... good food ... everything a traveler could want ... except ... of course ... sunshine.
It has been raining and windy since my arrival, which is tremendously disappointing. I had dinner with some German friends who lamented that they were going to have to go home to Munich to warm up (for those who are a bit lax on their German geography, Munich is in the foothills of the Alps, and is not generally considered balmy).
Speaking of geography, I am attaching a simple map of the Istanbul in hopes that my descriptions will make more sense ... there will, of course, be a short quiz at the end of the blog.
Istanbul sits on the both sides of the narrow Bosphorus Straight, the only navigable waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea (it will come as no surprise that I had to "look up" the spelling of Mediterranean ... and once I had it, I realized that if given
50 opportunities there is no way I would have come up with that particular combination of 13 letters).
So anyway ... Istanbul ... on the Bosphorus ... only way between the Black and Mediterranean Sea.
Annually, 55,000 ships travel south from the Black Sea, into the Bosphorus, then into the Sea of Marmara, then into the Aegean Sea and finally into the Mediterranean. It is one of the busiest waterways on the planet. A ship watcher's dream.
The Bosphorus is also the boundary between Europe and Asia, so the western half of Istanbul is in Europe and the eastern half is in Asia. I know the boundary ... like all boundaries ... is arbitrary ... but still its pretty cool to take a walk across a bridge from Europe to Asia.
In addition, the European side of the city is further divided by the "Golden Horn" an inlet slicing west off the Bosphorus, creating a natural harbor that separates the old, historic part of the city (called "Old Town" or "Sultanahmet") from the "New Town" section of the city. Old Town contains most of the historic sites, and New Town is the commercial center.
European side of Istanbul ... as the crossroads between Europe and Asia ... has been inhabited as a commercial center for over 5,000 years. The Asian side, which developed later, is largely residential. Approximately 1 million people commute every day from Asia to Europe for work.
I know ... I know ... its confusing (but its the geography questions that are going to give us a nice little bell curve on our quiz). Take a look at the map. It will make more sense.
So finally, we are moving off geography.
Upon my arrival, I jumped on the metro, transferred to a surface tram and then walked four blocks to my small European hotel in Sultanahmet.
Sultanahmet is built on 7 hills and is crisscrossed with narrow cobblestone streets. This are restaurants, cafes and small inns around every corner, and many inns have roof top bars where you can sit and enjoy commanding views of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara (that is of course unless its raining). I have yet to experience a "commanding view."
I am staying at the Premier Sarnic Hotel and it is delightful. Small, clean European-style rooms, proper English
breakfast and a lovely roof top bar with commanding views of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmar (or so I have heard).
On Monday, I followed my "first day in a new city" plan. I rose early and wandered out into the streets to see what I could find. I spent the day walking the narrow historic streets, stopping here and there for a coffee or beer. Every couple of hours the air would be filled with the amplified "call to prayer" for observant Muslims who make up 90% of the local population. If you are near the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque (two of the largest and most historic mosques in the world ... both of which are located in Sultanahmet) you can hear the call and response between the Iman making the "call to prayer" from each of the mosques. First one goes, then the other. It makes everything seem more exotic and mysterious. Its not an accident that in Murder on the Orient Express (one of the great mysteries in fiction) the train left from Istanbul. A warning to those who are not early risers, the first "call to prayer" is at dawn ...
so be cognizant of where your hotel is located.
I finished my day by visiting two historic markets.
The first was the Grand Bazaar, the oldest continuing operating market on the planet. There are over 4,400 stalls, with vendors selling everything from tacky souvenirs to expensive silk scarves. As a side note ... at one store selling very expensive scarves, they had photos of all the celebrities who have purchased their wares over the years. One photo correctly identified actress and fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker (how awesome is it that I found a way to use the word "fashionista" in a blog about Istanbul), but completely neglected to name Sarah's husband ... Matthew Broderick ... who was standing there ... in the photo ... with his arm around her. Granted, to entice the scarf-buying public, Sarah is probably a better "get," but come on ... the guy has two Tony Awards (thank you Wikipedia) and he was Farris Bueller for God's sake.
Ok, deep breath, moving on.
The Grand Bazaar is wonderful and full of energy, a cacophony of lights, colors and sounds. I am traveling alone, but if I was with a group (especially if
I had some teens or young adults along) I would absolutely give each person $20 and two hours ... at the end of that two hours everyone would have to report back with the "booty" they bargained for ... I suspect it would be the most fun experience of the trip.
I also loved that there were all these men running around with trays of Turkish coffee. At the Grand Bazaar you do not go to the coffee, the coffee comes to you. Fantastic idea!!
The second market is Spice Market a/k/a the Egyptian Market ... the historic location for the trading of spices from Asia, the Middle East and Africa. You will notice above that I described the Grand Bazaar as "cacophony of lights, colors and sounds." I purposely left out "smells" because the Spice Market is where you come for the smells. Overwhelming and delightful.
One word of warning ... try to figure out what a kilo is before you come. For a single Euro, I purchased a kilo of "Turkish Delight," the local pistachio-flavored candy (it comes in other flavors but the original "Turkish Delight" is pistachio). Well apparently a kilo equals about 46
pounds because I have more candy then I know what to do with. I have been handing it out to strangers.
Before I go I wanted to mention again how incredibly clean this city is. Anyone who reads my blogs knows that I am often disappointed with graffiti, trash and general untidiness that is all too often found in European cities. That is not the case here. There is virtually no graffiti and the streets are as clean as one could expect in a city with 14 million people. I met some new friends from Milwaukee who have been in Istanbul several days longer than I have and when I mentioned how clean everything was, they both exclaimed "Thats All We Have Been Talking About!"
Once you notice the cleanliness, it does not take to long to figure out why. There are trash recepticals everywhere (I am going to attach a photo I took for the sole reason that I was able to get six trash cans into the frame). There are cute little street sweepers running all over the place and there are both public employees (in bright orange jackets) and private citizens toting brooms and sweeping
up rubbish and fallen leaves with an efficiency you do not usually find outside of Disney-owned theme park. And I want to make it clear, that this is not just in the tourist areas. At the writing of this blog I have been wandering all over this city for five days (I know I am behind on the blog) and the local areas are as pristine as the tourist areas. Well done Istanbul.
Tomorrow I will document a wind-swept trip down the Bosphorurs.
I was kidding about the quiz. You just slogged though a 1400 word blog. You have done your reading for the day.
Unlike Nepal, I have bandwidth, so I will be attaching photos.
Stay tuned. Please comment.
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