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Published: August 7th 2010
Having a moment
Inside Aya Sofya, Istanbul.
Here we are! After weeks of wrapping up our London lives for the journey back to New Zealand, we are here in Istanbul. Three days of travel out of 140, already we are pretty knackered! We're definately going to feel like a cup of tea and a sit down by the 140th day!
Istanbul has been a lovely surprise. I wasn't overly excited about visiting the city. Some of the Indian cities and the likes of Luxor and Aswan were so full of hassle that the idea of four days of carpet hard sell and bazaars wasn't appealing.
How wrong I was. Istanbul has been ridiculously easy and enjoyable to travel about. From our fab little guesthouse in Sultanahmet we have been able to walk to all the sights, the only drawback has been the heat! Yes it is hot. Not an 'oh this is lovely, let's lie down and sunbathe' heat. More like an 'oh my god, I am dripping in sweat, can you see the wet patches? This is madness, I really need to lie down in a dark airconditioned room' kind of heat.
The first morning we were in a complete daze from our 2am
arrival due to our delayed flight out of Heathrow. Unfortunately, London was struck with a massive rainstorm just as the backpacks were being loaded into the boot of the car. This caused a backlog of planes on the runway and an least an extra hour sitting inside the plane for the passengers.
Anyway, we made it and the following morning, we dragged our sorry selves onto a boat cruise of the Bosphorus which ended up lasting five hours. The weather was pretty muggy and overcast but it was a great introduction to the city and gave us a chance to get orientated. We had our first meal at Anadolu Kavagi, a little village specialising in fresh fish. Despite reading that the Bosphorus was really dirty, there were loads of people swimming along the shore line and we have even seen a pod of dolphins on two occassions!
Since then, we have got into a little routine of getting up early to beat the heat and also the crowds at the most famous attactions. Our first visit to Topaki Palace turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. From the absoutely glowing reviews from the Lonely Planet, we
were expecting something a bit more. The whole place was completely lacking in atmosphere and quite a few sections were closed.
Considering the very hefty entry fees (almost double for audio guides and double again to tour the Haram) it didn't really deliver compared to similar attactions we have visited around the world. Chris laughed when the guy at the cafe told us that a can of coke was 9Tl (about £3.50 or about $9nz!) he stopped laughing and put it back pretty quickly when he realised he wasn't joking.
The Basilica Cistern turned out to be a great place to escape too. During the heat of the day, this huge underground waterstorage was lovely and cool. It was built in AD532 to store the water for the palaces of the time. It really makes the water tanks of today look like a pretty poor effort!
A bloke called Petrus Gyllius was carrying out a bit of research into Byzantium antiquities in 1545 (yes, 1545) and heard that some of the locals were catching fish and getting fresh water by lowering buckets into holes in their basements.
After squeezing himself down one of the holes, he
discovered the amazing cistern. These days, the 336 columns and the two weird Mudusa heads are all flood-lit and the carp still swim about in the dark waters. Those fish were lucky not to be struck on the head by our camera as our gorilla grip tripod slipped and nearly went flying into the murky depths. According to Chris, it was 'a near miss' but personally I think I had the situation under complete control!
The Blue Mosque was high on the agenda. It really is one of the most amazing buildings in the world.
It was surprisingly noisy inside - little kids running around, people lounging on the floor, playing with their phones, hoards of barely covered tourists - it is certainly different from other Mosques I have visited but still very impressive.
Aya Sofya still managed to retain it's atmosphere or that could have been due to the fact we visited very early in the day and a big entry fee makes it less acessible to the public.
I loved the fact that the building felt so incredibly old. The domes are stunning and the moasics are true works of art. I could have stayed
in here all day taking photos and wondering how on earth such an amazing building was able to be built and decorated in AD527-565! It really is a masterpiece.
The Grand Bazaar was somewhere we stayed for almost a full forty minutes! Despite the lack of hassle, (why aren't they trying hard to sell us stuff, do we look too crusty in our traveling clothes or just not like the carpet buying types?) the stuff on sale wasn't really any different to any other bazaar we have been to and we certainly don't have any extra room in the back packs!
A lot more interesting was the Spice Market and the local markets down around Yeni Camii. Hundreds of little shops, each one specialising in something different. You want chicken wire? Go to the chicken wire shop. You want wooden musical instruments? Or ribbons? Or little boxes ... how about the sticky tape shop? You want it, there is definately a whole shop dedicated it. If I had room in the pack, I would have loved the fabric shops. The designs were modern, colourful and very funky. I could have spent a fortune!
Apart from boat cruises and
visiting the big attractions, we have spent our evenings people-watching and eating bbq corn and ice creams in the park between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya. This is the only time it is really cool enough to be outside and everyone is out and about till all hours. There were even families out in the parks at 2am on the morning we arrived. The old town has such a good safe vibe and we have felt no worries about walking around with a camera even at night. There are people here from all over the world, from scantily clad tourists to a hand full woman in the full burqa. Despite the obvious differences, the people we have met have all been very friendly. Even the resturant touts are almost polite compared to those in Egypt. So far, Turkey seems a good choice for our first five weeks of travel. Tomorrow, we continue on the well trodden tourist path by taking a six hour bus to Eceabat on the Gallipoli Pennisula. Hope it's air conditioned!
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