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Middle East » Turkey
January 11th 2009
Published: March 5th 2009
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The Red MosqueThe Red MosqueThe Red Mosque

Actually called Hagia Sophia Mosque
Turkey: 4th - 8th January 2009

Sunday 4th January

After having just spent 9 days in Egypt, it was straight from Cairo to Istanbul, Turkey for a quick 4 day tour.

We arrived in Istanbul late afternoon and were greeted at the airport by a man holding a sign with our name on it. We assumed that we were meeting up with our tour group; however amidst confusion we finally understood that this was just a driver….we guessed that we would meet our tour at the hotel.

The driver took us to where we were to stay for the night - Hotel Kupeli. We believed that we would be greeted by our tour guide; however the hotel staff knew nothing about this….not a great start. Fortunately, the hotel staff proved very helpful and contacted Mustafa, a representative from the tour company. When Mustafa eventually arrived, he did not seem to know who we were. This was certainly not a good sign of things to come!

Eventually we discovered that our ‘tour’ was not an actual organized tour, like we had expected. The tour company were brokers for other organized tours. Therefore we were to go on 3 separate ‘tours’ over the next few days. Needless to say, we began to feel a little anxious that our time in Turkey was going to be a bit chaotic…which it kind of was!

That night we headed into town and had an amazing meal - a stew cooked in a clay pot, which was then smashed open in front of us by the waiter. It was delicious!

Monday 5th January

Much to our surprise, we were picked up in the morning, to commence a day tour of Istanbul - what a relief!! Our tour guide was not overly friendly or approachable; however had a great knowledge of the city.

Our tour included:

1. Kariye Museum

This museum is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine Church. The church is situated in the western, Edirnekapi district of Istanbul. In the 16th century, the church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman rulers, and it became a secularised museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes.

2. Carpet factory and shop

Turkish carpets are among the most sought after household items all over the world. Their rich colours, warm tones, and extraordinary patterns with traditional motifs have contributed to the status that Turkish carpets have maintained since the 13th century.

We were greeted at the shop with a cup of lovely hot apple tea. We learnt about the carpets and were given the opportunity to make purchases. Whilst we enjoyed looking at the beautiful rugs, we didn’t feel the need to buy one!

3. Grand Bazaar

We loved the Grand Bazaar!! The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 streets, over 1,200 shops, and has between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops.

4. Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the national mosque of Turkey and is a historical mosque in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire (from 1453 to 1923). The mosque is one of several mosques known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior.

5. Turkish Lunch

The 3 course lunch included in our tour was amazing! We again had a cup of hot apple tea and tried a traditional Turkish coffee (it’s like mud!). The restaurant was in a lovely location, by the Bosphorus Sea.

6. Topkapi Palace

The Topkapi Palace was the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853. The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainment and is a major tourist attraction today. The name directly translates as "Cannon Gate Palace", from the palace being named after a nearby, now destroyed gate. The palace is full of examples of Ottoman architecture and also contains large collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor, Ottoman miniatures, Islamic calligraphic manuscripts and murals, as well as a display of Ottoman treasure and jewelry (it houses the Kasikci Diamond - the 4th largest diamond in the world)

7. Rustem Pasha Mosque

The Rüstem Pasha Mosque was designed by Ottoman imperial architect Mimar Sinan. Its building took place from 1561 to 1563.
This Mosque is famous for its large quantities of exquisite Iznik tiles, set in a very wide variety of beautiful floral and geometric designs, which cover not only the façade of the porch but also the mihrab, minbar, walls, columns and on the façade of the porch outside. These tiles exhibit the use of a tomato-red color characteristic of the early Iznik period (1555-1620).

8. Back to Grand Bazaar

Like we said - we loved the Grand Bazaar! So much so, that we decided to return for further exploration after our day tour had ended.
Following this, we stumbled upon a local bar, where we had an sweet apple tobacco Shishar. The bar seemed to be frequented by locals only, which added to the whole experience. That night we ate at a Mexican/Turkish Restaurant before eating some delicious Baklava whilst wandering around the streets.

Tuesday 6th January

Today we were leaving Istanbul and heading down to Gallipoli. We had a very early start and were again relieved that someone had come to pick us up. However this relief slowly turned to worry….

We were picked up in a plain white van, and it seemed we were the only passengers. The driver did not speak English and could not explain where we were going or what was happening. He drove for a long time, through some very dark back streets and into a massive underground car park. After watching one too many episodes of TV show ‘My holiday hostage hell’ we started to think we had been kidnapped. Fortunately, it turned out that we were actually in a huge underground bus depot. Buses were coming and going and it was absolute chaos! Again, no one seemed to speak English. After more confusion, we were ushered onto a bus full of local people. Hmmm where were our fellow tour companions? We really didn’t think we were in the right place, so we decided to wake up Mustafa and ask him for an explanation (bet he was pleased he gave us his phone number!). Mustafa explained that we were to take this bus to Canakkale, where we would meet up with the tour.

The bus trip was 6 hours long. It was quite a slow (however very picturesque) trip due to travelling through snow. We were offered tea/coffee and a snack during the trip and used hand gestures with the attendants for all other communication (i.e is this a toilet stop? How long will we be stopping for…?).

Eventually the bus stopped and someone got on the collect us. We were not in Canakkale so again we were confused. We were taken to a hostel, quickly given a salad roll and water and whisked onto another mini bus to go on a Gallipoli tour. We were with 2 other couples. Things were starting to make sense….

We spent about 4 hours on the Gallipoli peninsula. Given that it was winter in Turkey, there were no other tourists to contend with. We had the peninsula to our selves and it was incredibly peaceful and moving out there

Our tour guide was very informative. Some of the places we visited were: Anzac Cove, Lone Pine, ‘No mans land’, Chunuk Bair, Ataturk (memorial to the Turks), Hussein Monument (aka ‘Never runaway’), trenches, the cliff which resembles a sphinx, Johnsons Jolly, and Private Simpson’s grave (as in Simpson and his donkey - he was killed after only 4 weeks on Galipoli).

When it began to grow dark and we seemed to be getting frostbite (it got seriously cold - well below zero), it was time to leave. We were returned to the hostel where we were to stay for the night. According to our itinerary, we were supposed to get a ferry to Canakkle, where we were to stay the night…..Mustafa!!! Eventually the organizers of the tour agreed to take us to Canakkle. There we stayed in lovely ‘Hotel Akol’ on the waterfront and had a great dinner. This was a huge relief as we learnt the next day that the hostel did not get electricity until 11pm that night, and therefore had no heating!

Wednesday 7th January

We started the day with a short walk by the water in Canakkale, before we were collected for our tour of Troy, with only one other couple and 2 tour guides. Again we had a very informative guide.

Our tour commenced with yet another cup of hot apple tea whilst we listened to the ‘dream’ version of the story of Troy. Then we headed to the actual site. After taking some cheesy photos on the wooden horse (built in 1993) we began the tour of the archeological site. The walls of 9 cities of Troy remain, although many were damaged in the original excavations made in the 1880’s.

Following our tour, we headed back to the café for a traditional homemade lunch. The other couple was continuing on another tour and we were heading back to Istanbul. One of the locals at the café took us to wait by side of the road for bus back to Canakkale. When a bus stopped and we showed them our bus tickets they told us to get on. However when the bus terminated, we were charged for the trip - evidently we were on the wrong bus - we had been taken for a ride…literally!

The bus had taken us to the wrong bus station where we were supposed to get our next connection. We were lost and once again confused as no one spoke English. We managed to get on another wrong bus which took us one stop and terminated. With packs on our backs, we had to race back to where we were originally dropped off and try to find the correct bus. Somehow we managed to find it and we were back on track. Another 6 hour bus trip back…..

We arrived back at the chaotic underground bus station. There were plenty of drivers willing to take us back into town, however we had pre-paid bus tickets so we were eager to find the right bus!! Confusion reigned again and it was surprising that we didn’t get run over by a bus in the process. A nice man who spoke English stopped and offered to help us. He was able to direct us to the right bus.

Once again we found ourselves in a van with 3 dodgy looking men and we had flashbacks of our initial hostage fears! The 2 men driving managed to get totally lost and with our language barrier, we ended up having to navigate them back to our hotel!

In the middle of the night, Stacy broke out in an amazing rash. It turned out he was allergic to the antibiotics given to him in Egypt. Unfortunately this meant an uncomfortable night with interrupted sleep!

Thursday 8th January

We decided to get a Hamam (traditional Turkish bath) on our final day in Istanbul. We again experienced a language barrier and were left to melt on the hot stone without knowing what to expect. Erin had a great (though very liberal) experience whilst Stacy felt man handled (literally) and ripped off as his Hamam lasted 20 minutes less than Erin's.

We spent our final hours taking a stroll by the Bosphorus Sea and watching hundreds of men fish off the bridge. We were then transferred back to the airport for our BA flight to London!

We both really enjoyed Turkey (especially the food, apple tea, Grand Bazaar and Gallipoli) and would put it on our list of ‘highly recommended’ placed to visit. We were surprised by how developed it was - it was not dissimilar to European cities. We could certainly have spent longer in this country. A great trip!

Additional photos below
Photos: 36, Displayed: 30


Snow covered countrysideSnow covered countryside
Snow covered countryside

The view from the bus
Ari Burnu CemetaryAri Burnu Cemetary
Ari Burnu Cemetary

Gallipoli Peninsula
The graves just go on and on....The graves just go on and on....
The graves just go on and on....

Its very sobering to think that so many men died in Galipoli

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