Hello family and friends! We are really having fun in Turkey and are learning so much about the history, culture, religion and people here. We have made lots of new friends and the weather is showing promise too!
Monday, March 9 – Istanbul!
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey with a population of 14.4 million; more than 90% are Muslim. Istanbul is a transcontinental city in Eurasia, with its commercial and historical centre lying on the European side and about a third of its population living on the Asian side of Eurasia. We did not know that! The portion of Turkey’s land in Europe is actually only about 5 percent!! That means we were actually in Asia for our tour of Turkey. The things we have learned!
We were awoken our first morning in Istanbul at 5:30am by the ‘call to prayer’ which is delivered live, via loudspeakers. It was beautiful, haunting and passionate. The calls are delivered five times a day at various hours based on things like the rotation of the earth, revolutions around the sun, latitudes, sunrise and sunsets. No wonder they need a reminder! In areas where there is more than one mosque, the loudspeaker sounds overlap one another which makes for an even more interesting sound! When practicing Muslims hear the ‘call to prayer’, they head to a mosque or wherever they are, (we saw men praying in the Paris airport), turn toward Mecca, kneel face down, and pray to God. Understanding different traditions and religions even just a little, makes our experience more meaningfully. All the Turks we met were friendly, fantastic people – and most spoke pretty good English!
Our hotel was beautiful with Turkish decor and a metal detector at the front door. It didn’t seem to work which was a little unsettling since there must have been a reason for its placement.
As usual, it took us some time to get our bearings but after a day or two, we had branched out. We were on our own until Wednesday evening when our escorted tour officially begins.
Not far from our hotel was the Spice Bazaar, an amazing market of 85 shops and very narrow walkways, packed with customers and very agressive pedlars. They all know just enough English to get your attention; the more creative ones add a touch of humour to their spiel to make you laugh and more susceptible. If you tell them where you are from, they surely have a cousin that lives there. We bet those are the more successful salesmen. This is the place in Istanbul to buy spices, Turkish delight and other sweets, jewellery, souvenirs, and dried fruits and nuts.
We had dinner at an Italian restaurant that just got their liquor license the day before. We bought a variety of Turkish pastries on the way home; mostly pistachio blaklava, for dessert. Very sweet but not to be missed when in Turkey.
Tuesday, March 10
We could see the Galata Tower across the water so we paid a huge tourist fee to ride the lift to the top and enjoy a panoramic view of historic Istanbul and the Bosphorus peninsula. The nine-story structure was very old and would never pass any safety inspection in North America. But, we paid big bucks so we slowly made our way around the perimeter by side stepping, single file, people who ignored the ‘one way’ sign. The view was incredible though and we lived to tell the story. Lol
Here is my YouTube from the top:
The trip to and from the tower took us through a tram station stop, underground road bypasses with yet more markets, and the docking area for the Bosphorus Cruises. Many restaurants! Fish sandwiches for 6TL were flogged everywhere so our lunch was decided for us. I won’t say it was fantastic. Pretty sure the “fresh fish” came from the many fisherman on the bridge above. I loved watching them. (Our Tour Guide would later tell us that the street vendors offering chicken, are really using pigeon!!)
We returned to this area for dinner and had a nice meal of fish again after selecting our choices from a huge cart that is wheeled in and paraded for us tourists. The restaurant had live music featuring a guitarist and clarinet player; an odd combination that together created a unique, Turkish sound. So cool!
Wednesday, March 11
The Bosphorus Boat Tour is touted as a ‘do not miss’ way to understand the scope of the size of Istanbul. It was a bargain and for an hour and a half the boat took us through the straight separating Europe and Asia. We saw Imperial palaces, pavilions, Mosques and million dollar mansions. We really enjoyed this – good value!
The day was not warm on the water and by the time we finished, we were frozen to the bone. Nothing that a bowl of soup can’t fix though; we weren’t sure what it was, but it was hot and delicious.
The rest of our tour group had arrived now so the Tour Leader ‘Metin’ met with us all and reviewed our itinerary and many other details. The group is primarily from California, where they all belong to the same Catholic Church, and are English speaking Asians. Three people joined us at our table for dinner, an 83 year woman we all call ‘Yo Mama’, her daughter (and oldest of 10 children), and the Catholic Priest. It was enjoyable and as time would tell, we would share many laughs, meals and stories with all our new friends on Bus #1. We are happy to have someone else to talk to for 13 days!
Thursday, March 12 – Istanbul Escorted Tour begins
Ok, I have a confession to make – I copied and pasted below, and edited a little, the itinerary we were provided by our tour company. Saved me a lot of time, which we are short of on these full day tours. Wake up calls are very early!! Then I just had to plop the pictures in and voila, blog post.
Our tour began at the magnificent Blue Mosque, with its six minarets and interior of more than 21,000 glittering Iznik tiles. This stunning decor is accented by beautiful floral designs of traditional lily, carnation, tulip and rose motifs. It is not actually blue at all; that it just a tourist reference to the colourful inside. Us ladies had to wear head scarfs and everyone removed their shoes during this visit. The Mosque is massive and very beautiful.
On to the Hippodrome, a spacious square that offers a glimpse into the magnificence of the Byzantine era when this was used as a stadium for chariot racing and center of city life.
St. Sophia (HagiaSophia) is one of the most impressive buildings constructed in the 6th century; architects still marvel at the building’s many innovations. Once the greatest church in Christendom, it was converted to a mosque after the conquest of the city and then proclaimed a museum by Atatürk, recognizing its world-historical significance.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings. The cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water, despite being virtually empty today with only a few feet of water lining the bottom.
Located in the northwest corner of the cistern, the bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the visage of Medusa; origin unknown:
Next we toured Topkapi Palace, residence of Ottoman Sultans, where the power of ruling this huge empire was played against a background of Harem intrigue. The jeweled turban crests, silken caftans and priceless Chinese porcelains of the palace bear witness to the grandeur of a bygone era.
Also on display was the “Staff of Moses” (the one that created the miracles) and the “Sword of David” from biblical times, in addition to many artifacts of The Profit Mohammed.
At the Grand Bazaar, with its over 4000 shops, you can bargain for carpets, jewelry, leather and much more.
Dinner was on our own tonight and we had delicious lamb skewers.
Friday, March 1- Anzac Cemetery, Drive to Canakkale (Asia)
The bus tour / road trip begins! We stepped back in time as we arrived at Gallipoli. We viewed the poignant battlefields of one of WWI’s bloodiest campaigns and stood at Anzac Cove, where Australian and New Zealand forces landed. Lots of officials touring too:
After a visit to the solemn cemetery and memorials at Gallipoli National Park, we crossed the Dardanelles that connect the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara, by ferry boat to continue to Canakkale in northwest Turkey.
Canakkale is where we spent the night. The city was preparing for the arrival of the Prime Minister the following day and it was clear that leaving bright and early was in our best interest. Very busy! The Turks party on Friday nights and we heard them quite clearly in our room.
This is from the Brad Pitt movie:
Saturday, March 14 - Troy, Pergamum, Drive to Kusadasi
Our Morning tour was to the classical 4000-year-old city of Troy and legendary center of the Trojan War, immortalized in Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. One of the most famous archeological sites in the world, on the lower slopes of Mount Ida, its entrance is guarded by the mythical re-created Trojan Horse. On the World Heritage List of UNESCO, this site is now an important Turkish National Park.
This stray dog followed me everywhere; so many in Turkey – it is heartbreaking:
More painstaking digs and discoveries:
Then we drove to Pergamum, a powerful kingdom dating back to the 4th century BC, home to the second largest library in the ancient world, the theatre of Anatolia, the monumental Altar of Zeus and the Roman medical center of Asklepion. We enjoyed a lunch of traditional favorites before continuing to Kusadasi, gateway to Ephesus.
Sunday, March 15 - Day at leisure in Kusadasi
The rest of the group went to the Ancient City of Ephesus but we had toured this in 2009 so we stayed back for a day of laundry, catch-up and leisure in Kusadasi. Once a tiny fishing village, which has grown to a major bustling city with sleek stores, uncountable rug shops and boutiques along the modern port.
Part two of our Turkey tour to follow in the next day or so. Wifi is spotty at best in a lot of the hotels making it difficult to post, Facetime and stay in touch. I have been more than patient with it. Until today.
Paula and Joe