A Travellerspoint blog


Fabulously Fascinating Istanbul

sunny 23 °C

Istanbul is heaving with tourists despite the war with the Kurds on its southern border and the lateness of the season. One reason could be the weather. While most of Europe and North America is already sliding quickly into winter here it is a balmy autumnal day and the sightseeing boats on the Bosphorus are doing a roaring trade. Here's the view from our window...


Istanbul probably has too many tourists for its own good at times, however, in a seemingly unco-ordinated move, all three of Istanbul's top attractions are currently undergoing major renovations. Parts of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Topkapi Palace are all shrouded in giant tarpaulins.and the treasury that houses the famous jewel encrusted Topkapi dagger is closed. Thankfully we have visited all these sights before and most of the Ottoman Sultan's Palace was open for business. The tilework is really beautiful - this is one of the many tiled ceilings...


A little history: The Ottoman Empire was founded in the 13th century in Anatolia, (Eastern Turkey today), and in 1354 the Ottomans crossed into Europe and conquered the Balkans. The Ottomans ended the Byzantine Empire with the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. With Constantinople as its capital and control of lands around the Mediterranean basin, the Ottoman Empire was at the crossroads between Europe and Asia for six centuries. During its height in the 16th and 17th centuries more than 1,500 people worked in the Topkapi Palace kitchens feeding up to 15,000 people at times. Here's a list of menu items from that period...


We too have been eating well in Istanbul where the restaurant choice is staggering, (and very inexpensive), but, unlike the Sultan and his guests, we did not eat off gold and jewel encrusted Chinese porcelain. Constantinople, (Istanbul) was one of the many great cities on the Silk Road from China to Europe and along with the silk came tea, spices, porcelain and many other products of the Orient. Our next stop on the Silk Road is Tashkent in Uzbekistan, but a great place to check out the products of the Far East is here at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul...


Istanbul's massive Grand Bazaar was built in 1461 but the original indoor market halls are now the preserve of goldsmiths, jewellers and carpet salesmen catering to tourists – this is not the place for bargains and few locals venture inside...



However, the surrounding maze of narrow alleyways and covered bazaars are absolutely teeming with merchants and shoppers from all over the world.


Bargains are for everyone here. Haute couture dresses and three piece men's tailored suits for just $40 Cdn. and luxury brand handbags by the thousand...


For us - a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice for a dollar. A hundred dollars goes a very long way here...


Now we are headed east along the Silk Road to a point exactly halfway around the world from our home. What wonders await us (and you) in Uzbekistan? Time will tell.

Posted by Hawkson 20:21 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

A Taste of Istanbul

sunny 24 °C


The view from our hotel window turned pink as the sun slowly rose over the Topkapi Palace on the banks of the Bosphorous in the heart of old Istanbul and we knew we were in for a glorious day. After a delicious breakfast we headed to the Blue Mosque. The same guy whom we had seen on our last visit 8 years ago was still vacuuming the carpet after morning prayers...


However, the Mosque is currently being renovated and the beautiful blue domes cannot be seen from inside. The interior of the nearby Hagia Sophia is also under renovation but this 916 year old church cum mosque cum museum looked pretty good against a clear blue sky...


With two of our 'must-see' sights done by lunchtime we became besotted with Turkish food and couldn't resist the baklava...


Baklava is everywhere here, but so is turkish delight...


Istanbul's ancient Spice Market is a good place to look at the displays of baklava and turkish delight.


The vendors in the Spice Market have all manner of products on display. There are, of course, still plenty of spices...


And numerous herbal teas...


With our eating and drinking done it was time for an afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus. We only have two days to re-acquaint ourselves with this historic city and with the crush of tourists we were feeling a little rushed. But once we left port in Europe it was calm sailing under a perfect sky and we had great views of the Büyük Çamlıca Camii mosque on the Asian side of the city - just one of the 2944 active mosques in Istanbul.


Now a short rest before braving the restaurant touts and the threat of more wonderful food.

Posted by Hawkson 08:00 Archived in Turkey Comments (6)

Turkey - Highly Recommended by Blissful Adventures

sunny 24 °C

If anywhere in the world deserves an 'A' for effort and an 'A+' for having what it takes, it is Turkey. So the next time you're brassed off with the weather and looking for somewhere offering a lot more than sun, sea and sand, head to this fascinating country and meet some of these lovely people at the grand bazaar in Istanbul...
You can also rub shoulders with some great characters from the past. This is the multi-breasted Roman goddess Artemis, in Selcuk - looking as weirdly voluptuous as she did 2,000 years ago...
Turkey must have more ancient Roman artifacts than Rome itself, including these wonderful mosaics in Ephesus...
But Turkey doesn't dwell in the past. It is a thoroughly modern country with great hotels and resorts, excellent public transit, and attractive towns with an abundance of pedestrianized streets. As for the roads: there is a vast network of modern 4 lane highways rivalling the best in the world - and at least 75% of Turkish drivers stop at red traffic lights!
Unlike most of the countries we visit, Turkey is almost hassle free. We saw far fewer panhandlers in the whole of Turkey than in downtown Vancouver and as for the infamous carpet salesmen - you've got more chance of being hassled by the carpet salesman in Sears than in Istanbul - (and that is saying something).

Some people think that Turkish coffee is plain awful, but we didn't think it was as good as that. Realizing that 99.9735% of non-Turks think their coffee stinks, they now call Nescafe 'ground coffee' and sell instant cappuccinos to unsuspecting tourists for $5 a cup.
As for Turkish tea? If you really want to experience Turkish tea without forking out a couple of grand to go to Istanbul, then here's the recipe: Take a couple of cheap tea-bags and gently stew them in water for an hour or so, let sit overnight and re-heat in the microwave the next morning....mmmm - delicious? Tea is often offered free - one sip and you'll know why. However, the wide range of natural herbal teas have been both interesting and refreshing - especially the ubiquitous apple tea. Here's a selection of herbal teas at Istanbul's ancient spice market.

The food on the other hand is quite superb and relatively inexpensive. And then there are the figs, dates, melons, and a whole host of wonderful fresh fruits...

And if you like flowers...

Turkey really does have something for everyone and we highly recommend it. "Gule-Gule" as they say here, "Goodbye." Turkey will always stay in our memories and we will certainly come back - in the meantime we left our shadows alongside those who have inhabited this intriguing land since time immemorial.


Posted by Hawkson 22:06 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

Making Mole Hills out of Mountains

semi-overcast 23 °C

The Cappadocia region in the heart of Turkey is one of the weirdest places on earth - that's why we are here. Just look at this crazy landscape...
We thought that the flaming mountain of Olympos and the warm glacial pistes of Pamulkalle were pretty unusual, but we could hardly believe our eyes when we saw these huge phalli, called fairy chimneys, sprouting out of the ground. But then we discovered that entire skyscrapers had been created inside some of the biggest ones...
while others had been turned into cute little cottages...
Two-thousand years ago this entire area was engulfed in a thick layer of volcanic ash. As the ash was eroded it left these phallic pillars of soft rock that the early Christians realised would make terrific churches and homes, so they began tunneling and eventually transformed the whole place into a giant Swiss cheese.
Between the 4th and 11th century AD the Christians were constantly harassed by the Romans, Persians and Muslims, so they turned their tunneling skills to the rocks beneath their feet and burrowed great cities up to 100 metres underground. More than 10,000 people lived in the largest of these subterranean cities whenever there was risk of attack. We went deep underground to see these amazing places but wouldn't recommend the experience for anyone even slightly claustrophobic...
Cappadocia is a fascinating place full of history and mystery and it would be easy to spend a few weeks here. Although it is becoming a tourist mecca, daily life carries on unchanged for the farmers and their families as they gather this year's harvest of melons and grapes. We can only wonder what they must think of the thousands of foreigners who travel from around the globe to gawp at the homes their ancestors carved into every available lump of rock. These are high up on a cliff face...
....or to pay big bucks to stay in a hotel room made out of Uncle Mustafa's old home...
Some Cappadocians still live in houses hewn out of the fairy chimneys and rock faces - perhaps to escape the onslaught of tourists.

Posted by Hawkson 11:11 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

Confessions of a Devious Photographer

This is just for Roy and other technically minded people

semi-overcast 24 °C

Well spotted R&B, (see blog comments re: When it Rains...It Pours). Why are there no other tourists in our pictures?
We could tell you that we painstakingly photoshop them out; or that we're not really travelling at all but we are hiding at home and we just pinch the pictures off the internet - it is possible. However, the truth is much simpler.
Almost everywhere we have been in Turkey has been very busy - sometimes packed with tourists. Here's an example - the beach at Fethiye...
But the majority of tourists stay at all-inclusive resorts, or travel with an organised bus tour or on a cruise ship. We, on the other hand are seasoned soloists and early-birds. And so, by the time the package tour crowd has got up, had breakfast, waited for the inevitable layabout and been shepherded aboard a tour bus, we've already spent a couple of hours solitary sightseeing, wandering deserted streets or swimming off a pristine beach - and getting some nice clear shots. For instance: we were completely alone on the river in Dalyan at 7am, but by 9 am there was a constant parade of boats packed with snap-happy holidaymakers at the same spot...
Another ploy to avoid the crowds is to visit lesser known places; places that are just too remote for a day trip from the big resorts or cruise ship ports.
Most often it is a combination of timing, opportunity, optical illusion, editing and luck. We never take guided tours - we read up beforehand and get all the information we want from brochures and signs - so while most people are tightly clumped around tour guides we are free to roam. So, by timing our shots between tour groups, we often make it appear that we are alone when in fact there are hundreds of people just ahead and behind us. And then there is the sheep syndrome; tourists generally follow the crowd. We, on the other hand, always seek a different path and consequently get views that others miss. We also create many of our 'people-free' shots by optical illusion. There are often numerous tourists in the scene, but by carefully choosing the foreground it is possible to hide them behind trees, rocks and structures. And often when you see one of us in close-up in the foreground it is to disguise the fact that a particularly pesky bunch of tourists is in the frame. Here a entire bus-load of French tourists were being lectured to the left of this tunnel entrance that I used as a screen...
And then - the editing. By careful selection and cropping of shots we are usually able to 'clean' the picture of unwanted people. Here we have cut out some strays on the left and used the pillar on the right to hide an entire guided tour....
Finally - luck. Sometimes we just spot a split-second when there is a gap in the crowd and we get a picture like this...
Who would believe that we were having lunch at a busy waterfront restaurant?

Posted by Hawkson 22:17 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

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