Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sights and sounds in Old Istanbul

We spent 3 days in Old Istanbul in the Sultanahment district. We got a lovely hotel (Eski Konak Hotel) that was a quick walk away from the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace. Our street was a typical tourist-trap street filled with hotels and restaurants. (sort of annoying since nearly every restaurant had an identical menu)

We walked through the Blue Mosque (aka sultanahmet camii) which is an active mosque - we got kicked out at prayer time. Andrew went through the Aya Sofya one morning while Julie wandered around. Aya Sofya is huge inside! It is awe-inspiring.

One evening Andrew wanted to watch the sunset over Old Istanbul from the other side of the Golden Horn (the harbour) so we went to the fancy restaurant 360 which has great views over to Sultanahmet and the Asian side of Istanbul. Good food (eclectic Turkish) and a pretty trendy spot. Afterwards we wandered the street where we were last Saturday night. Stopped in an alley to have a beer and listen to some guys play music. Then stopped in another alley to watch the end of the Turkey-Bulgaria futbol match - it's cool: big screen w/HD hanging outside in the alley.

On our last day we went through the Topkapi Palace which is where the Ottoman Empire was governed from, and where the Sultans lived. There's a lot of history there as well as many artifacts of Islam (bits of Prophet Muhammed's beard for example, and the staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea).

We're heading back to Sly's place: Krista's landed in Turkey and Andrew's flying to Milan on Friday.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Livin' the Ottoman lifestyle, Sultanahmet

Istanbul life is a beautiful thing. Over the last few days we've experienced it first hand. We've toured some of the great mosques getting insight into the religion (& yes I got to wear my gardening shirt), dined on many a roof-top terrace overlooking the beautiful bosphorus sea, sat in a crowded square while people smoked nargileh (water pipes) and sang & clapped along with the live music, and learned what makes a good turkish rug. Apparently Andrew has a "rug buying face", maybe true, but not the back to carry it the rest of the way around the world we have yet to travel!

I believe the "ottoman" style is about the lounging that goes on here. It is not uncommon to find a place to fully recline amongst pillows in a restaurant. We're thinking of bringing home an ottaman as a souvenier, we'll see if it will fit in the backpack.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Car chases through Bostanci

We had our "Ronin" moment today: what felt like a car chase through a crowded European city.

We had hopped in a taxi for a routine trip to the ferry terminal. We're zipping along a street in typical Istanbullu fashion dodging cars, trucks, buses and pedestrians. Until that is, one older fellow decides to make a left turn from the middle lane, forcing the lane to stop. Our taxi darts around the line of buses that has formed behind this car. Our driver honks to warn his approach. The other car starts to move left through the momentary opening in traffic. Our driver honks again. The other car keeps moving. Our driver leans on the horn and slams on the brakes. With our taxi's tires squealing on the hot pavement our taxi crunches into the other car, smearing yellow paint across his front fender. Our driver is livid; yelling at the shaken man in the other car. Our driver hops out of the car into traffic to calm the chorus of horns that has begun behind us. He spots another empty cab coming along and signals to him. A quick transfer of our bags at the side of the street and we're once again on our way.
After the immediate confusion passed, it was sort of fun.
And it saved us 3 lira off the taxi fare! :)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Merhaba from Istanbul

We nearly did not even leave Winnipeg when we got to the airport Thursday morning, as our AC flight to Montreal was suddenly cancelled due to mechanical problems. The alternate flight was full and a later flight would miss our connection to Frankfurt. We were not impressed.
But "Bill" worked the system and found us a direct flight to FRA from Calgary but we'd have to hurry to make the connection. Off we went! A teary farewell to both our parents and we were off, with a pleasant gift for our troubles: business class from YYC to FRA. Excellent.
Until the Lufthansa people in Calgary didn't think we were on that flight either. Some more convincing and calling of superiors.
Julie and I debated spending the extra $5K for business class all around the world, and after spending a comfortable 8 hours in those big seats, drinking bombay sapphire and wine and port and OJ along with 3-course meals, maybe we should have. But still, it's a lot of money...
We thought we may leave the airport in FRA for a while but figured since we were there at 6am there probably wasn't much to do. So we read up on Istanbul instead.
I was very excited to see the sand-coloured buildings with the red-tiled-roofs covering the hills as we landed in Istanbul. I'm looking forward to exploring the historical Byzantine buildings and mosques and old bazaars.
However, Julie's friend Selay lives on the Asian side of Istanbul (I won the race to the Asian continent, stepping on shore seconds before Julie!) and over here, it's pretty much just another city.
It's Ramazan right now, so people fast during daylight. But then the restaurants are busy until late. We ate our fill of kebaps and tsatziki the first night. plus a bunch of other things that were tasty but I have no recollection of what they were called. It's an incredible help to have Selay who speaks Turkish.

Selay took us out shopping and for a night out on the town, see the pictures at the link below.

gulay gulay,
Andrew and Julie.

Link to map of our trip: Summer Chasers: Round the world Map

Pictures of this trip are on my smugmug page: