17
Aug

To The Sea

By: muttler
scenes from a restaurant

scenes from a restaurant

Hello! Just a pretty quick one today to let you know where we are. We’re at the Mediterranean!

hitting the heights of Turkey

hitting the heights of Turkey

Our journey from north to south was now complete and we hit the coast mid afternoon. Our journey was longish but quite different to our past days, with much of it winding through the Taurus Mountains, through the Alacabel pass. We reached close to 2000 metres at one point, but quite quickly made our way downward. Another example of Turkey providing amazing new scenery every day.

So we arrived in Antalya on the sea mid arvo, and it was hot. Real hot. Someone said their weather app was saying 34 degrees, feeling like 43. That sounded about right.

the romans sure know where to set up camp

the romans sure know where to set up camp

Antalya is a sea resort town that has many tourists visit, but is also famous as an old Roman city. As a result there is a walled old town and some evidence of past times, with the Three Arch gate an obvious one. A quick orientation walk gave us the low down, but by this time many of us were super hot and tired (and I not feeling so well), so some retreated back to the hotel, while some of us could not wait to get to the sea. I was one of the latter.

So off a few of us went. We visited one of the nearby paid beaches so that we would have some space and chair and umbrella. Like many European beaches, it is a rock beach, so it is not exactly super comfortable. But holy cow, when I got in the water everything was amazing. The water, while not the most beautiful colour, was super warm, and my quick dip became almost an hour and a half of floating in the water. It was bliss and just what I needed.

I then took a bit of a breather back at the hotel before heading out for dinner. Kate was still fighting off the remnants of her cold/sinus so decided to take advantage of the nice air-conditioned room. Me, while I was not feeling the greatest (getting the onset of whatever Kate had) I decided I had to try the seafood at a nearby restaurant.

It was a nice spot with great views over the water. Knowing that views like this would be our next few days made me feel alright.

mmm... fishy

mmm… fishy

Given we were at the sea, I had to have one of the fish dishes, so went with the Sea Bream, fresh today. It was very delicious, and hit the spot well. This type of eating would be a nice change of pace for the next few days.

And with that, it was 10:30pm and time for bed to see if I could shake the cold. If not, I would be on a boat in the Mediterranean in only 12 hours or so, so life wasn’t all bad! If there are no posts for a few days, it is because sadly (yeah right) I am spending my time on a boat and don’t have the time nor wi-fi to update. But if you were on a boat on the Mediterranean would you take time out to update a blog? Didn’t think so 🙂

16
Aug

A Warm Welcome

By: muttler
you knew there would be a photo like this

you knew there would be a photo like this

Today we said goodbye to Cappadocia proper as we started to head south toward the Mediterranean. In some respects today was mainly just a day of travel and making our way to the coast, however instead of making an epic journey, it was a more relaxed 5 hour drive with a couple of stops along the way and a stay in provincial Turkey.

mevlana museum

mevlana museum

Our first main stop for the day was in the city of Konya, which is most well known as the home of the whirling dervishes. In fact many Turks apparently make their way to the museum in Konya dedicated to the old school for the dervishes.

Based in the old school house, many of the exhibits were in the tiny rooms the students lived in. It made it difficult to check out everything comfortably, and photos weren’t allowed in many places, so it was hard to capture the essence of the museum. However it was cool to check out and learn more about the ancient practice.

doner good, turnip juice not so much

doner good, turnip juice not so much

With some more doner in my belly, along with a very strange turnip/carrot juice, it was back on the bus to our other main stop, the ancient city of Catalhoyuk. According to Ibo, Catalhouk is the world’s oldest known city. While other structures may be older, this city was formed in about 7000 BC and is a clear community of people and houses.

Catalhoyuk

Catalhoyuk

 

9000 year old remains

9000 year old remains

It was quite incredible to think it was really only discovered in the 1950’s and has been under excavation ever since. As a result, while there is much to jaw drop over, it is still looking like there is a lot more to discover and preserve. It was only awarded UNESCO certification a couple of years ago, so it is only now it is really being acknowledged. I imagine it the coming years it will be given the respect it clearly deserves.

our digs for the night

our digs for the night

With our days travel about done, it was time to arrive at our accommodation for the night. No, not another hotel, rather a G Adventures trademark, which is the home stay with a local family. Located in a tiny nearby village, we were met by the lovely family who were our hosts for the night.

Their house was spacious and certainly very comfortable. Outside of bing right next to the local mosque and knowing we would hear the early dawn call to prayer, it looked as comfy as anywhere we had stayed.

mmm... family dinner

mmm… family dinner

Our night was having a big group family dinner, which as expected as copious and delicious. There was way more food than any of us could eat and topped off with baclava and tea we were all satisfied. Most of stayed up until late playing crazy group games which kept us all in stitches. Some of the family joined in and it was a fun night sharing and enjoying the hospitality of our gracious hosts.

16
Aug

Getting Friendly With The Locals

By: muttler
no king of the world joke sorry

no king of the world joke sorry

One of the great things about this tour was that we had a few days to enjoy Cappadocia, rather than only be here for a day or so. So we had another full day to soak up the amazing landscape. And what better way to do that than hike through some of the valleys?

staring out over the valley

staring out over the valley

Sadly, Kate wasn’t feeling the best, so while she got some much needed rest, I went out with the rest of the group to hike for a few hours through the Red Valley. We started out on top of a big ridge, and made our way down into the valley. As we walked we would get awesome views at every point and the urge to stop and take photos was high. It had a similar feel to the Grand Canyon in a way and a few people remarked this as we hiked.

group photo!

group photo!

We stopped for a breather and a group photo of the group. By this point we were all still full of energy, but for some that disappeared as we made our way up the other side of the valley.

getting close to the end

getting close to the end

By this point too it was starting to get pretty warm. 1.5lt of water disappeared with ease as the sun beat down. But it was still incredible to be wandering through such an amazing place.

meeting the pottery master

meeting the pottery master

 

tiny masterpiece

tiny masterpiece

We finished up about lunchtime and took a quick freshen up break at the hotel, grabbed Kate, and it was off to another of the local artisans, this time a pottery master. The local area was great for clay and in the area remained a small number of pottery masters. Our host gave us a demo of some pottery making, but the best bit was getting some of our crew up to make some masterpieces. Kate was up for the challenge!

kate works the clay

kate works the clay

 

kate's own masterpiece

kate’s own masterpiece

She did the crew proud, crafting up a magnificent sugar bowl with a lid that fit perfectly. She certainly showed that maybe there is a little bit of pottery mastery in there! Unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to get it fired and take it home, but that was cool.

one of the amazing works

one of the amazing works

We got to check out his wares and pick up some pressies before we left. It’s always cool to support some of the locals rather than all the generic tourist shops you see everywhere.

getting to meet the locals

getting to meet the locals

By this time, we were all after a bit of a breather, and what better way to do this than visit a Turkish Bath? The group seemed firmly split into two camps. The first was “you have to do what?!” and those that were “scrub down and massage? oh yeah!”. I was in the latter camp for sure. So off we went to a local Hamam for an authentic Turkish Bath experience.

Like a Japanese Onsen, it is a bit daunting at first. Not so much stripping down, but the formalities that go with it. There is a definite procedure to it that you need to follow to make sure you don’t upset the locals. First of all it was choosing your options. I elected to go for the traditional Turkish Bath plus a half hour massage. With that decided, it was off to the change rooms to strip right off except for the modest towel, and into the sauna. I love a good sauna and after 15 minutes was feeling great.

With that it is then off to the part most people have heard about… getting on a warm stone and having a dude wash and scrub you down plus a bubble massage. This is what turns most tourists off when they hear it, but it was fine by me. After a long hike and lots of bus travel and lugging backpacks around, it was just what I needed. I felt awesome afterward.

Once that ritual was done it was into the jacuzzi to relax for a while, and then out to chill out and drink some tea. After relaxing for a bit it was time for my massage. While it was a “Swedish” massage, it had a Turkish flavour in the olive oil was used throughout. I am pretty sure he knew my shoulders were cactus when he spent so much time trying to work the knots out. But man it was good.

I wandered out feeling a million bucks, as did Kate shortly afterward. We then just relaxed some more in a nice outdoor coffee house (Coffedocia… ha ha, I see what they did there) before we had our group dinner.

getting ready for touristy turkish celebrations

getting ready for touristy turkish celebrations

Now this was the fanciest of the lot during our trip, and a lot more touristy than anything else. But what we were off to was an all you can eat and drink with show evening. The show was to be traditional dancing and ceremony, while we ate and drank copious amounts. I started with some Rake, a traditional spirit that is much like Ouzo. It was OK, but not my preferred spirit of choice. I also indulged in some local red wine, which again was OK without being spectacular.

not really sure what is going on

not really sure what is going on

The show was probably what you would expect from a tourist venue. A very long mock wedding ceremony took place that involved lots of dancing, some beard shaving, ad even more dancing. It was fun and our whole group got in the spirit.

suddenly the guys were all paying attention

suddenly the guys were all paying attention

The lads especially seemed to love the belly dancer, while some of the ladies just rolled their eyes a little 🙂

A few hours disappeared quickly, and in the end it was just our group that was left dancing into the night. Kate and I called it quits at midnight and left some of the others to drink to the early hours. I figured I had done enough for the day.

13
Aug

Up Up and Away

By: muttler
up up and away

up up and away

4am. That’s a bit early. Especially when you have been packing in stacks of things each day. But we had to get up nice and early this morning for the main thing that Kate wanted to do this entire trip… float high above the Cappadocian valleys in a hot air balloon.

getting ready to board

getting ready to board

 

off they go!

off they go!

It seems hot air ballooning is the thing to do when visiting Cappadocia, as the many many balloons we saw when arriving attested. There were easily over a hundred balloons either ready to fly off or already in the air. And as the sun was coming up, our balloon was being filled with hot air and getting ready for lift off.

lift off!

lift off!

What followed was an incredible hour floating over Cappadocia. Not only was the sight of the valley, mountain houses and volcanoes breath taking, but having over 100 balloons flying around you just added to the experience.

balloons balloons everywhere

balloons balloons everywhere

It was my first hot air ballooon, and it was much smoother and gentler than I thought. I expected it to be gentle, but it hardly felt as if we were moving, even when ascending fairly rapidly. Our pilot even did a bit of fancy flying, coming close to some of the rock formations (and other balloons).

IMG_5327

 

IMG_5404

 

IMG_5381

 

IMG_5372

 

There is not much else to say really. I took A LOT of photos, that obviously will never really capture it all. But here is a bunch more anyway.

my flight crew

my flight crew

An hour flew by (ha ha) and next thing we knew we were back on solid ground. Minds blown by 7am.

stone houses

stone houses

Back we went to the hotel for a couple of hours rest before heading out to explore Cappadocia some more. Next stop was the Goreme Open Air Museum. As I have already mentioned, this region is well known for the many houses and buildings inside the sides of the rock formations. The Open Air Museum focuses on the church buildings that were made 1000 years ago. So we spent the next hour or so exploring them

They were a real mixed bag. Some were sparse, others ornately painted, one incredibly so. So it was fun to wander about for an hour, even if the crowds were a bit crazy (everyone must leave their balloon ride and come to the museum).

exploring the mountain top homes

exploring the mountain top homes

The rest of the afternoon was visiting some different spots around the local region. There were may great places to explore and climb, and we would drive around and jump out at different spots. This spot was another collection of stone houses we could freely climb.

just hangin' out

just hangin’ out

Tour mate Ryan and I got to the top of one and couldn’t resist snapping Grand Canyon-esque pictures.

i didn't know my own strength

i didn’t know my own strength

It was then time for lunch! We visited a restaurant that specialised in claypot stew. Most of indulged in a multi-course lunch, filled with breads and mezzes and salads and beers. But the main thing was the claypot, which we each got to open up ourselves. Given everyone was having a little trouble opening theirs, I thought I would give it a bit more of a whack. A bit much it seemed, as the evidence above suggests.

dubious looking mushrooms

dubious looking mushrooms

With a delicious lunch under our belt, it was some more valley exploring. Above is the Mushroom Valley, named for fairly obvious reasons.

hey! sit on it!

hey! sit on it!

Kate also thought she had found the famous “Fonzie” monument.

petrified camel

petrified camel

And we also came across the stone camel, the result of a legend that resulted in the camel being turned into stone. Hmm… not sure about that one.

The last stop for the day was to a local company specialising in carpet weaving. A common G Adventures thing is to visit local, traditional, businesses. And since Turkey is known for its rugs, this was a pretty impressive place to come.

amazing silk work underway

amazing silk work underway

We got shown the fundamentals of rug making but the highlight was seeing the rugs. I laid eyes on a huge silk carpet that took 2+ years to make. It was one of the most amazing things my eyes had ever laid eyes on. Kate and I both wished we had a spare $50K (at least) to buy it. Oh well, maybe next time.

i wonder which one flies?

i wonder which one flies?

And with that our day was formally done! An afternoon by the pool awaited to chill out, and then a casual dinner with some of the group. We needed some rest and sleep by this point, both because of the early morning, and the hike that awaited us for the next day.

 

13
Aug

The Main Man

By: muttler
no, i'm not the main man of the title

no, i’m not the main man of the title

We woke in Ankara, and finally able to see it in the day time. We didn’t have plans to stay in Ankara, only the morning, as there was not too much to see.

Ankara seems to be Turkey’s Canberra… the city most people don’t realise is the capital, and full of government workers. But it is also home to an amazing museum dedicated to the famous Turkish leader Ataturk, as well as his final resting place.

the men stand tall...

the men stand tall…

 

...as do the women

…as do the women

So off we all went to check that out before leaving town. The site of the museum was truly incredible… perched up on a hill in the middle of Ankara. We could see the city 360 degrees about us. Just as impressive was the whole grounds. First we were greeted by some small exhibits describing the site. It was flanked by statues representing the Turkish people and their independence in the 1920’s.

a VERY impressive building

a VERY impressive building…

 

... high above the city

… high above the city

We then walked the path up to the amazing main building, containing the resting place of Mustafa Ataturk. As well as the tomb, it is also a fairly impressive museum, containing many works of art and artefacts about the man.

above his resting place

above his resting place

Ataturk was responsible for turning Turkey into the country it is today, bringing some peace after WW1 as well as democracy. As such he is revered in the country, and his presence is ubiquitous.

the man himself

the man himself

The museum filled in quite a lot of gaps I had about Turkish history and some things began to make a bit more sense. Australia was represented a little in the museum, with references to Gallipoli, however that will no doubt be a more extensive blog entry in a couple of weeks.

barren salt lake (other tourists conveniently out of shot)

barren salt lake (other tourists conveniently out of shot)

With that done it was time to leave Ankara, to head toward Cappadocia. About an hour and a half out of the city we came to an immense dry salt lake. We had a quick chance to walk out into it, having the salt crunch beneath our feet.

i call this the "michael jordan"

i call this the “michael jordan”

 

crunchy feet

crunchy feet

Of course it was an excuse for sun photos, with every second person jumping around like a loon. So it wasn’t just me for a change. The dry lake looked incredible, and the whole group was in awe of it. Funny how a 15 minute stop at the side of the freeway can capture everyone’s imagination like that.

wandering the underground city

wandering the underground city

From then on it was another few hours to finally reach the valleys of Cappadocia in central Turkey. Cappadocia is known for a number of things, the two main ones being the amazing valleys, volcanoes, and formations that surround, and also what is hidden underneath. Underneath are many forgotten cities that were used for centuries, especially during times of invasion. The largest is >Derinkuyu and we visited it for an hour on the way to our hotel.

hello!

hello!

What lie below the surface was 8 levels of rooms and passage ways that were pretty incredible. Much was still to be uncovered, including tunnels assumed to lead to more underground city. Apparently this city could house around 3000 people. Given we only saw part I don’t doubt… even though it would be a little cosy.

plenty of room for a flat screen tv

plenty of room for a flat screen tv

We made our way through, with Ibo giving us the run down of the history and living conditions. Many passages were one way only leading to jams of people. Thankfully I’m not claustrophobic!

With that, it was time to arrive in the nearby town of Goreme, where we would be based for the next 3 nights. A quick bit of rest, and it was off to what is a bit of a G Adventures tradition, visiting a local family for hospitality and food.

 

not a bad view

not a bad view

They used to live in one of the near by stone houses, but when everybody got moved out, they at least kept some amazing views of their old place. Our hosts (whos names escape me badly) made us a great feast of borek, salad, lentil soup, stuffed eggplant, and most importantly baclava. Oh man, it was so delicious! Everyone ate every little bit.

BACLAVA!!!

BACLAVA!!!

With full bellies, I decided to call it a night rather than go out for drinks. We had a VERY early morning ahead of us…

 

13
Aug

From Europe to Asia In The Blink of an Eye

By: muttler
more istanbul

more istanbul

Hello avid readers! Apologies for the updates being so sporadic and weirdly timed. Our schedule is meaning that doing them each night is increasingly difficult, and I am actually typing this story up while in our mini bus heading towards our next stop.

But first I have to go back a day or two. When I left you Kate and I had just started our tour of Turkey by meeting the group and having a dinner together in Istanbul. Well, our first day proper was all about getting to know Istanbul more with an orientation walk by our tour leader Ibo.

While we covered a bit of the same ground as Kate and I had explored ourselves, we visited completely new areas of the city, all within a short distance of our hotel. I was completely disoriented… I felt like we walked for hours and hours (which we did) only to end up pretty much back where our hotel was. I thought I was on the other side of the city!

inside the blue mosque

inside the blue mosque

Anyway, we were very fortunate, as today Ibo took our group inside the Blue Mosque, which as you will recall we didn’t end up doing ourselves. Score! While there was still quite a big line, it moved quickly, and in no time at all we were inside.

more mosque

more mosque

It was quite spectacular, in many respects much more so than Aya Sophya, although it is not really fair to compare them too much. Again, like some places we had seen, the mosaic work was incredible, and captured the light amazingly. The blue of the tiles (hence the name) was stunning and it was quite the sight.

clearly off limits for tourists

clearly off limits for tourists

There was also A LOT of tourists. But that is to be expected when visiting one of the most stunning mosques on the planet I imagine.

We then wandered through a bit of the same town as we had seen, on the Hippodrome, past Aya Sofya, through the Grand Bazaar. It was like we were in a different Grand Bazaar, such was that we saw hundreds of different shops. Given there is about 4000 sellers in there, I shouldn’t have been surprised.

another mosque hiding behind the trees

another mosque hiding behind the trees

We stopped for lunch just near what is actually the largest mosque in Istanbul, Süleymaniye. In many respects liked this more than the Blue Mosque. It was just as picturesque, however very few people which made the experience much more pleasant, and gave time to soak it in a bit more.

the colours are amazing

the colours are amazing

While it was of a very similar style, the inside was again just as incredible.

into the spice market!

into the spice market!

Some delicious kebab later, we were off again, heading towards our bus to head out of town. Before doing so though we headed through the Spice Market (Misir Carsisi), a much smaller market, with a focus on tasty treats, such as exotic spices, teas, and best of all sweets.

mmm... spice and tea

mmm… spice and tea

We visited one of the vendors to get a run through of his amazing Turkish Delight. Oh man, it was incredible. I could not leave without grabbing some Pomegranate Turkish Delight for our travels.

mmm... turkish delight

mmm… turkish delight

 

mmm... baclava

mmm… baclava

I could have spent all my money on the delicious sweets, but decided I would have plenty of time to eat all the sweets the country has to offer, so left it at that.

And with that, it was onto our small tour bus and time to head out of Istanbul. We jumped aboard at the waters edge, which we planned to come back to on our return at the end of the tour. A ferry on the Bosphorous would have to wait.

There is not much to add for the rest of the day, as a 5 hour drive took us to the Turkish capital of Ankara. As we left Istanbul, we crossed over a bridge where we officially went from Europe into Asia, where we would be spending the rest of our trip. It is a bit of a spin out as I always associate Turkey with Europe, when the vast majority is in Asia. This sure was both a long way to get to Asia, and also a rather quick one.

It was quite late when we arrived, so there was not much to see, rather only time for some drinks with the crew and then bed time.

10
Aug

Turkish Disneyland

By: muttler
love the tiles

love the tiles

Today was our second main day in Istanbul, and we had another bit of a plan of attack. Since our G Adventures tour was to start tonight, and we would not really have any time to ourselves in Istanbul until the end, we decided to check a few things off that were on our must do list. So after some brekky, it was out into the very warm Istanbul day.

morning aya sofya

morning aya sofya

Our first port of call was to be the Blue Mosque. Again, the surrounding grounds gave us amazing views of both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya. It is hard not to snap more pics (or dolphin photos as they are known in my family). We headed straight back here this morning, as since there are only certain times you can visit each day (outside of normal prayer time is the only time to head in as a tourist), we thought we had best go when we had a decent window of opportunity.

the crowds are hiding back there

the crowds are hiding back there

Sadly, so did half the people in Istanbul it seemed, as were greeted with a MASSIVE queue to get in. Even with a bit of time up our sleeve, there was no way we were getting inside with enough time to do it justice. It would have to wait for a couple of weeks for our return. It was about now though that my first Disneyland quip emerged. To me, the queue to get in to the Blue Mosque looked just like a queue in Disneyland… long and winding, some families trying to push their way in, others just ignoring queue etiquette all together. Kate corrected me though… “Paris Disneyland you mean”. I guess she was right there (apologies to my European readers).

So rather than wait in a line we knew would be pointless, we headed to our next planned stop, Topkapi Palace. Between this and Aya Sofya, you are visiting the main two landmarks of Istanbul (and that is saying something as there is plenty to see). Topkapi Palace is now a museum, but was the main residence for the Ottoman sultans back a few centuries ago. The palace is huge and houses many buildings, garden areas, and amazing views of the Bosphorous.

oh! it's the harem!

oh! it’s the harem!

We started in the other main part of the palace… the Harem. Here we wandered through some of the many chambers and areas where the sultan’s ladies lived.

curves and tiles

curves and tiles

 

more curves and tiles

more curves and tiles

What I found amazing all through it was the incredible tile work. We found that the types of tiling changed a bit as we went through, and as it turned out our (not so) helpful audio guide let us know that we were indeed right, and that with a different ruler came some different outfitting of the rooms.

more roofs and tiles

more roofs and tiles

 

here is the "chill out" room

here is the “chill out” room

I got transfixed by the tiling and the domed roofs and all the archways, and so I found I was trying to snap pictures from all angles. I don’t really have the eye for great pics, but was happy just to try and see what tiles caught the light in particular ways, or what angles looked interesting.

Getting out of the Harem, we then explored more of the palace grounds. There was much to see around the place. There was ancient Islamic art, which we joined yet another queue to see, and again, many people just pushing in. Inside were many religious artefacts (including bits of the prophet Mohammed’s beard!), and things that were millennia old. Most of which photos were off limits, but that didn’t seem to stop many people.

In fact, today was a day where I found a lot of people just did what they wanted, whether it be pushing in line, taking photos, barging through places, and even disrespecting the religious custom. Now I may not be a religious person, but I am all about respect, and if they ask for long pants or whatever, then I will oblige 100%. But sadly, it seemed not everyone was interested in that. I guess that is the price of increased tourism.

a view from the palace grounds

a view from the palace grounds

We took a time out to sit in the super overpriced cafe for a bit of lunch. It may have been overpriced, but the view was spectacular, looking out over the Bosphorous, into the asian side of town. I can’t begrudge a $7 can of coke when you have those views I guess.

About 4 hours disappeared in the palace grounds. We were hot and exhausted (it was much hotter than yesterday, and in all honesty, more like what I was expecting) but didn’t stop our day there. Instead, we popped into the nearby Istanbul Archeological Museums. Although much smaller than the palace, there was some good stuff in there.

one beefy man and a statue

one beefy man and a statue

 

no joke here otherwise i might get in trouble

no joke here otherwise i might get in trouble

In particular, the Ancient Orient Museum was filled with lots of great stuff. Of course we took some time to get some cheesy pics with the priceless antiquities.

ancient lion

ancient lion

The Tiled Kiosk Museum was also pretty great. Like my fascination inside the palace, there was lots of amazing tilework to behold.

more medusa

more medusa

Not as good was the main building which was filled with archeological treasures. In fact both of us thought it was just a bit so-so, and we sped through it quite quickly. I imagine 5+ hours of checking out ancient pieces dulls the senses a little. In fact, the pieces in the garden outside were more interesting. Medusa even made a reappearance, turning passersby into stone. Maybe that is why there was so many stone figures in the garden? Have they not seen Clash of the Titans?

By this time it was about time to head back to the hotel. For technically today we start our G Adventures tour around Turkey! At 6:30pm we got to meet our group for the first time, including our tour guide Ibrahim, or Ibo as he was happy to be called. Our ragtag bunch consists of 8 Aussies, 5 US folk, a Canadian, and a Dutch lass. In the end quite an eclectic bunch of all ages.

A nice dinner got us all chatting and breaking the ice. Most of us were happy to start talking rubbish early, indicating that we were all at ease and that the next 2 weeks travelling together would be a bit of fun.

09
Aug

A Bit Bazaar

By: muttler
hanging out in aya sofya

hanging out in aya sofya

Hello from Istanbul!

Well, you knew we were there didn’t you, because my last action packed post left us with full bellies for our first night. Today was our first day of exploring, so we were super excited. We did have a slightly lazy start though as we were both pretty tired from our travels so far, and besides, it was pouring rain during the morning… so waiting until midday was not a bad move.

When we ventured out the last of the rain was pattering and in no time at all clear blue skies were the order of the day. We had a bit of a plan, mainly because of when things were open and closed. With Aya Sofya closed Monday, and the Grand Bazaar closed Sunday, we decided to check them out on our first day of wandering.

behold aya sofya

behold aya sofya

A quite long, but fast moving queue greeted us at Aya Sofya, but in no time at all we were inside. Aya Sofya is a fascinating one. First it was a church, then it was a mosque, and now it is a museum. Originally built in the 500’s, it is only in the last century that it lost its religion (so to speak) to greet everyone.

giant calligraphy

giant calligraphy

It was quite an interesting experience heading in. First of all, unfortunately a giant array of scaffolding hid the view of one side of the main room. I guess these things have to stay in order, so we can’t complain. Besides, the rest of the interior was quite spectacular.

believe it or not, there was way more posing by people going on that this

believe it or not, there was way more posing by people going on that this

In some respects it was probably a bit rougher round the edges than either of us expected. It seemed there was quite a lot that was fading, parts where it looked like things had been torn off the walls. But our place gets messy in weeks, let alone millennia, so who am I to judge?

kate gets her wished granted

kate gets her wished granted

We did find the Wishing Column in our wanders. This was a column with a thumb sized hole in it, that, if your thumb comes out wet, grants you your wish. Both Kate and I tried and at best our thumbs were a little moist, but I’ll take that. Infinite wishes please!

lighting up the room

lighting up the room

So we just wandered around the main room with the masses, soaking it all up. We also went upstairs for some cool views of down below. Up top were a number of old mosaics in various states of disrepair. Given that many other centuries old pieces down below were just open for everyone to touch I wonder how long before they really try to keep most things off limits?

deep inside the cistern

deep inside the cistern

The good part of a couple of hours went by with our wandering and we were getting a bit peckish. Bt before we decided to eat, we decided to pop in and check out the Basilica Cistern. A huge underground chamber, this was built in the 6th century, where it was then used for centuries to provide water to the nearby palace. But we all know that the most famous use for the cistern was in From Russia With Love don’t we Bond fanatics?

oh, it gets cheesier...

oh, it gets cheesier…

Inside the cistern (for whatever reason) was a corner set up for tourists to get dressed up in traditional garb and have their photos taken. How cheesy huh? Of course we did it! Check us out…

how awesome is this?!?! (note, this is a photo of a photo... the actual one looks even more awesome)

how awesome is this?!?! (note, this is a photo of a photo… the actual one looks even more awesome)

Awesome huh?! We thought it was hilarious! And now we have a cool photo for our house to remember dressing up in traditional Turkish costume in an underground cistern. Of course we do.

clearly i wasn't weeping

clearly i wasn’t weeping

Most the columns are identical with a handful of exceptions. One is the Weeping Column, which is not hard to guess why from the dozens of eyes adorning the column.

medusa! don't look at her!

medusa! don’t look at her!

The main things people love to see in the cistern though are the Medusa heads that hold up two columns. It seems that no one really knows why they are there and why one is upside down and the other on its side, but apparently it was deliberate. They look cool as heck though.

too late... you've been turned into stone

too late… you’ve been turned into stone

With the dim lighting and the water, you can get some really cool and creepy photos of them!

By this time we needed some sunlight and food, so grabbed a bite to eat at the cafe nearby. Mmm… meat and spinach pide. Yum. Sorry, no pic of this food. Sure there will be more soon.

how grand! how bazaar!

how grand! how bazaar!

The day was creeping away, so we decided to head to the Grand Bazaar for a look. We weren’t intending to buy much, as we didn’t want to spend our money early and lug things all around Turkey. But we just wanted to soak up the experience.

kate happy to be in a HUGE shopping mall

kate happy to be in a HUGE shopping mall

Inside it was a weird mix of shop shops, antique shops, cheap knock off shops, and high end jewellery shops. There seemed to be something for everyone (well, except me… I tried hard to find LP’s but alas no luck). The place was a huge rabbit warren, and getting lost in there was easy. So we just cut some laps around and around. We engaged in some haggling and Turkish tea, and did what everyone does.

lanterns!

lanterns!

 

ceramics!

ceramics!

Many of the shopkeepers don’t like you taking photos of their shops, but pictures can’t capture the bustle of everything going on. In the end, we got some small bits and pieces, but the main shopping would have to wait for our return to Istanbul in a few weeks.

the blue mosque at sunset

the blue mosque at sunset

With our heads overloaded with shops and shopkeepers hassling us every 5 steps, we were about done. We decided to casually stroll via some parks back to the area of Aya Sofya, and also the Blue Mosque. It was prayer time, so we could not look inside the Blue Mosque. That would have to wait until tomorrow. But we just sat in the grounds, eating some corn on the cob, and soaking up Istanbul.

time to call it a night

time to call it a night

As the sun started to set and the moon appeared, the full moon became visible in the skyline. Things are pretty sweet here in Istanbul.

09
Aug

From the West to the East

By: muttler
hello from istanbul!

hello from istanbul!

Hello!

Just a quick boring one to recap Friday 8th August. I promise you, Saturday 9th is much more exciting, but you need to hear about the 8th first.

There is not really much to say actually, except, that we said goodbye to Edinburgh and made our way to the airport. We were on our way to one of the most eastern parts of Europe… Turkey! Specifically, we were flying into Istanbul to hang for a few days before jumping on a quick 2 week tour of the country.

Again, an uneventful flight was the order of the day, and before we knew it, we had landed in busy Istanbul airport. Seemed it is quite the hub, as it was an interesting mix of locals, Europeans, and Koreans it seemed. But we got through immigration nice and quickly (they didn’t seem too interested in our stories) and we were then in downtown Istanbul.

mmm... kebab

mmm… kebab

Since it was fairly late by the time all of this happened (including the time difference) we really only had a chance to check in to our hotel and then find some dinner. Mmmm…. Turkish food. Be prepared to see many more photos of this everyone.