A Travellerspoint blog

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Istanbul

Day 2 - May 6th 2009

sunny 18 °C
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Bazaar. Mind blowing. Literally thousands of little stalls selling stuff. Almost everything imaginable was for sale here. We got sucked into a rug store again, you’d think I learnt my lesson after India. I tried using the “we’re just about to have a coffee and we’ll come back later” line but it was probably the worst thing we could have said. In came the coffee guy to take our orders. We were stuck. Out came the rugs and the hard sell. We fell in love with a locally made piece and because he liked us, his starting price was genuine and half what he would have asked of anyone else. He opened at $4500 – the ‘special price’. We walked at $1800 being his final offer with our friendship severed. I guess the line of accepting a coffee representing 40 years of friendship no longer applied. I must mention Vicki has come a long way with her negotiation. She is harder than me now - a good little Jedi.

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Blue Mosque. Well, not quite. We thought it was and checked it off our to-do list but later found out it was the Sulemanye Mosque. Time not wasted.

Our friend, Inan. I asked the man with the moustache (they really take pride in their Mo’s) at the public transport ticket booth that I wanted to catch the tram to Sultanahmet (from the Bazaar). The guy lined up behind me overheard and offered some friendly advice claiming it was quicker and easier to walk. He gave us directions then a few moments later offered to walk with us. It didn’t take long before we found out he was Kurdish and that he would provide the ‘true’ history of the sites we were going to see. He claimed the Turkish government swept a lot under the carpet. A little more political than we were after but went along for the ride. Nice guy. Extremely artistic, educated and articulate. He took us off the beaten track, walking us around parts we wouldn’t ordinarily have seen. I must say the parts we toured were amazing and well worth the walk. They included the oldest Bazaar in Turkey behind the blue mosque, very quaint and picturesque. Lots of Roman baths, ruins, palace walls and grave sites along the way.

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Blue Mosque. Probably the most amazing man made creation I’ve ever seen. It honestly rivalled the Taj Mahal (in my opinion). I may say this a few times throughout our journey but I stand by it. Simply stunning.

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Aya Sofya. A structure built by the Romans as a place of Christian worship which was subsequently converted into a Mosque by the Ottomans. It really is quite a strange building with rounded rooftops aloft a traditional church looking frame. Didn’t get time to go in but we’ll head back tomorrow. Same goes for Topkapi Palace. We walked around them but we’ll see the interior tomorrow morning.

Coffee. We offered to buy Inan a cup of coffee and freaked out a little when we decided to go to a place of his choosing. He toured us around the city for over 3 hours before stopping for a drink. He didn’t ask for money or force us into any shops for commission but something Vicki said tweaked thoughts of false friendship leading to drugging, etc. Sounds paranoid I know but we decided to play it safe and parted company (after coffee in a place of our choosing).

Posted by samandvic 15:13 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul

Day 3 - May 7th 2009

sunny 25 °C
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I'm sitting here in a quaint little cottage at the highest point of Sirince (still in Turkey), rocking in my rocking chair with laptop in hand overlooking the valley at sunset. Do I sound like a wanker yet? I haven’t had internet access the last few days so I’m using the opportunity to catch up. More on Sirince later.

Back to Istanbul.

Breakfast. Yep, the hotel breakfast is starting to get a little repetitive. Vicki also mentioned this morning that she is getting a little tired of meat (more than likely due to the overdose of kebaps). Did you hear that people? The girl that when served a vegetarian meal openly asks, “When will the main meal be served?” I was surprised too.

Strut. We walk the streets confidently now. Each stride coupled with cries of “No”, “Not interested”, “Go away”, “We just ate” and my favourite “We are vegetarians”.

Underwear. Last pair. Time to find a laundry, surely a standard task. As always, the ever so painstaking event of talking price in Turkey was ever so painstaking. It definitely did not exclude laundry fees. 7 Lira per load quickly turned into 7 Lira per kilo then the expected 7 Lira stupid foreigner surcharge. Not this time, Pal. You get 7 liras or I’m out of here. Might get a bit of an itch in a few days…

Aya Sofya. I spoke of seeing the Aya Sofya from the outside in a previous entry. Who would have thought a Church could be converted into a Mosque? They pulled it off but only just. A bit of a backyard renovation if you ask me. If only they had reality TV back then, we could have seen their reaction when the original domes collapsed. I can just imagine what the Catholics are muttering under their breath when they come here. Probably similar to what Vicki was muttering. I could only respond by saying that at least it is still standing. The Romans would have burnt it to the ground if reversed. Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful but I don’t think they had their hearts in the renovation. Their motivation appeared to be more built around making a statement.

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Lunch. Nothing like a bit of sight seeing to get the stomach juices flowing. No surprises with what we ate. Another form of grilled meat with sides. I could eat this stuff forever… well maybe. Vicki’s power of suggestion always seems to affect me no matter how hard or deliberately I try to fight it. Maybe it is just that I remain in denial longer but I think I may be getting sick of it too. The highlight was where we ate. The back streets of Sultanahmet behind the Blue Mosque. Superb little spot with row after row of little cafes set on cobblestone streets.

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Itinerary. We attempted to finalise our last few days in Turkey with a travel agent. Hassle free tours. “We take out the hassle but we must also eat the foetus of your unborn child.” We’ll do it ourselves thanks. The way it turned out, we planned the trip for a fraction of the cost, with far superior accommodation and air instead of coach.

Taksim. After spending the last two and a half days in the older part of Istanbul closer to all the ancient sites, we decided to venture into the northern part, across the Golden Horn into Byoglu, specifically Taksim.

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Contrast. Taksim square was modern in its luxuries and extremely European. The people, the food, the sounds and the sites were alive and kicking well into the night. Imagine Burke St Mall or any mall in Australia for that matter, at Christmas time then multiply the amount of people by a few hundred. So full of life. It filled us with adrenaline. So much so we wanted to stay another night to feel we’d covered off Istanbul (best we could in 4 days). Finished the night with a great dinner in one of the backstreets (very Melbournesque) and some dessert from one of their many patisseries. Yum.

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Gallipolis. The hardest decision of our trip so far was to skip Gallipoli. It wasn’t made lightly and I feel un-Australian writing this but we simply couldn’t fit it in without completely screwing up the rest of our schedule. The extra night in Istanbul didn’t help but it had to be done. We will be back even if it is just for that reason alone. Adrian, you’re making us feel guilty. Stop judging.

Happy Birthday Julius!!

Posted by samandvic 12:32 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul

Day 4 - May 8th 2009

sunny 25 °C
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Hotel Golden Age Deluxe 2. We moved hotels to be closer to the action in Taxim. Well worth it. Vic found a great hotel last minute with superb views of new Istanbul.

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The Bosphorous. The ferry cruise down the Bosphorous strait was magnificent. The hillside along the banks were lined with character homes, each one more appealing than the other. Plenty of castles and historic buildings, breathtaking views and relatively smooth sailing. Nice way to get a feel for the sheer size of this city.

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Metro. We caught trains and trams all day. Not a single taxi. The public transport here is not great but we made it work today. The token thing shit me a little. You have to buy them from designated booths before getting through the turnstiles. I suppose it is no different than jumping on a tram in Melbourne without any change to buy a ticket however it was a little frustrating. Particularly when you catch a tram headed in the wrong direction and have to do it all over again.

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Maze. We took a wrong turn after disembarking the Ferry at Eminou. Found ourselves trapped in a labyrinth of stall line streets. Scary for a while. We were definitely lost. So many shonky merchants wanting a piece of you. All the while frantically scanning the streets for a familiar landmark. We popped out in a little laneway filled with doormen, gold stores, upmarket cafes and Versace clad locals. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bought their clothes from one of the dodgy merchants we just passed. An example of the extreme unpredictability of this city. One moment you are amongst the Turkish battlers, the next the disgustingly wealthy. Lucky for us the next moment was familiar territory.

Bassilica Cistern. We didn’t get a chance to visit this underground historical gem earlier in our travels so thought we’d come back to it. The chamber contained row after row of marble columns supporting the ceiling all encased within 4 metre thick solid firebrick walls. It was used to supply water to Topkapi palace (to name one) when the city was known as Constantinople. The clear highlight was the two Medusa heads in the North-West corner of the chamber. One laying on its side and the other upside down. They don't really know why they were arranged this way but some of the theories are interesting. I won't get into it. So well preserved and pleased we came back.

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Dinner. We dined on a rooftop terrace in a really funky part of Taksim. Loved it. Live Turkish music to top off the great food and atmosphere. Again we headed to a patisserie for dessert.

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Walk. One last walk down the main boulevard knowing that this would be the last we’ll see of Istanbul for a while. Not to mention the need to burn off a few calories. Abbier, check out the sign on the shop window!

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Posted by samandvic 13:41 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

Sirince

Day 1 - May 9th 2009

sunny 23 °C
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Goodbye Istanbul. We flew into Izmir from Istanbul this morning but that is unfortunately all we got to see of Aiden’s home town. From there we caught a minibus (about an hour) to Selcuk which really is a just a transport hub for the region. It is quaint but we followed Rod’s advice and stayed in Sirince as opposed to the majority of tourists visiting the region who stay in Selcuk. We owe you one, Rod. Sirince was a real treat or ‘retreat’ if you know what I’m saying.

After some lunch in Selcuk we made our way to Sirince in yet another minibus (they seem to be the only form of transport in the more rural areas but they always run to time and are really cheap).

Sirince. A small town embedded deep in the mountains about 20 kms from Selcuk. Nothing much to do here but that suited us just fine. Cobblestone roads, quaint little cottages, dense vegetation (mainly olive trees), restaurants and a modest sized bazaar. It was once a Greek Village before they moved (or got kicked) out. That explained the abundance of Olive trees in the area.

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Nisanyan Inn. If Sirince was a box of Cadbury favourites then Nisanyan house was the Turkish Delight. It was the higher most hotel on the mountain. From there you could see well into the Valley and the matching teraccotta rooftops of all the houses in town. Breathtaking. Being a wine region, I could explain it only as a cross between Olinda and the Yarra Valley (Melbourne) and ofcourse a pinch of Sydney Rd, Coburg!

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Dinner. We ate in the Valley in one of the Premier restaurants. Very nice indeed. For those who haven’t attempted it yet, try a pottery kebab one day. As the name suggests it is served in a clay pot. You won’t be disappointed. Oh and Vicki found her first hair. She didn’t make a scene just stopped eating… more for me!

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Back to the hotel for a beer and a casual lay around in the guest quarters. We had it to ourselves which made it even more enjoyable. Bedtime.

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Posted by samandvic 16:28 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Sirince

Day 2 - May 10th 2009

sunny 23 °C
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Breakfast. Our Nisanyan house stay included breakfast. We were expecting something similar to what we consumed in Istanbul but we couldn’t stand the idea of another breakfast buffet. The waiter in the dining room started to bring out plate upon plate of breads, cheeses, fruit, olives, conserves, cakes and the list goes on. He then asked how we would like our eggs cooked. Country fresh farm eggs cooked just the way you like them. Magnificent spread. No time for a nap.

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Ephesus. Ancient city of ruins. The condition of some of the ruins was startling. Who would have thought they would be this well preserved after so many years and after such extensive excavation. We took a horse and cart to visit the seven sleepers before being dropped off at the top entrance. Vicki spent the whole time asking if the Horsie was ok and to slow the cart down. It stretches for about 2km downhill and you definitely don’t want to be walking up and back. There were two stadiums made of rock or theatres if you will. I likened them to the MCG and Telstra Dome in seating capacity. I miss my footy. Go Port!! The floor at times was covered in marble. Tricky to keep your footing in some parts as Vicki quickly found out. She didn't get up for a while.

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Pool. Back to Nisanyan house. It was quite a hot day and we’d worked up a sweat. Vicki took a nap and I headed straight to the pool. Beer and pistachio nuts in hand, I set out for a dip. The pool was a small hike from the hotel and was literally dropped into the side of the mountain. As the pool was made of stone, the water was icy cold. Laying in the pool peering into the countryside I was at piece with my surroundings. Not a soul in sight or a sound to be heard. Marvellous.

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Dinner. We walked back down to the Valley for dinner. We were greeted (as always) on the street. We decide to follow Gokhan’s advice and eat at his restaurant. They gave us a freebie mezza dish and once we had eaten served us a complimentary large fruit platter. We were touched so we invited them to join us. We ended up talking for a couple of hours. We met Gokhan, Ali, Ali and Ozman. Very nice people. They were so nice that they bought us gifts - Sirince souvenirs including salt and pepper shakers, coffee cups and some other assorted goodies. Genuine, nice, hardworking people. Ali (the owner of the restaurant) worked on a peach farm before saving enough pennies to open his own restaurant at 25. Good on him. He also had a thing for Vicki. Not sure I would have received the same attention if Vic wasn’t there.

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Posted by samandvic 16:38 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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