Friday, May 01, 2009

Istanbul - Day 3

A more quiet day today. We packed up and stored our luggage at the hotel and made a last stab at Sultanahmet. This included a visit to the tomb of the areas namesake Sultan Ahmet.

At one point we tried to find the spice market but failed miserably. It may sound silly, but I really am proud of my 'Souk Sense' and failing to find it really upset me. We wound up going in circles. Had a great meal and got shortchanged. Frustrated, I wanted to call it quits. But with another check of our guidebook and with a few landmarks we managed to locate the street we wanted. Our reward? No actual spices. But we did find the street my partner Thomas and I visited 7 years ago on my first trip to this city. Shop after shop of silk scarves. We did some pre-haggling and are confident we can get even better prices later of when we are shopping in earnest.

Feeling better we departed the bazaar, made out way back to the hotel and were informed of the riots.

Riots? "Don't go to Taksim today. Very bad" Mehmet said, looking serious.

"Is May first, workers day. Lots of protests. Communists, anti-communists, Labor party everybody. Lots of business closed".

This was, of course, exactly where we had to go. After some asking around we located a taxi to take us across the Bosporus so long as we went around the protests. No problem says us.

We drove along the shores of the Bosporus, the ancient city walls to our left, green parks with scored of people fishing and picnicing on the right. Our speed was absurd as it is in all foreign countries, but less alarming than Egypt. Here, drivers generally stay in one lane. The new hotelo, the Dedemon is large and mdern and we dislike it. No charm, no coziness. The pretentious concierge told us that if we could wait, the restaurant would be open in half and hour. Bah! We were hungry. So it was off down the street to the Bambi Cafe. Our sandwiches were a kind of gyro panini with french fried in them. Awesome, and cheap to boot.

I've been unable to find a three to two prong adaptor for my netbook so I'll likely be posting from my iphone for a bit. I used skype for iphone and made a call to my brother in the US and it worked fairly well given the crappy signal in our hotel room.

We met our tour guide Mustapha, or "Mus" as he wants to be called. Not as charming as our German guide. Mixed group of Americans, Canadians and lots of Aussies. Oddly, the Americans are the most foreign sounding of our group with several asians and a woman who may be cuban.

We'll be covering 2,200 miles in total this trip. And it begins tomorrow at 6am. Blogger acting a bit weird and not uploading pics. Might be our net connection. But rest assured I'm snapping lots of pics.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Istanbul - Day 2

Up bright and early. Lots to see. After breakfast of yogurt, apples, cheese, bread and tea we head off to the Basilica Cistern. This amazing structure was built to supply water to the palaces and was lost for quite a while. It is eerie and beautiful, dimly lit with amber light. Fish still live in the clear water. In one corner, you can still see the head of Medusa, a piece of stone taken from a ruined temple, used as a base for a support pillar.

Note: This isn't my picture

We then hit the bazaar again, this time I found the book dealers street. Awesome. I'll be back there soon. Oddly, books are the only thing that aren't haggled over, and they can be pricy.Taking a few twists we found a street where metal workers turned out some amazing antique reproductions. I even perused a few flintlocks. Sooo tempting. But we plan on holding off on major buying until the end of the trip. Other wise we'd be hauling all our swag around for two weeks. But still... soo shiny...

Back to the Tulip for a nap. Walking this much takes it out of you. Dinner at a rooftop restaurant with an amazing view of the Haiga Sophia and the Blue Mosque. We ate as the sun sank slowly in the West and the Muezzin called the faithful to prayer.

Istanbul is quite the Metropolitan place. It is the meeting of East and West. However I did not expect "West" to mean the American West. As we walked through the park that sits atop the ancient Hippodrome today we saw a group of Native Americans performing a tribal/new age dance/concert. Really, this was THE last thing I ever expected to see in the heart of Turkey. It was a bit surreal.

After dinner I chatted with Mehmet, the young hotel manager and his friend. We showed pictures of our respective homes. Mehmets friend is Kurdish (an oppresed minority in Turkey) and his fathers home is also underground though a bit more rugged. The surrounding mountainside however is breathtaking. A polish traveller joined us and were learned of Turkeys great sporting tradition of male oil wrestling. No, it's not what you think. Look it up.

Tomorrow we move across the Bosphorus to our new hotel and will meet up with our fellow travellers in the evening. Not sure what we'll get up to in the day. This city, for all its size, is oddly relaxing. It is clean and actually smells very nice. (The Old City areas in Morroco can best be descibed as smelling "Biblical"). Here you can smell the sea, fresh bread, roasting meat and flowers in the park.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009




This was one of the more low stress trips I have taken of late. Sure, it rained on the way to the airport, then I got a call AND and an email telling me peoples websites were acting up.

Care level = Zero. It would be dealt with later.

No lines anywhere. Flight to new York is smooth. Security there quick as well. In flight there are two seats free in our aisle. Passable food and and actually trusted us with metal eating utensils. Each seat had its own personal entertainment center. Nice touch. No real sleep, it's still a plane trip and a long one at that.

On arrival a tout tried to get us to take a bus to Sultanammet. "Only 60 Turkish Lira!" (about $38) "Mush faster!"

Really? The metro and tram system took us about an hour and cost us $3 total. Nice. Outer Instanbul is much like any other city. Modern, and with many concrete buildings. Similar to Cairo but more finished looking and no farms interspersed between buildings. But once you arrive in Sultanammet you are dumped at a lovely park right between the Blue Mosque and Haiha Sophia. Using my keen "Souk Sense" I tracked down our minescule hotstel and we checked in. At this point "resting me feet" became "passed out" for several hours.

We recovered enough to get out and find a few sights. At a small park I was befriended by this fellow who lumped up on my lap and proceeded to love me with great vigor. Rossana gave him some cheese which made him quite happy. Meanwhile my own cats treat me like I beat them with a rubber hose. I tell ya I don't get no respect...

We had dinner at a small restaurant nearby where our waiter asked if we were Americans. We took a chance and said 'Yes'.

"Do you like your new president?" he asked.

"Yes, very much."

"We do too. He was here three weeks ago. I go to see him and everyone shouting Obama! Obama! I could not get close enough. So many people."

That felt good. A few years ago in Egypt I had an awkward discussion with a friendly merchant while awaiting delivery of some goods. Today I felt quite comfortable being an American abroad. Of course, the Turkish people are genuinely very friendly. After diner we strolled to the lit Blue Mosque.

Tomorrow we start exploring more on our own.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Gear,

There was a time when all a man needed to travel the exotic East was a compass, a canteen of water and 4000 Sherpa. So what am I taking?

  1. iPhone - Not for calls or email. I have two Turkish translation programs. Also good for currency exchange.

  2. Acer One Netbook - I'll post to the blog when wifi is available. Also a journal and backup for photos.

  3. Canon Digital camera - It's a bit beaten up but it takes some nice pics.

  4. Travel Journal - I've kept one for each trip. Never crashes. Good for notes, drawings etc.

  5. Messenger bag - Holds lots of stuff including maps, book, passport, led light, journal, energy bar, hand sanitizer, camera, leatherman tool, business cards, one tea bag, pens and compass.

  6. Money belts and pouches - To get all my money you will have to strip me naked and put on rubber gloves.

  7. Tilley Hat - Best hat ever.

Oklahoma = Fun

I almost forgot that I shot this short bit of video while we hunkered down during the great dust storm that was the Norman Oklahoma show. We were assaulted by this piece of trash for literally 10 minutes. Then the wind kicked up again and blew it, and a small child, to god only knows where.