A Travellerspoint blog

3: Istanbul's answer to Bunnings!

sunny 17 °C
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Early start this morning (only problem with group travel is that I do need to get up that wee bit earlier than I have become accustomed to!) and we started the morning with a walking tour of the old town of Istanbul. We started by walking up the main street and behind the Aya Sofia. The thing I love about the old town is that it is surrounded by a wall which is also over a thousand years old! I find it amazing that its still standing in almost one piece. We went via the Topgakpi Palace and then back into the main square between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia.

Blue Mosque was packed this morning so we didn’t do a stop inside (which didn’t matter considering I had seen it the day previous) before we headed out to the Hippodrome. We did go to the Hippodrome yesterday but I don’t think I mentioned it.. Today it is just a courtyard/ park to the side of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. Back in the Byzantine times it was actually an amphitheatre that was used for chariot races etc. All that really remains of this era is two Egyptian Obelisks which were donated to the Ottoman Sultan by the Egyptian pharaoh back in 390 AD and half a statue of two intertwined serpents (which is now sort of half a serpent). The serpents statue was part of an ancient Greek sacrificial alter and was donated to Istanbul by Emperor Constantine in the mid 3rd Century.

Our tour leader than took us back into the heart of the madness of the Grand Bazaar before leading us out and down some back streets towards the Spice Markets. On the way we stopped to see another two beautiful mosques. One of them is more blue in the interior than the Blue Mosque. Every square cm is covered in blue and turquoise tiles.. Amazing! The thing I liked about both mosques is the fact that they were almost devoid of tourists or locals.. It is so much more pleasant to be able to actually enjoy the spectacle of a mosque without having to crane your neck over the heads of others.

The roads leading into the Spice Market are also full of sellers (most of the streets leading up the hill are all shopping streets) so we had to navigate our way between very anxious sellers til we made it down to the Spice Market.. The street reminded me of a big two dollar shop with all sorts of crap that no-one in their right mind is actually going to buy! The Spice Market though was another story.. First impression is a welter of colour, sounds and smells…. Oh god, the smells coming from the market are just heavenly.. Pungent Cajuns, mixed with sweet smelling cinnamon and all of that rounded out with turmeric and saffron.. I can’t describe the smells or the number of people (both shopping and selling) but the Spice Market is certainly an experience.

At this point our tour diverged as we entered free time. Sue and I decided to head over the bridge into the new quarter of Istanbul and go and find some tasty local cuisine for lunch. Our walk took us through the hardware supply shopping district.. Its like one big Bunnings that is made up of maybe a hundred shops all next to each other all largely selling the same thing! At the top of the hill of the new town is a large tower which was once used as a fire warning building for the city.. Someone would see a fire and then warn everyone living in that area to get out etc. Around this tower are heaps of little cafes and tea houses and we were lucky enough to find this local haunt that sold absolutely top quality shish kebabs with tasty sides all for less than 5 dollars each… Bargain!

We made our way back into town after our lunch and headed back into the nut house of the side streets behind the spice bazaar hunting some ‘comfy’ pants for our trip. After trawling through countless streets, and a couple of hours later, we were just about to give up when we finally found what we were looking for.. 7 dollars later we both had a pair of Burberry knock off yoga pants and so we headed back to our hotel for a great night’s sleep and a light snack.

Posted by weary_feet 08:10 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

2: Mosques, mosques and more mosques!

sunny 16 °C
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Got going relatively early this morning with a real day of site seeing planned. I met up again with one of my fellow travellers, Sue, and we headed for the chaos of the Grand Bazaar.

The Bazaar is a few city blocks that is filled with tiny lanes, tiny stalls all housed inside old stables and buildings linked to one of the mosques. The bazaar was first built in the mid 1400s and has been in use ever since! You name it you can pretty much buy it in the bazaar.. Plenty of evil eyes, carpets, jewellery and antiques on offer as well as the obligatory souvenir sellers! We spent a good portion of the morning shopping (my skills at bargaining haven’t diminished.. Like always I’m sure we still got done but I still felt like I had won!!) I was most impressed when we found the Old Bazaar the old part of the Grand Bazaar. Today it is home to the antique and silver wear sellers. We found shop after shop selling full silver wear dinner sets… The type of silver I’ve only ever seen in top royal museums in Europe… I’ve got no idea who can afford the stuff but it is absolutely amazing to see! After scoring a couple of marriage proposals from random sellers we finally left the bazaar feeling totally overwhelmed and stressed out.

We decided to find ourselves some sort of snack for lunch before we accidentally discovered the Blue Mosque! We again got some help from someone looking for us to buy a rug and made our way into the famous mosque. The entrance way is pretty impressive and then you see the interior and WOW is all I can say! The windows are mainly all made out of blue stain glassed so the effect on the floor and walls is really quite amazing! The main draw back in the mosque was the number of tourists.. Holy smokes we could hardly move inside the church. We didn’t actually stay for too long (the crowds just really made you feel like getting out as quickly as possible) before we headed out and down to the Aya Sofia.

If the Blue Mosque is impressive, the Aya Sofia is unbelievable. The museum first started out as a Christian Church (mid 300 AD) before it was converted to a mosque after the Ottoman invasion in the 1400s. Today it is undergoing renovation and will remain as a museum from now on. After the conversion to a Muslim mosque the painted Christian frescos were plastered and painted over before the basilica was dedicated to Allah. Today the frescos have been revealed and renovated so that the splendour of both the Christian and Islamic faiths can be seen (much of the Muslim decoration remains). What is left is this incredibly amazing church complex which looks more like a palace than any sort of church (no matter the religion) The whole Aya Sofia is built of marble and some of the marble inside almost resembles pictures.. I can only imagine how the blocks of marble were moved to this location and installed. The pillars that hold up the basilica must be 30-50m high and all marble!! (In fact the name marble comes from ‘marble island’ which is off the shore of Turkey!)

After oggling at the beauty of the Aya Sofia we went across the street to the Cisterns to see the Byzantine underground water complex. It was built around 600 AD and is this huge underground pillared/ domed area that was used to house the water for the city. Today it is a museum with each of the columns lit up by lights.. Just gorgeous. The Cistern is also home to two carved heads of Medusa which were obviously ransacked from some other place and used as building material for the cistern. What I find incredible about the cistern is the fact that for over a thousand years the columns were surrounded by water yet they still remain in almost pristine condition! Here’s hoping they are still standing in another thousand years!

This was our last adventure for today because at 6pm we had to meet up with our other fellow travellers to get the low down on the trip and also to start out by having some dinner. Dinner was at a Turkish restaurant not far from the hotel that has a beautiful view of the Blue Mosque at night. Our group seems pretty good- 3 american ladies and 4 aussies (2 men and 2 ladies) so far everyone seems to be getting along great so here’s hoping that this trend continues!

Off tomorrow to discover more of the splendour of Istanbul but now with our group!

Posted by weary_feet 07:50 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

1: Beauty and Chaos

sunny 15 °C
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This chapter of Weary_Feet Treks the Globe is dedicated to Graeme and the whole Intrepid tour group who traveled with me thru Turkey working tirelessly to help me come up with my blog title. Thanks Gang!!

First day today, of an Appetite for Arabia. V early start this morning as I had to get going at 6am in order to get on my flight to Istanbul at 10am. Dragged myself out of bed and through the tube out to Heathrow and discovered an almost non existent wait thru security!!! The one morning I decide to allow that little bit extra time to go thru security and I find that there is no line up!!

So spent a couple of hours feeling sorry for myself (I’ve developed a cold) and drinking a cuppa til the plane departed. Non event flight with the only interesting thing to happen was that I watched half of a Pirates of the Carribean movie and half of a James Bond movie and slept thru the remainder of both!

Touched down in Istanbul to chaos and beauty. The drive from the airport was educational.. The Turks work on the assumption that you just ‘go’ when you are driving. Blinkers are optional and you definitely don’t wait for a gap you just assume the car behind you will make some room. The light is quite subdued and almost a light orangey colour. The minera rise up from next to the mosques pointing towards the heavens. Honestly, a beautiful site!

Arrived at my hotel to discover another of my tour group members checking in so we headed out for some tasty Turkish dinner (savoury pancakes eaten on the floor) and then an early night. Off to discover the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia tomorrow.. I just can’t wait!

Posted by weary_feet 07:29 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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