Istanbul so much to see! our man luc left ...

Trip Start Oct 02, 2001
Trip End Nov 01, 2001

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Thursday, October 18, 2001

Istanbul, so much to see!
Our man Luc left us a few days ago, with sadness, we said goodbye in a daze at 5am.

In a city the size of Istanbul with 16 million people spanning an unthinkable amount of space, you never know what to see first. With Luc gone and some of the major sites covered, we were searching our guide books to try to put together a small list of things to do. We were very fortunate to meet our new friend Ahmed, the manager of a terrace across from our hostel. He volunteered to take us on a personalized tour of Istanbul and show us things that weren't in the guide books, giving us a real feel for what Istanbul is from someone who lives here. We drove around the streets of Istanbul with our new friends Dave and Felicia until we got to old Istanbul or the 'Old Town' as they call it here.

A castle by the sea...

Old Istanbul is mesmerizing with a myriad of ancient, narrow twisting streets and Turkish vendors around every corner. We took some time to appreciate the authentic Turkish wares then decided to have a coffee by the peer overlooking the Marmara sea. Ahmed then took us to a ruined old castle on the european side of the Bosphorus river that was built in the 6th century in a strategic area to defend and control trade ships in and out of the seaway. A similar castle was built on the other side to allow for some serious crossfire for any enemy ships trying to come through. This castle was also sieged and used later by various enemies to try to take Constantinople and topple the Byzantine empire.

Next was the largest mall in Europe! This huge mall had 5 floors of shops like Diesel, Marks & Spencer and Dockers housed in two great towers, and reminded us of back home. We did the shopping thing for a bit, then returned to the hostel for a little r&r.

One thing that continues to strike us in Istanbul is just how different it is. As we write this, we can hear the loud, intense Muslim prayers that are sung from the dozens of Mosques near our hostel 5 times a day. Also, many of the restaurants we have been to give us a (very) dirty look when we ask if they serve beer. Even the bartenders here don't drink!

Another day trip.

With another day ahead of us and no real set plan on the table, our friend Ahmed again offered to drive us to various sites for another Istanbul day trip.
Off we went on this chilly day to explore this big city.
First stop was the Galata tower. The oldest and most beautiful tower of Istanbul was constructed in 528 by the Emperor Justanian and is 190 feet in height with walls of 11 feet in thickness. From the tower you have an amazing view of Istanbul, the Bosphorus, the Marmara sea and the Golden Horn (see pictures).
Although this now houses one of the city's most exclusive night club and a restaurant, it is famous for the tale of the flying man, Hazerfan Celebi.
Hazerfan Ahmed Celebi is the first man in the world who flew *succesfully* from the tower and has forever been associated in the tower's mystical folklore.
It's pretty amazing to look out at the horizon and be able to look upon both Europe and Asia in the same glance as the sun glimmers on the countless mosques that dot the landscape.
Too bad it was too cold and windy to stay and enjoy the view but we did go inside and have apple tea (yum!) by a window that overlooked the bay.

There's something in here... a Black Sea adventure.

After leaving the Galata tower for an unknown destination, our friend Ahmed drove for about an hour before telling us where we were going. We must admit to have been getting a little nervous, partly due to the lack of information, but it may have had something to do with the growing number of soldiers (all armed with AK-47s!) that we were passing on the road! Turns out that there is a big Turquish Navy Base near one of the oldest castles that overlooks the Black Sea.

"You mean this the Black Sea?!" we yelled as Ahmed explained what we were looking at from deep within the castle ruins that overlooked the water. Excited and a little frantic, we explained to them that one of our goals in Turkey was to swim in the Black Sea!
We considered the cold weather (we were all wearing jackets) and the fact that we had no towels or bathing suits. Blah! We bought some towels head for the nearest water we could find.

Turns out the only place we found was a ridge lined with fisherman looking for their catch of the day! So we got out of the car and tread our way to the shore where we proceeded to take off our clothes. Note that this was not a beach. We had to climb our way down about 15 feet of sheer, slippery boulders to reach the water. "This is amazing" we thought as we got ready to jump in. We didn't think we would have a chance to do the black sea adventure because we had been spending too much time in Istanbul... you can imagine our excitment!
We had heard the stories of how dense the salt water is and how you can float effortlessly in seas like this.

Splash!! In goes Chuck in his boxer shorts and surfaces some 20 feet away.
While Chuck is wallowing in the sea, Gerry is cautiously looking for a safe way into the water. Suddenly, he hears Chuck yell something and stops.
"It's full of garbage in here!" Chuck yells as he threads water waiting for the boys to find their way in. Sure enough, there seems to be floating IGA type garbbage bags littered at different depths near (and closing in on) Chuck.

Chuck has become somewhat agited and is suddenly splashing around alot.
"What the..." *SPLASH* *SPLASH* "There's something in here!!!" he yells as he feels something tickling his lower back, then his legs... then his arms!
A frightful thought crosses his mind as he realizes...HE IS NOT ALONE!
Blindly batting away at the water he is taken with a sudden panic as he feels something swarming around at his arms, his legs and back!
In world record speed he makes a mad dash for the shore.
Every stroke is met by this gelatenous, unknown 'garbage bag' terror. In a performance that would have put Ian Thorpe to shame, Chuck manages to make it to the rocks. As he bounces out of the water in a frenzy he looks back to see and identify the source of this mysterious terror that has taken him.
In the murky water below swims *swarms* of large, grotesque jellyfish!
Turns out that the seas around Istanbul are plagued with thousands of them! Fortunately, a quick physical reveals no obvious sting marks or skin iritations.

Hrm.... Ahmet and Gerry are now a little skeptical about diving in... Well, we came all this way, no turning back now. With hesitation and a careful analysis of the jellyfish deployments, they jump in for a quick in-and-out dip.

*deep breath*

Well deserved checkmark on the todo list boys.


Topkapi Palace

A visit to Istanbul isn't a visit without touring the legendary Topkapi palace. This where the byzantine empire was overthrown by the Ottomans in 1453. The sultans of the palace ruled the Ottoman empire for centuries right up to 1923. Our 75 year old, veteran tour guide David took us through the palace, the *cough* harem and the treasury.

The palace was comprised of a stable, a kitchen, towers, studies and living quarters. The interesting thing is that as the tour progressed, we clearly saw the timeline moving forward. Each new sultan (there were 36 in all) built a new, personalized section to the palace. The politics behind this place were amazing. For all of you out there that ever wanted a harem, let us give you the quick run down of how it worked. The sultan had about 150 women to choose from (that's the good part). They basically hung around the gardens and the pools waiting for the sultan to 'choose' them. The sultan always had a favorite and jealousy among the concubines was intense. So intense that each night the women rotated sleeping quarters to avoid assasination. The sultan was also constantly at risk of assasination (and many were killed this way). So basically the sultan would wind up with x amount of kids (potential sultans) from all these women. But who would take the throne once the sultan died? There is no easy answer to this, there was no real method of choosing a new sultan. You can imagine the politics and chaos that ensued. All the mothers trying gain favor for their sons, promises made if their son was to become sultan, etc...

Somehow the system worked for hundreds of years... hrm... harem....

The treasury was incredible.... I can't even imagine the value of the collection we saw. Thousands of jewels (including a 92 carat one we agreed would look great on a mantle piece back home), kilos and kilos of gold and incredible ornate thrones.

Well, that's all for our overextended stay in Istanbul. We're off to eastern Turkey now to visit the Cappadoccia region... then it's back towards the western coast and the cities of Pamukkale and Epheseus. We'll keep you updated.

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