Turkish delights in Istanbul.

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Wednesday, August 9, 2006

He Said:

We had a bit of a marathon run in getting to Turkey. Our flight on Air Malta was a red-eye, departing at 1:00am and arriving at 4:30am. So after getting no sleep, we had to wait around Istanbul airport until public transportation started running around 6:00, arrived at our hotel finally at 7:00am only to find out that our room wouldn't be ready until 11:00. Those night flights can be tough, if they depart too early to get a hotel, and arrive too late to get a hotel as soon as you arrive. Oh well, I guess this is probably won't be the last time this happens. Katie alternated between looking like she was going to keel over or kill somebody that morning as we were walking around the historic part of the city.

Ok so the obligatory historical note: Istanbul straddles one of the world's most strategic points, the Bosporus Straight. Look on a map and you will see this is the only place ships can enter the Black Sea from the oceans of the world. Knowing this, it is not surprising that it has been a city throughout much of human history. From its ancient roots it eventually grew to prominence when it became capital city of the eastern half of the Roman Empire, which after the fall of Rome became know as the Byzantine Empire. The region became officially Christian upon emperor Constantine's conversion and the capital became known as Constantinople. This empire continued until it was eventually defeated by Muslim armies in the 1400's and became known as the Ottoman Empire with Constantinople's name being changed to Istanbul. The Ottoman Empire existed until it was defeated (along with its allies: Germany and Austria-Hungary) in WWI. The Ottoman territories were then broken up into the map of the Middle East very close to what exists today. Hence many of the border disputes, conflicts, and squabbles in that region can be traced back to the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.

Got all that? Anyway, back to the trip. Once we had both recovered a bit from the flight, we immediately took a liking to Istanbul. It is a really vibrant blend of Asia and Europe, quite a modern city with an ancient heart. The locals are probably some of the friendliest (and most enterprising) people we have encountered. An example: We were walking out of the main bazaar holding hands and a man in front of a carpet shop calls out to us "You should be smiling, young charming lovers!" we couldn't help but laugh then he said, "How would you like to be my first customers today?" we declined with a smile and he waved goodbye.

We had a few days of fantastic sightseeing at the mosques and museums of the city. Sites such as the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque are mind-boggling! We were also able to take a cruise down the Bosporus to its mouth where we visited a small village and we climbed up to the ruins of a castle to take in the views of the Black Sea.

In addition to all the sites, fast Internet access and loads of travel agencies helped us to create a new itinerary (replacing Syria & Lebanon) for the rest of August. Thanks to the help of our friends from Oregon, Jim & Lucy (who recently traveled through this region) and their friends Kate & Brian (who live in Bulgaria) we were given some great advice. So we are spending about five days wandering through a number of historic, fun, and cute towns in Bulgaria before heading north to Romania for five days to visit Transylvania. From Romania's capital, Bucharest, we will then take an overnight train back to Istanbul for a day, then take yet another overnight train into southwest Turkey. Along Turkey's coast we will visit a number of cites before taking a ferry to the Greek island of Rhodes where we will fly to Cairo at the end of August to meet up with Katie's parents for a Nile cruise. Wow!

So tonight we are heading off on a night train to Sofia, Bulgaria. We should have some interesting stories to tell in a few days!

She Said:

We got off to a bit of a rough start on our journey to Turkey due to a crappy middle of the night flight, and I probably could have handled it better. Let's just say I've figured out that I'm willing to pay large sums of money to avoid sleeping in airports when possible, while Todd definitely isn't. ANYWAY, our extremely early arrival to Istanbul's Old City had an advantage - we were the only ones at several of the major tourist sites and were able to get some great pictures without battling the crowds. We were also one of the first few into the Blue Mosque (see pics), and it was so quiet that I actually fell asleep sitting on the floor there (no slight on the beauty of the site).

After some rest and a renewed attitude, I realized that I love Istanbul. It was not at all what I had expected - cute colorful buildings, rooftop decks, amazing mosques with delicate minarets, parks galore, brightly colored flowers - all situated on the banks of the beautiful Bosporus. Our hotel is situated just two blocks from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia, right in the middle of all the tourist sites. We can hear the call to prayer from 3 mosques at the same time, which sounds like it is being sung by professional opera singers (unlike the calls in Morocco, which sounded more like someone being beaten). Check out our little video of last night's sunset call to prayer.

Spending time in Istanbul is a great contrast to our time in Morocco. While both are Muslim countries, Istanbul is a much more secular society. It seems like there is a greater element of fun here (or at least the public expression of fun) - people are laughing, playing, smiling, and hanging out with friends. And women are everywhere - most without headscarves - and many in professional dress (hooray, as this is something that really bothered me in Morocco).

Tomorrow we are off to Bulgaria on an overnight train in a private sleeper car. The concept sounds great (combine lodging and transportation in a two for one deal), but this remains to be seen.
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