Last Days in Istanbul

Trip Start Feb 01, 2007
Trip End Aug 2007

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Returned to Istanbul on Wednesday 28 March. We toured the Blue Mosque. It was huge and spectacular.
That afternoon, many of the people on the tour went to the Topkapi
Palace, but we had already been there, so we decided to visit the Dolma Bache Palace. It was built in the mid-1800's by one of the last Sultans. He had more money than decorating sense. The Palace is spectacular but not elegant.
Hundreds of rooms, many huge chandeliers and lots of over-the-top furniture and floor coverings. When the Turkish people finally got a look at the Palace interior in 1921 they were so outraged that they elected Mustafa Kamil Ataturk President-for-life, and the last Sultan had to leave by rowboat under cover of darkness. (Well, not really. I just wanted to see if y'all were paying attention. Actually he did leave at night by rowboat the join his money in Europe, but the hideous décor was only part of the problem.)

Thursday we walked to the Grand Bazaar just see what it was like. There were hundreds of shops in a maze of corridors in a building that was several hundred years old. (The entrance said 1461, but I would want to check that out. Some of the merchandise could be that old.) It was fun to walk through and see the Turks (and a few tourists) doing their shopping. John bought a pair of gloves to replace the ones he lost in DC. (The new gloves looked very similar to the lost gloves. John's theory is that all lost things end up re-sold in the Istanbul Grand Bazaar.)

We toured through the Old Cistern. It was built in the 500's to hold water for the city. The water came from the hills via aqueduct. The Cistern was a real engineering feat; with hundreds of columns supporting arched and vaulted roofs, all covered with rubble. It was nicely lit, and contained enough water to give a sense of what it was like when it was operational. There were watermarks about 12 feet up the walls and columns, indicating it had been at least 1/3 full in the recent past. There were also huge fish in the water; looked like carp. Don't know if they were part of the original design or recent additions for the touristas.
There were two heads of Medusa on two columns in the very corner of the Cistern. These were there supposedly to protect the Cistern from evildoers. Worked for me.

We walked through the Orient Express train station. The Express hasn't operated out of Istanbul for decades, and the station is now for commuter locals. With a lot of imagination we could picture what it must have been like in the way-back days of steam trains and hot intrigue. We saw no spies (and very few people, but we did get almost-fleeced by a pair of shoe-shine boys. We were bigger than them and justice prevailed).

On Friday we had a 9PM flight to Athens, so we had most of the day. We decided to walk the coast road before lunch. The day was pleasantly warm, and the tulips were blooming. (Tulips actually originated in Turkey. The Dutch burghers got a hold of the bulbs and turned the flowers into a world-wide craze. Same thing happened to the McDonald brothers and their burgers 400 years later. Memo to self: It's not the invention, it's the franchise!!) After a three hour walk, we ate lunch at a fish place under the bridge on the Golden Horn, a waterway dividing the European side of Istanbul into the Old City (pre-800AD) and the New City (Post-800AD). We got to watch the activity on the water.

We walked back to our hotel and met our car to the airport. The Istanbul Ataturk (what else) Airport is very nice. The security and check-in is very efficient, and the terminal is very clean and modern. Helen was carrying all our medications. Since we are traveling for six months we have a copious supply of meds. The security people were suspicious that she had so many pills. After we produced our prescriptions they let her through.

Our Olympic Airlines flight was a half-hour late, but the flight attendants were very efficient. They served a nice meal even though the flight was only one hour. The Athens Airport was even nicer than Istanbul's. Within 30 minutes we had cleared immigration, retrieved our luggage, and caught a taxi. We arrived at our hotel about 0030 and crashed.
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