Arriving in Istanbul

Trip Start Oct 25, 2007
Trip End Nov 06, 2007

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Friday, October 26, 2007

My "sleeping partner" is up early. He's stowing away his Turkish Airlines gear - a small blue bag filled with an eye mask, comb, toothbrush paste, and snuggle socks. Mine is still unopened in the seat pocketin front of me, but will be slipped in my carry on for the return flight. Great souvineer.

Anxious to see his family and homeland. So he's leaning over me,  sharing my window space. All I am seeing is water, but it's making him happy, and it's almost as if he knows the exact spot on the map that we are flying over.

"Soon" he tells me "we will be home soon." The ovehead tv screens show the exact postion on the map. Pretty impressive. I've always believed that there should be screens on every flight, mapping the way, and telling you what is down below us as we fly. This is close to what I want. An announcement in Turkish says we are landing - I translated the announcement just by looking at the excitement in my seat partners face, before the English version started.

We're soon rolling up to the landing gate..but.. oh my gosh, we're back at JFK. I ;say to him "I think we did a U-turn. This is the same terminal we flew out of. He says he thought that of JFK when he first landed there. The architecture is very similar, but he assures me we ARE in Turkey. And soon, I see the Istanbul airport sign, and a lot of Turkish Airline planes...whew!

Being in the front, I had to wait out on the ramp for Julie, who is the back of the plane.
We're headed to the cart rental and then the money exchange. That's Julie's priority.

First we get in line to pay our $20 for our Turkish Visa, then clear customs, which is like walking thru check in. Cart rentals are Julie's first priority. However, to get a cart, you need one Turkish lira.

The money exchange is conveniently located in front of the cart rental. I exchanged $100 US for 119 Turkish lira. If only I could do that well with my investments at home!

Then over to the baggage claim area. Where we waited, and waited. There were over 120 in our group, along with other passengers on the flight. And many of the passengers brought major luggage.

Then, we're herded over to our group holding area, before being separated into our "colors.

Getting out of the airport and onto our bus was a little tricky for a group of 23. First, you cross a busy airport road, then huddle as a group on the narrow sidewalk, and wait for our tour bus, which comes quicker than we expected. Julie and I are already planning to drop our bags at the hotel and grab a cab to Dolmababce Palace. Most of the group is planning to do the "nap" thing.

Our tour guide, Mustafa, introduces himself and our driver Mehmet, then we're off to our hotel in Pera. A large and impressive Air Force base is located next to the airport.
Istanbul is modern. That comes as a small surprise to me. Four lane super highways. New multi-family housing is either under construction or competed everywhere you look. Over 15 million live in Istanbul. A large green park area, which attract families is on the Sea of Marmara.

Then our first view of the famous Istanbul outer city walls, also called the Theodosian Wall or Byzantine wall. These defensive walls were built by the Byzantine Emperor Thedosius II between 413-477 in the Roman era. They extend over four miles from the Marble Tower (Mermer Kule) on the shores of the Marmara Sea to the Golden Horn.

To assure its impregnability, two sets of walls were built. The outer wall is over six feet thick and twenty eight feet high. The inner wall, built sixty five feet from the outer wall, is sixteen feet thick and over forty feet high. The walls included twelve gates, and ninety six towers.

The purpose of the walls was to protect the Byzantines of Konstantinople, one of the most besieged cities in the world from the 5th century until 1453 when Mehmet conquered the city. Restoration is ongoing, and many gates are still being used by local citizens.
Some areas of the walls can be hiked on. I'm telling Julie this is a hiking "must do" if we have some free time! She's giving me a "you've got to be kidding look." However, I am very good at persuasive tactics.

We're approaching the Bosphorus Strait, a narrow ribbon of water that connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara,. bisecting Istanbul's European side, Rumeli, from its Asian side, Anadolu. Now polluted, the Bosporus Straits are one of the world's busiest shipping areas. Over 50,000 vessels, including 5,500 oil tankers ply these difficult to navigate waters.

We're getting closer to Beyoglu, and our hotel, now we are crossing the Golden Horn. I'm getting excited and Julie wants to get to the Dolmabahce Palace.

We pass a lighting "zone." Every store within these city blocks sells lighting fixtures. Guess that makes shopping easier for those looking for a light bulb.

Mustafa is pointing out the shopping/entertainment street Istiklal Caddesi. Says this is the place for everything including people watching. A street car runs the length, and makes many stops.

We loop thru the area, down a hillside, then on our left is Dolmabahce Palace! If we could get off here, it would save us time coming back, but no luck. We have to check in first. On our left is the waterfront and some beautiful mosques. Finally back up the hill again and we are at Pera Marmar Hotel.

We're dropping our stuff in the room and back down the elevator. Mustafa has a taxi for us. $10 dollars. We're in and moving.

Back up the hill, then down the hill to the Palace. We wanted to do the combined tour, but were fifteen minutes too late! So, we pay our 15 Turkish Lira for the short tour and still get to see the crystal staircase!

To say this is just a palace is like saying the Vatican is just a church. We enter from the outside courtyard past what I thought was a statue of a soldier. Julie says "don't touch, he's breathing."She's right.

Then in the inner courtyard to the beautiful swan fountain, where we have to take photos. Around the fountain and to the front steps of the palace. Our English guide instructs us to put plastic protectors over our shoes, then go inside to the Main Entrance hall. WOW!

The first thing that grabs your attention is the chandeliers. Multiple hanging and standing French Baccarat crystal chandeliers.And the size of the room. Next we're off to the Baccarat crystal staircase. What would have been a great photo isn't. The staircase, along with other areas of the Palace are under renovation for the big event in two days. So, I'm snapping "around" the scaffolding. Still, this staircase is one for the photo books.

Each room has our jaws dropping. The floors are covered with over an acre of silk and wool Hereke carpets.

The palaces' fašade is nearly a quarter mile long. Cleaning 248 rooms 43 large salons, 6 Turkish baths, and 2700 windows must keep a large part of the Istanbul population employed full time. That doesn't include the changing the light bulbs.

The Bohemian crystal chandelier in the Throne Room, the world's largest, weighs 4-1/2 tons and has 750 lightbulbs. The sultan received this gift from Queen Victoria.

Ataturk died in his bedroom in the Palace on November 10, 1938. This is one of the rooms we wanted to see, however that was on the second tour. Next time, we are coming to the Palace for the first morning tour so we will see everything. The outside grounds are also open for viewing. This is a MUST SEE. Julie and I are happy to have see part of it.

Getting a taxi back to the hotel is a problem.

We're on the wrong side of the road in rush hour traffic. A nice policeman tells us to move up the street and get a taxi. We do. We get in and he drives us a half block before he discovers we are not going in his direction. He doesn't want payment for the half block. I'm really liking Turkey.

Then we run across four lanes of traffic to the other side of the road and try to hail a taxi. The taxis are all turning left down the hill. One is coming our way YIPIIE! Darn, he's got passengers.

Then another stops. Radio is on and we are in the back seat. This is the long way back to the hotel. We know, cause we did this route with the bus. Julie and I look at each other and say "bet this costs us a bundle." We could get out, but the alternative is walking a long distance up on the flats before we hike the hillside. And of course we don't have a map, so we'd get lost finding our hotel.

The driver doesn't speak English, and we are captive in the back seat. Finally, thru the traffic, we get to our hotel. "How much" we ask? $9 US. We pay and wonder how the long route can be cheaper than the short one.

Now, it's a rush to get changed and down to our group meeting and dinner, but we make in time. And dinner is delightful! A huge buffet of wonderful vegetables and salads and things that I don't have a clue what they are but taste so good I can't stop pigging out. Julie is grabbing some meat stuff, which she says is also good. The variety of deserts is amazing. I'm eating little round things with what may be soaked in a liquor? And cheesecake, and chocolate. I think that food just might be my downfall in Turkey.

Water for the bus is a priority, so we walk up behind the hotel for some large bottles. 1 lira. Pretty cheap.

Jet lag and an early day jammed packed with touring means in bed by 10:00. Which would have worked fine, however the noise coming from outside my fourth floor hotel has me awake. A huge crowd carrying red flags and large banners are marching down the street and turning up a side street in the distance. The chant is repeated, and repeated and repeated. Well, this just might be a long night.
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