Trip Start Jun 15, 2006
Trip End Aug 04, 2006

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Oh boy, this Turkish keyboard is going to drive me nuts, I can already tell.

Anyway, I made it to Istanbul, Turkey safe and sound at about two in the morning on the 16th of June. After an extortionist cab fare from the airport I was in my hostel asleep by three.

I woke up the next morning with a lot of energy and ready to take on Istanbul and its sights. The hostel I was staying at was in the perfect location in the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. Sultanahmet is basically the old town where most of the city`s famous attractions are located.

Not two minutes walk from my hostel and I was heading through the gate into the Topkapi palace. This was the home of the sultans for centuries and it`s now best known for its harem section. We`ve all heard about sultans` harems and their eunuch bodyguards. Taking the guided tour of the harem area was fascinating in that it really gave a day to day perspective on something that has always seemed so totally bizarre and exotic.

After a couple of hours wandering around the palace grounds I was off to the Aya Sofya or Church of Holy Wisdom. This 1500 year old church isn`t that impressive from the outside, but the interior is absolutely breathtaking. I`m sure the pictures I took won`t do it justice so you`ll just have to take my word for it.

The last major sight for the day was easily the most impressive. As far as wow-factor goes, the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I or the Blue Mosque has it and more. At around 400 years old it`s relatively new compared to so many of the other buildings in the area. It`s also still in use, as we were ushered out when the call to prayer sounded.

It was hard to believe, but due to the close proximity of all these sights, I had seen everything I planned for the day and it was barely noon. After a great Turkish lunch of chicken doner, which is sort of like a chicken wrap, I just roamed around the old city and enjoyed the fantastic weather. It was so cool in Istanbul I was actually looking for sunny spots to take a rest in. That doesn`t happen in Dubai!

All that walking around had made me a bit tired so I went back to my hostel and took a nap for a couple of hours. When I woke up, the plan was to head to Beyoglu, which is the new part of Istanbul, to see a bit of the city`s nightlife. However, something very unexpected happened when I walked out of the hostel. I was in the process of looking for a taxi when I glanced inside a little travel agency office and there sat Azzam Premji.
Azzam and I worked together at the MLI. As a matter of fact, we were on the same teaching team, teaching the same class. He eventually quit the MLI and headed up to HCT women`s college in Dubai. I was, coincidentally, sent to the Dubai men`s college and from time to time we will meet up and catch up on things. Ironically, we have been unable to meet face to face for months now because of our very busy schedules even though we only live a few blocks from each other in Dubai. How crazy is that?

When I walked up and tapped him on the shoulder, he was stunned of course. We had a bit of a laugh about it all and then we headed off to see something that I would have never found on my own - the whirling dervishes. If you haven`t heard of these guys, they are basically a religious sect of Islam that believes they can get closer to God by reaching an ecstatic state by, you guessed it, spinning around. I call it getting dizzy but the show they put on was pretty impressive nonetheless.

After the show, Azzam and I headed over to Taxsim to see what the Istanbul nightlife was like. We were fortunate to run into a friendly and helpful Turkish college student by the name of Effel who acted as a tour guide for us. We ended up having a few beers over Turkish pancakes as Effel tried to teach us some basic words in Turkish much to the amusement of the other patrons. After the meal we said our good byes and parted ways. Azzam should be somewhere in the east part of Turkey by now.

Was that a busy first day or what? If the rest of trip is like that I won`t last a week.

Luckily, the pace has slowed quite a bit. I left Istanbul the next day and took an eight hour bus trip to the town of Canakkale. Incidently, the bus station in Istanbul could give several major airports a run for their money. It has to be the biggest bus station on the planet.

Canakkale is the base for visiting Gallipoli and the site for the ancient city of Troy. I skipped them both as I had no interest in Gallipoli (Australian history, bah) and Troy is apparently a waste of time as there is nothing to see. I really hit the wall at this point in the trip. I was utterly exhausted and could barely get up the energy to watch the USA vs. Italy in the world cup.

The next morning I bussed out again (6 hours) to the lovely little town of Selcuk. If you`re into Greek ruins and Christian history, Selcuk is the place to be. I had another very busy day of sight seeing here.

I kicked off the day by walking about 3km outside of town to the ancient city of Ephesus. The ruins are impressive and I particularly enjoyed the Great Theatre which could apparently hold as many as 24,000 people. Next up was the supposed last house of the Virgin Mary. The story goes that after Christ`s crucifixion, St. John took Mary to Ephesus where they both lived out their days. Mary`s house had a line a mile long to get inside so I didn`t go in. I finished the day by visiting the ruins of St. John`s church which was apparently quite impressive at its height.

A short bus ride has brought me to the town of Kusadasi where I now sit typing this. It`s too much of a resort town, complete with cruise ships, for my liking. However, it is a necessary stop as this is the jumping off point for the Greek Island of Samos. Turkey is almost done and Greece awaits...
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dosqueen on

It´s a small word after all
Wow! What a coincidence running into Azzam like that?! Am writing to you from an Internet cafe in Hofn, Iceland, and I really enjoyed reading your first entry. But being a bit of a history buff, I would´ve gone to Gallipoli if only to envision Mel Gibson (from the film) in all his young studly glory enacting the battle. Cheers bud!

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