Istanbul and Some Reflections on Turkey

Trip Start Oct 26, 2006
Trip End Aug 2007

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Monday, July 2, 2007

I'm not going to say tooooo much about Istanbul, because the pictures will explain far better than I can put into words. With the exception of Topkapi Palace, we visited what I guess you would call the primary "must sees" of Istanbul - the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, and we took the boat cruise up the Bosphorous River to the Black Sea. We are staying at the quaint and oh-so-friendly Mavi Guesthouse (, where both the owner and all of the staff are extremely nice and helpful, more so than most establishments we have stayed at in Turkey, which is saying a lot! It also happens to be one of the cheaper places to stay in the city. One of the highlights of our stay here has been not only our interactions and new friendships made at the Mavi, but also our evening visits to the Blue Mosque (5 minute walk from the Mavi), arriving in time to sit inside the square and watch the worshippers' kids play, gaze up at the mosque, and listen to the powerful and mesmerizing final call to prayer of the day around 10:45pm. One evening we took a ferry over to the Asian side of the city (we are staying in SultanAhmet, on the European side) to have one of the best dinners so far of the trip, for maybe $25 total. It was nice to be over there, which is a much less touristy area, and therefore didn't get hassled by carpet salesmen everywhere we walked, as happens in the touristy SultanAhmet. I think Seth had enough of Istanbul (or just being in a city in general) after about 2 days, but I definitely would like to come back someday, as there is just too much to see. I have to admit that I, too, am ready now to get back on the bike after nearly a week and a half off. We leave tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, taking a bus out of Istanbul to Sofia, Bulgaria, where we will then continue our journey on bike, making our way to Pecs, Hungary by July 17th.
Holly's Reflections on Turkey
I feel compelled to write somewhat of a summary of our time here in Turkey. Unlike our time in Corsica and Greece, which were very comfortable and easy places to travel, Turkey has been a bit more of an adventure. I have found in my travels, especially in lesser developed countries such as Nepal and Ethiopia, that the most vivid and long lasting memories come from places where you have not only your most enjoyable moments, but also your least enjoyable (or otherwise completely miserable and/or uncomfortable) moments. Though Turkey is certainly not to the extreme of third world countries like Nepal and Ethiopia, it is likely somewhere in between them and places like Corsica and Greece.
For me I think the biggest discomfort was the at times unbearable heat, when I would ask myself "Why am I doing this??? This is miserable!". Then we would get to the end of the journey for the day, arrive at the campground or hotel, give each other a congratulatory kiss for having made it (or more Seth telling me "good job dear"), we have dinner and a beer, I feel good with a great sense of accomplishment and all the pain and suffering from earlier in the day is forgotten. Then repeat that the next day. Other discomforts have been poor roads (sometimes a lot of chips and no seal), bad maps, and always being on the watch for dogs that may not be chained up. For those who don't know, some dogs absolutely LOVE to chase cyclists. Fortunately for us, so far (knock on wood!), there have been no major run-ins. A couple of times we've had to stop at the first sign of running/barking dog, then yell at it, or ride straight towards it, and it runs away with its tail between its legs.  Other times they have chased, but with no intentions to bite, just to scare us, and thus turn around after we get 30 feet from their house.
It is incredible, though, how a positive experience can completely turn your bad mood around. For us the Turkish people have certainly been the biggest and best cure for bad moods. In Turkey, same as in Greece, I have become accustomed to just assume that someone is being nice without a hidden agenda. The Turkish people are just genuinely extremely nice, hospitable people. Ok, so there are some people (namely in Istanbul) who are nice and will be pushy in trying to help you out so that you will come to their shop and buy their wares. Outside of Istanbul, though, all we need to do is open our map or guide book and nearly instantly someone will be at our side asking if they can help us. In the end they don't want any money, only maybe to know where we are from and to practice their English a little. They are always surprised when we tell them we are American, maybe because few Americans ever get past Istanbul, and America is just so darn far away. We already told you about our experiences with Bulent and Sevim in a prior blog, and our other positive people experiences just continued afterwards, at completely unexpected times. There was the bread guy who gave us a ride up the hill, those that helped us with directions when our map was wrong AGAIN (a few times a day), the family that lead us straight to Sevim's house, all of the nice smiles and genuine shows of thanks by proprietors for having chosen their establishment to eat at. There was the man at the post office in Istanbul who shook my hand and gave me a kiss on either cheek after sending my package home, probably because I hadn't thrown a complete fit after he told me I could not ship my carefully packed Turkish tea cups, which I had been anxiously awaiting and thinking about until we made it to Istanbul. "Broken!", he said. "But they won't break", I said, pointing to how carefully they were packaged in a Styrofoam box. "Broken!", he said again. Ok, fine, I give in. I imagine he's used to most foreigners putting up a big yelling fight. So maybe he was grateful for having spared him a huge headache. Whatever it was, he sure was a sweetheart, and took all his best care and used lots of tape on the box of items that he did allow me to send. Fingers crossed it will actually make it home. Besides the people, our favorites have been Turkish spices (love that dried red pepper!), evenings at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, anytime we hear a call to prayer (except those that wake us up at 4:15am), swimming in warm, blue/green sea water, watching the hot air balloons in Cappadocia over our morning cup of coffee, and then of course checking email to see that we have emails from friends and family back home with updates and photos.
Their Sentiments towards Us
Before this trip we were very curious how we would be treated as Americans, especially with Turkey being so close to what's going on in the Middle East. We have had all good interactions with not only the Turkish people, but people of all nationalities. We have been pleasantly surprised that, despite the unanimous anti-American government sentiments in all people we have met, they have all had the ability to separate the American government from the American people. For some this may be because they have actually visited the States and have personal relationships with Americans. For others that have not, my only answer is that their personal values don't let them pre-judge a person based on nationality and how they feel about that individual's country's politics. Of course there could be some people who just didn't express to us their true feelings, but we didn't have anyone turn their noses up at us, or say something to imply that we must support the war since we're American. Sometimes people would ask us our stance, and then they would be happily delighted upon hearing that we are not exactly fond of our current administration's decisions either (to put it lightly). But our own sentiments aside, we found it very comforting to see that people just really wanted to know about us personally, and to make their own judgment, based on our interactions together. It could also help, as we have found in other countries, the fact that we are traveling by bike, and somehow we seem to come across as less threatening than if we were in a car or tour bus. Not that either of these means of traveling is bad, as we have used them as well in our travels, but our experiences on bike have certainly provided us with a very different traveling experience. We are convinced, though, that they all think we're absolutely crazy.
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