Istanbul - the home run
Trip Start Jan 31, 2011
71Trip End Jul 10, 2011
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Istanbul has also been fascinating to us. We both studied Ancient History at school and knew that Istanbul was the meeting place of the European and Asian continents and that it had been the capital city of the Holy Roman Empire for almost 1,000 years. We also knew that the city, then known as Constantinople, was key to Winston CHURCHILL's WW1 1915 plan to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula to force open the Dardenelles and capture Constantinople to gain access to the Black Sea. Depending on who you speak to or what book you read, Istanbul has a population of somewhere between 15 and 20 million people. When you consider Australia's total population is around 22 million, then Istanbul is truly one of the world's major cities. For these reasons we were keen to check it out, if only for four days.
In the morning we met our American friend Howard MICHAELS aka The Swank Yank. We first met Howard when we were all very young school teachers in Warren, NSW. Howard came over to NSW on a two year teaching contract for 1976-77 and since then we have kept in regular contact ever since. We have visited him in the USA in 1982, 1990, 2004, 2009 and in 2010 Howard came to Australia and stayed with us.
Howard has an American friend, Jenny, who lives in Istanbul as she is married to a local named Ton so Howard took the opportunity to visit Jenny and see us at the same time.
With Howard we went to the famous Blue Mosque. It was built in the 16th century as the main place of Islamic worship in the city and gets its name from the blue tiles, mainly used on the inside. It is open to all and entry is free.
After the Blue Mosque visit we took a 2 hour cruise on the Bosphorous which is the waterway that separates the city and the European and Asian continents. The Bosphorous waterway is open to all international sea traffic and is free of charge. It is surprisingly clean, given the size of the population that lives on its shores. When you remember that two seas, the Black Sea and the Sea of Mamara flow through this narrow passage, we guess it goods a good flush every day with the change of tide.
That night we met Jenny and Ton who took us to a fish restaurant for dinner, yummy! Ton is Turkish and went to University in The States where he met Jenny. He is now working for the Turkish National Football (soccer) team and travels with them whenever they play. Good gig if you can get it. Good one Ton!
On Wednesday together with Howard we went underground. We visited the Basilica Cisterns, built by the Romans to store the cities water supply. The architecture is unbelievable for an underground structure. It has two statues at the base of two stone pillars, both of Medusa, who legend has it that if you look at her face you turn to stone. One statue is one its side, the other upside down. No one has yet been able to figure out why. We then visited the Spice Bizaar where you buy just about any spice known to man, and lollies too!
Because it was hot we went to a British themed pub at about 6.30 pm for a cold beer and found it was full of Aussies watching a replay of the 3rd State of Origin game. We knew the score; they didn't. Needless to say, after drinking our beer to drown our sorrows we didn't stay to listen to the gloating Cane Toads. Our day will come, we hope! We then had a delicious sea food dinner with Howard before bidding him farewell as he flies home on Thursday.
On Thursday we visited the Hagia Sophia museum that was built in the 6th century AD as a Basilica. When the city was captured by the muslim Ottomans in the 14th century it became a mosque and remained the main place of Muslim worship until replaced by the Blue Mosque. It is not a traditional musuem because the display is the building itself and its tiled and mosaic interior.
We then took a bus tour of the city that lasted for about 2 hours. It had English narration and was cool and relaxing. After our bus tour we found the Grand Bazaar which is not far from our hotel.
Its easy to become lost wandering its halls, all under cover. You do become tired of the hassling you get to "my friend come into my shop..." Give me a break, I'm not your friend!
We then returned to our aircon hotel to beat the afternoon heat before having another fish dinner and then hitting the hay, exhausted after a busy day sightseeing.
We noticed that Turkey is very open with its religious observance and allows its citizens to practice the Muslim religion either devoutly or very relaxed as they see fit. This is typified by the dress of the women, some wear the same as Western women while others cover from head to toe in complete black.
Friday, our last day of 107 days of holidays! Where did the time go? We decided to take another bus tour, for two reasons. One, this one went over the Bosphorous Bridge and into the Asian continent. Secondly, we are too buggered to walk anywhere!
The ride of the Bosphorous Bridge was reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as they are both suspension bridges. The Bosphorous Bridge is 1070 metres in length and is called Bridge number 1 as there is a second suspension bridge, number 2, further up the Bosphorous and built later.
After our bus trip we returned to our hotel to wait the taxi ride to the airport for our flight home via Hong Kong. On the way we noticed men praying in the streets in great numbers, something we had not seen before.
Our great adventure is OVER!!
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