First Contact December 2004
After cold and snowy Beijing, Istanbul seemed like a tropical paradise. Temperatures in late December in the 50's to mid 60's F. made the touring a lot less arduous than the hard core winter experience in Beijing. We arrived very late in the evening and bused directly to our hotel. Although this hotel was not the solid four star experience we had in China, it was nice enough plus the staff was friendly and helpful. Out tour guide, an articulate middle aged German woman with extensive knowledge of the the city, was also a little less given to the fast pace of our Chinese guide.
It doesn't take long to get the feel of Istanbul's history once you are on the streets. As we drove away from the hotel in the tour bus on our first day we immediately saw what remains of the Byzantine defensive wall that still surrounds the "old city" once called Constantinople before being captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Between its founding in 326 AD and today the city and its rulers have been associated with more significant historical events than any other city in Western civilization other than Rome. Our story is not the place to present the extensive and interesting history of Constantinople. The following link provides it in great detail:
Our three day tour merely skimmed over the city's most well-known tourist attractions that include:
Hagia Sofia Mosque
Oriental Rug Factory
Old City Spice Market
The Blue Mosque is perhaps the best example of Ottoman Turk religious architecture. The following link provides some interesting information about this famous city landmark:
Blue Mosque - Wikipedia
Our photos don't do justice to this impressive structure. Without using more sophisticated photo techniques it is not possible to provide a real perspective of this magnificent mosque. This one should be on your list of must see places in Istanbul.
The same could be said of the Hagia Sofia mosque that sits atop the same hill. In my view it is even more interesting than the Blue Mosque because its history includes a period when it was a Byzantine church during the reign of the Emperor Constantine. After the fall of the city to the Turks in 1453 it was converted into a mosque. Building on top of churches and mosques was fairly common practice during the years of struggle between the two religions. In Spain it was the Christians who eradicated the mosques and built Catholic churches after the Moors were ejected by Ferdinand and Isabella during their re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula in the late 15th Centaury. Being somewhat opened minded about religion, the Turkish sultan, Ahmed I, did not completely destroy the church. He ordered it converted into a mosque while saving many religious artifacts now displayed in a museum located inside the mosque. On the surrounding grounds stand remnants of the church including crosses and many fractured but still beautiful pieces of stone work and statues. Check this link for more information on the Hagia Sofia mosque:
Hagia Sofia Mosque - Wikipedia .
I opted out of the visit to the Grand Bazaar so can not provide any first hand information. Lana however did go and returned with bags of treasures including jewelry, ornate fabrics, and a chic leather coat. If anyone knows about a deal on coat it would be a Russian. According to her this coat was a killer deal at $280 as the price for a similar one here in Germany can run up near $2000. Of course that made me feel better. The entire bazaar is underground and is perhaps the oldest inside mall in the world.
The rug factory was another fascinating place. We got the full tour which included watching women cooking pots full of silk worm cocoons and then winding them onto spools for use in oriental rug making. Most handmade Turkish rugs are made from wool and take from a few weeks to over a year to complete. The silk rugs can take up to four years of work by one artisan. Anyone who has looked closely at these rugs will understand how much labor goes into them. Each thread is a separately hand tied knot. Women seem to have the patience and the monopoly on rug making. Each rug is the work of only one person. After the rug is finished, the pattern is destroyed making each rug unique. The results are often spectacular explaining why these textiles can cost upwards of $20,000.
The Topkapi Palace is probably the best place to visit if you are interested in the Ottoman rulers and their way of life. Certainly it is the most impressive single site in Istanbul. The Sultans who made this their family home and seat of government for the vast empire filled its grounds with fairytale structures in a park setting with the best views in the city. We took lots of photos of this palace so I will let them provide the details, and spent more than half a day just wandering around the buildings taking pictures. Like all immensely powerful rulers, the Ottomans collected jewels and other precious artifacts that are now on display in the palace museum. Many of these items were spoils of war from the days when their empire included most of Asia Minor, the Mid East, North Africa and the Balkan peninsula.
Last on the list was the famous Istanbul spice market. If you like crowds this is the place for you. Just watch your wallet. The market sits near the waterfront in the old city and consists of several narrow alleys with stalls along either side. The hawkers don't give you much slack nearly shouting in your ear to take a look at their wares. Once we entered the fray we were sort of extruded along with the crowd by the pressure of those in back. In order to stop and take a look at something you really needed to find a barrier to stand behind such as a display table or some other immovable object. Spices are sold in bulk out of barrels and baskets. Some of the stalls have smaller packages for those who don't need five pounds of cinnamon powder or ten pounds of saffron. After making our purchases we spent the rest of the time waiting for our tour bus at a nearby outdoor cafe sipping drinks while watching the pigeons fight for table droppings amid streams of pedestrians coming and going along the busy streets near the market.
Five Years Later.... April 2010
Greg and Anya both back in Europe after nearly five years in the US find themselves with the same days off and not wanting to spend their free time watching it rain in Laupheim and Prague where each is living while working and going to college decide to use an airplane for the best purpose imaginable, that being to go away somewhere warm and interesting. This time the destination was Antalya, Turkey. This seaside city of 2 million is one of the most popular short haul vacation spots for Europeans, Russians, and just about anyone who is looking for warm, sunny days, friendly natives, good service, and moderate hotel prices, food and just about everything a traveler needs. So after several hours online I found a value packed travel package with Turkish Airlines same as when I and Lana visited Beijing and Istanbul in Dec. 2004. Anya needed a break from her studies having spent the past year attending Empire State University extension in Prague. Meeting up in Munich we boarded the airplane for Antalya which is about two and a half hours away.
Antalya is located on the southwestern Mediterranean coast, the same land that saw the likes of Alexander the Great, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans and many other figures of note from ancient history. In fact those who are knowledgeable say that ten civilizations have occupied the land where Antalya now sits. Nearby there are many evidences of these former peoples in the form of ruins of gods and goddesses. fallen statues, fluted marble columns, massive granite blocs stacked helter skelter where once they formed magnificent walls for the the temples, palaces, alters, forums, fortresses and every sort of structure that was deemed necessary to build. Now the weeds grow around the fallen pillars and between the scattered stone blocks. But even with all the destruction and neglect of the years one can still readily see what was and how much effort was spent. There is still enough form to make out the outlines of former market places, public baths, forums, towers, and living quarters. These are the ghost towns of the ancient world. Perga is just such a place. We visited it on our second day along with two other ancient sites that included the seaside temple of Athena, the Greek goddess of civilization, wisdom, strength, strategy, craft, justice and skill in Greek mythology. But Athena was not alone there. We also saw broken statues of several other well known ancient deities among the tumbled blocks of marble and granite. Perga was our next destination. Here is a link that will fill in the details of its history and points of interest much better than I can. Perga After Perga we visited one of the best remaining examples of a Roman amphitheater. Our photos show you what we found including a gent who fancied himself descended from a gladiator. Anya demonstrates how to deal with such vicious characters. One the way back to the hotel we stopped for just a few minutes to inspect the remains of an aqueduct that stretched 50 km into the mountains where the water source was tapped. The photos show something really interesting if you are given to wondering about ancient engineering feats. The aqueduct has two rises not unlike a roller coaster located on either side of a wide valley through which the aqueduct crosses. Now why would that be? Think about it.
We were fortunate to have visited the Antalya museum of ancient history near the old city where we stayed in our lovely little "art" hotel. On our first day we walked nearly the entire old city (Anya wanted to keep in shape while on vacation). I was just hoping to survive. Turns out most of the museum contents came from Perga and similar sites. Unfortunately, most of the statues have missing parts especially heads. Seems "collectors" around the world are known to have many of the missing items and are not interested in returning them. So it goes with mankind, we destroy priceless artifacts just for spite and steal those we can sell.
Our last day diving was just the balance we needed to wash off the dust from Perga off our shoes and take a look under the waves near the town of Kemer which is about 40 km north of Antalya along the coastal highway. By sheer coincidence we joined a large group of Russian tourists who had the same interest in trying out scuba diving. Anya had never been "down" and although I have an open water diving card, I had not been "down" in several years. It all worked out well because the diving was very well managed and the equipment was excellent. Anya had a wonderful first experience while I soon felt comfortable again when I saw how well the boys were handling the first timers.
If you have looked at the photos you will notice that I have skipped one activity, again on a boat. It happened on our second day after returning from the tour of ancient sites. We got back in time to do one of the short boat tours from the old city harbor. We had been warned by the hotel staff to be careful about booking such a tour. Seems that the operators want to load up the boat as much as possible before departing. On good days with lots of tourists the wait for departure is usually not long, but on slow days it can be a few hours. We found a boat that looked pretty full at least it seemed. So we bought our tickets and boarded. Turns out that most of the folks onboard were local school kids who probably worked a deal with the boat owner to hang around on the boat in exchange for a free ride. We made a move to get off when we figured out the ruse. That was enough plus the fortunate arrival of a few more paying customers to get the tour started. The cruise was only mildly interesting and we never did get the free drinks we had been promised. First we visited a cliff area with a waterfall and pocket caves along the shore. Got up really close for some good photos. Next we headed out and along the coast. Not really much to see so we started chatting with the kids. The young lads were quite impressed with Anya as you can imagine. Someone had a boom box that was cranking reasonable dance music so that's just what we did. I tried out my best moves. Anya wiggled just enough to get the boys to gather around although none seemed to know what to do next. By the time we were back at the dock we were all exchanging email addresses and telephone numbers. It's amazing how quickly friends are made under the right conditions. I suppose the opposite can also be true. I mean I was only 54 years older than most of them. Why not? Now I have Turkish pen pals.
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