Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

Archive for the ‘Ankara’ Category

Up the Bosphorus on Day 4 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 8, 2007

Monday morning began with the packing I’d been too tired to do the night before. After getting everything together I headed up for breakfast. Katrina and Tenner were up there and I took a picture of them and Ari on the rooftop. After that, I gave Katrina my business card so she could email me. She looked at it and started laughing – it turns out she’s a lawyer in Australia. She’s a prosecutor for the government and goes after attorneys for ethical/criminal violations. It turns out that they’ll be back in Istanbul around the same time I will so we’ll see each other again.

After that, I checked out and headed down to Emininou pier to buy my ferry ticket for the Bosphorus cruise. This is a city-run ferry that takes a daily run up the Bosphorus, which is the river that runs between the Asian and European sides of Turkey and empties into the Black Sea. It’s only about 12 lira for a 90 minute ride and is a great value. Robert and his family were already in line when I got there and saved me a seat on the upper deck. We were sitting next to an older couple from Sydney, Australia, who were extremely nice and told us about their upcoming trip to Greece. It was a great outing! The day was absoluely beautiful and the sea breezes felt incredible. The coastline was dotted with wealthy suburban homes, the occasional mosque (cami) and a few other historical sites, such as the Dolmabahce Palace. The Asian side is much greener and more residential than the European side but both were extremely interesting to watch.

I left before the last stop (you have the option of getting off at the last stop for 3 hours and eating lunch, then returning by ferry) because I wanted to get my luggage over to the train station since I was leaving later. Therefore, I took a 65 minute bus ride back to the city center – it was a long trek but was a fascinating look at the non-touristed parts of the city. I watched 2 teenage boys exchange greetings by kissing each other on the cheek (which is also common in other countries like Spain and Italy), and had to laugh at the thought of 2 American boys doing that. Three teenage girls sat across from me and were very affectionate with each other – much more so than American girls would have been.

There are other differences in our cultures – for example, you can sit for hours here (and many other places in Europe) in a cafe or restaurant and no one will rush you out the door. No one brings you the check until you ask for it. It’s a much more relaxing way of llife over here.

After the long bus ride, I had to switch to a tram for the last 10 minutes, which took me back to Sultanachmet Square. After grabbing my luggage at the hotel, I headed back to the pier. Along the way, I was hailed by all the carpet and restaurant touts who saw me with luggage and were yelling because I had not been to their shop or restaurant. These guys never forget a face – on my first day there (before I knew better), I answered them back and promised them I’d stop into their shop just so I could get away from them. Unfortunately, they took me at my word and every day they have reminded me of my promise. I started to feel like I was breaking a contract. Sheesh…

After breaking free of my carpet/restaurant buddies, I headed back to Emininou and grabbed a ferry to Haydarpasa train station on the other side of the Bosphorus. It’s amazing how cheap public transportation is here – the ferry ride to the train station only cost me about .75 cents. After arriving in Kadikoy, it was a 5 minute walk to the station although it seemed like longer. The pier was lined with older men sitting there doing nothing and every single one stared at me as I walked by. As I said before, Turkish women don’t generally walk by themselves so I guess they were surprised to see me without someone accompanying me.

Haydarpasa train station is gorgeous – very ornate but in a different style than most Turkish buildings. It was a gift to Sultan Abdulhamid II from his ally Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1906. I found the left luggage locker and stowed my bags with the help of a local who translated the instructions for me. My train didn’t leave for another 5 hours, but I didn’t have much stamina so I opted to find a restaurant close by and eat dinner. It was a good choice – the meal was excellent. Chicken and vegetables and rice served in pita bread. Interestingly, I have not had a bad meal in Turkey since I got here. The rest of the time I read and planned more of my trip.

At 10 pm, I boarded the train and was taken to my very own sleeper compartment – it was so cool! It has a cute little bed with bedding that folds out and a little sink – I felt like I was on the Orient Express in the middle of an Agatha Christie mystery. I stayed up for awhile but the bed was calling my name and I soon went to sleep.

By the way, my apologies for any typos – I don’t have time to go through everything and although I’ve managed to change the Turkish keyboard to English for the web, I can’t figure out how to switch MS Word so I can do a spell check. So please just bear with any mistakes…

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Cats and Whirling Dervishes – Day 3 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 7, 2007

There are cats everywhere – poor, skin-and-bones feral cats who desperately search every day for enough food to keep alive. My heart just aches for them but I’ve been told not to get near them since they will scratch – and are probably sick and insect-ridden. I do leave some food when I get a chance, although they seem to find food in the strangest places. Yesterday I came across a grey and white cat with a huge pigeon stuffed in its mouth who was heading for a bush to finish its feast in private.

My own breakfast on Sunday morning was a little tastier (at least, in my opinion). Same scenic terrace and same buffet spread. This morning I met some additional guests at the Hanedan – Robert, a doctor from Hawaii, his wife, Natalia, and his wife’s sister and cousin, Mindy and Alicia, who live in Manila. They were very pleasant and since Robert and I have many of the same geek traits, we hit it off very well. They invited me to join them that evening for a performance of the whirling dervishes, so we arranged to meet at the event hall around 6:30 pm.

My plans for the day involved seeing Kariye Müzesi (aka Chora Church), which as I mentioned, is an 11th century Byzantine church decorated with beautiful frescoes and mosaics. The church was fairly small but the art inside was exquisite.  But I digress – before getting to the church, I had looked at the map and thought I’d walk it since it didn’t seem too long. Obviously, I need a lesson in cartography because that walk was extremely long. My pedometer logged in almost 5 miles and some was uphill. It was worth it, though, to see some of the fascinating sights along the way. Part of the route took me through the Fatih district, which is a more conservative section of Istanbul. Almost all of the women I saw were covered, and I got more than a few strange looks (Turkish women usually do not walk by themselves).

The shop windows provided a strange contrast, however – there was about 6-7 blocks of shops that had nothing but wedding gowns and prom-type evening dresses. Very sexy, very frou-frou, and very silky-slinky. I can see the wedding gowns but I’m not sure how the evening wear fits in. The shops also contained an assortment of ornate boy’s ceremonial robes in white and gold, with an accompanying scepter and crown. These robes are worn on the day the child is to be circumcised.

Finally, the church appeared and it was every bit as gorgeous as I’ve described above. Afterwards, I headed for Ascitane, a restaurant next door that specializes in cooking recipes preserved from the Ottoman empire. While there, I ran into Robert and his entourage and we chatted about our day so far. They were planning on visiting another church nearby, but I was tired out from the walk and wanted to get back. This was the plan but it didn’t quite work out that way. It started with the city walls…

Part of Istanbul is surrounded by stone walls that date back to the 5th century and that were built by Theodosius, Constantine’s successor. The original wall was flattened by an earthquake in 447, but was hastily rebuilt within 2 months in preparation for an attack. A good portion of these walls are still standing. So I walked along them and marveled at the incredible history I’ve been seeing since I was here. I figured I’d get to the tram stop soon and head back. However, I was so wrapped up in the walls (and the 3 skinny horses that someone had left tethered near the walls) that I missed the street where the tram was. By the time I realized it, I was too tired to go back and just grabbed a taxi.

This was crash and burn time – 3 intense days of sightseeing and jet lag were finally catching up and I had to lay down for about an hour. After that, I made my way out for a quick dinner then walked down to the train station, which houses the exhibition hall where the dervishes would be performing. I actually got there a little early because I had a change in my itinerary – rather a drastic one. Instead of heading down to Izmir and then over to Selcuk and Ephesus, I decided to buy a ticket on the sleeper train to Ankara. Once I get there, I will then bus to Cappadoccia.

My reasons were rational – the thought of spending 7-8 hours on a bus was making my skin crawl. I wanted to be able to sleep in anything resembling a bed – and there’s no way a bus seat fits this description; even a reclining one. So I hot-footed it over to Sirkeci Station and bought a berth on the Monday night sleeper train to Ankara for 75 lira. This way I could have some time to chill in Cappadoccia and not feel like I was rushing to get there. The station I will leave from is actually at the Haydarpasa train station on the Asia side of the city (I’ve been staying on the European side – the only portion of Turkey that is in Europe).

Soon after, I ran into my friends and we all walked in to watch the dervishes. We were warned to be quiet and not to use our flash, as it is considered to be a religious ceremony. Of course, that didn’t stop some idiots from flashing away but at least the majority managed to restrain themselves. Lucky for me, I had taken a photography class a month before and had finally learned to use my camera to get the best effects so I was able to get some great pictures of them whirling without the flash. It is evidently a mystical experience to the dancers – they consider themselves closer to God when they whirl like this. It was pretty amazing and sent goosebumps down my spine.

After the performance, we split up – they went back to the hotel and I headed for my internet cafe (the manager knows me by sight now). Finally made it back around 11 pm and stayed up for awhile reading (which was dumb, since I have to get up early to pack).

Tomorrow – the Bosphorus cruise and onward to Ankara!

Posted in Ankara, Cats, Chora Church, Kariye Church, Turkey, Whirling dervishes | 3 Comments »