Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Learning the Turkish ways

Our four days here is fast drawing to a close just as we are beginning to learn the local ways. We have even learnt how to say "no thank you" in Turkish ('Hayir tesekur e derim' or in English pronunciation 'Higher Tea-Sugar-a-dream') which has become a necessary evil as we are constantly being approached with "excuse me, can I just show you....?" or "yes please" or "you are American, English, Australian?" etc which is the precursor to showing you a  Turkish carpet, leather goods, pashmina, perfume or luring you into a restaurant in the hope that you will spend a few Turkish Lira!
We have learnt that 'calls to prayer' seem to take place about six times a day starting at 5.15am and finishing about 10.40pm. The chant (or call to prayer which is electronically recorded these days to save all that walking to the top of a minaret) lasts about 5 minutes and gives people about 15mins warning so they can make it to the mosque on time. We have seen lots of men running to the nearest mosque to pray but no women. Although the call is loud it doesn't seem to wake us in the mornings.
We have also noticed lots of cats everywhere, even a few tiny kittens, and they are usually very skinny and seem to live on the streets sometimes scrawling at each other for their own territory. Dogs are thin too but they do seem to belong to people.
Saturday 9 June
On Saturday we queued up for the Blue Mosque so called because of the blue and white tiles which cover the interior walls. It is one of the world's most famous religious buildings and was built in 1609-16. Istanbul has several huge mosques but this is definitely the most picturesque.
Blue Mosque
Our next visit was to the Galata Tower which dates back to the 6th century. It is 60m high and is topped by a conical tower. We caught a lift for about 45 floors and then had to walk up a very very narrow winding staircase to the top for a breathtaking view over the city from the narrow balcony around the top.
Views from the Galata Tower

We next took a ride on the funicular (tram) to the end of the line at Taksim Square. We stopped here for a while to walk down the hill past the main shopping street which is quite modern and to the Basilica Underground Cistern, a most unusual tourist attraction and totally worth a visit. Again it required negotiating lots of narrow steps (the Turks love their winding staircases) but it was quite an amazing structure. It was built in 532 to meet the growing demands of the palace. The cistern's roof is held up by 336 columns each over 8m high. In one corner there are two heads of Medusa, one on its side and one upside down thought to mark a shrine to the water nymphs!
Medusa's head!
By now we were tired and hungry so we opted for an early dinner of meatballs in a little restaurant near the Galata Tower.
Sunday was another full-on day and we started it with a run, yes, we truly finally ran in Istanbul. It was a little daunting appearing in public in a singlet and running shorts. Mr B did offer me a t-shirt to cover up but it was stinking hot and I just concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and tried not to make eye contact with any of the male species.I did feel a bit self-conscious running through the streets where Turkish men sit outside their shops and you can feel their eyes probing as you run past. However, once we had reached the waterside I felt a little better although one fisherman just about brought his line right out of the water as he swung round to stare. There were a few runners down there but only one girl and she had leggings covering her knees although she was wearing a singlet top. It is a different world here. We arrived back at the hotel totally dripping and managed a few more stares when we entered the lobby!
Total distance: 8km
After a refreshing shower and breakfast we headed for Haghia Sophia (or Ayasofya in Turkish) which means "church of total wisdom". It is more than 1400 years old. It was built as a Christian Church but in the 15th century it was converted into a mosque. It was truly magnificent and the mosaics were gorgeous. It took us nearly 3 hours to walk through every room and gallery.
Part of Interior of Haghia Sophia

Intricate ceramic tile work

One of the magnificent ceilings

Haghia Sophia
We were already footsore and weary but there were more sights to see so after a short rest eating a banana and drinking water, we walked around the corner to the Topkapi Palace.
This was truly amazing. We paid extra to visit the harem with all its interesting boudoirs and history. In the main palace there was a circumcision room, fabulous emeralds and gold including a 65carat diamond (so huge) and some  artefacts attributed to the prophet Mohammed which created a huge pushy queue of head covered locals who were desperate to see the many studded swords and stones.
We enjoyed walking through the beautiful gardens here too and by the time we had covered the majority of the palace and its grounds another 3 hours had slipped by and our poor feet were burning!
This time we enjoyed dinner in our local area served by a disgruntled spruker who had hoped to entice us to have a much larger meal than we had! Goodness, we didn't even have a glass of wine as we were just ready to head home for some sleep!
Monday - our last full day in Istanbul
Today we decided to cruise the Bosphorus, a very different and far more relaxing way to see the sights. It was quite surreal to cross under the bridge which separates Europe from Asia. Apparently a marathon takes place here - the Eurasian Marathon - which has taken place since the bridge was built in 1973. The Bosphorus is the channel flowing between Europe and Asia. It is really, really blue and the many mosques, castles and palaces on the hillsides made for a very scenic tour. After a couple of hours we arrived at Anadolou Kavadgi where we had a three hour break before returning on the other side of the Bosphorus. 
Views on th Bosphorus

Seafood lunch
It wasn't a big port and was absolutely full of seafood restaurants and of course the locals rely on these cruise boats to boost their economy. It didn't take long before we were seated at a seafood restaurant overlooking the water and being served quite delicious fish (served whole), calamari, mussels, fresh sardines and salad and a glass of wine to wash it down. 
Mr B enjoying lunch

We wandered round the seaport after lunch buying the prereqisite fridge magnet, then headed back to the boat for our return trip. The round trip took six hours including the three hour break but it was a great way to spend another hot day.
Once back on shore we walked back to the Grand Bazaar to buy some more Turkish Delight then we risked buying some kebabs at a roadside cafe and headed back to our hotel. 
In the morning we need to repack our bags before catching a shuttle to the airport and collecting our hire car before facing the extremely daunting idea of driving through the Turkish traffic as we head for Cappodocia. 
Turkish drivers are crazy, spending a lot of time honking their horns and ignoring pedestrians. The footpaths here are very narrow and half covered with shop wares which requires lots of walking on the roads and crossing the roads is taking your life in your hands every time you step off the curb.Being a driver here will be an experience indeed!

Cats just seem to wander the streets and not belong to anyone


  1. Sounds fascinating! Well done on the risque run. The old men might have been perving at Dave's knees ;)

    I saw a ceiling just like that at the Venetian in Vegas ;) How do I say 'I'll have a cuppa tea with one sugar' in Turkish? Good luck with the driving - sounds just like getting to PH in peak hour.

  2. I know that Turkish drivers are crazy. Did you have kebabs with lamb or turkey?

    It's easy to see that you're having a great time there. Nice photo of the Blue Mosque!