Anyone seen the other half?
Trip Start Jun 24, 2011
12Trip End Jul 16, 2011
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Where I stayed
We left Bursa on Tuesday morning to head back to Istanbul, our final destination. On the way, we crossed the Sea of Marmara on a ferry and drove directly to the famous Grand Bazaar of Istanbul where there are 5,000 shops. The mood in the bus is positively giddy with shopping anticipation. As we approached the city, however, the streets started jamming up again and it was only 11 am
We finally got to the bazaar and we nearly had a stampede with all the women rushing to get out of the bus. Another bathroom break requiring deft squatting abilities and strong proficiency to avoid getting splattered (ie. another Turkish toilet) and off we go. The main street of the bazaar have shops that are numbered from 1 to 194. There are sides alleys running off the main street and passages running off the alleys. The shops in the passages and alleys are not numbered so you know when you're on main street and when you're not. The best way not to get lost is to always come back to the main street so you can get back to the main gate. Apparently, people get hopelessly lost in this place, we still don't understand why. There are jewellery, silk, ceramics, linen, souvenir, lamp, carpet and leather goods shops. And that's about it... 5,000 of them... they all look the same and they all sell the same stuff. Practically no product differentation. It's rather mind-numbing and dull after about 10 minutes. We're still wondering why the bazaar is so famous and what's the big deal? And though you are expected to and must haggle hard to get a decent deal, the deal is far from being cheap.
Some women in the tour thought that 2 hours weren't nearly enough shopping time in the bazaar and are considering extending their vacation by one more day just so they can shop. In this age of globalisation, I can tell you that EVERYTHING in that bazaar can be easily found at home. Wow, I'm glad I haven't been afflicted with the compulsive shopping virus.
We then went on a cruise tour on the Bosphorus, the strait that splits Istanbul into a European portion and an Asian portion. The view of the city from the water is magnificent, there are stately homes, mansions of sultans past, palaces and mosques peppering the waterfront. It's a nice break from the heat of the city. In the evening, we went for dinner with Gerrit and Gerrie, our favourite South African couple of all time, at a seafood restaurant close to the hotel. It was excellent food with great company and Gerrit talked Pierre into doing a little speech for the tour guide, the driver and his assistant at the farewell dinner on the following evening. The beer hunt after dinner proved once again to be unsuccessful only because it was too late and the supermarket was closed. I still have my faithful bottle of wine so I ended the evening definitely a lot happier than Gerrit.
The following day would be the last full day of the tour and we visited the main sites in Istanbul. First stop was Aya Sofya which got mistakenly translated into Latin as Sancta Sophia (Saint Sophia); it actually means Divine Wisdom, which has nothing to do with a lady named Sophia who got canonised for being saintly. It was built by Emperor Justinian as part of the effort to restore the greatness of the Roman empire and was completed in 537 AD
The beauty of this place is really awe-inspiring. The dome is massive and is supported by 40 ribs from each side which are hidden in walls, giving the impression that the dome is unsupported. It really is sublime, Pierre and I both think this is the most splendid building we've seen and though we've only been to less than 40 countries each, it's still by far the most impressive we've beheld.
Walking from Aya Sofia to the Blue Mosque, which is literally around the corner, we actually lost two members of the group at the corner and had to wait for them; after half an hour, the guide had to abandon the search to get us into the mosque before prayer time. Again, an exquisite building, whose interior is decorated with around 30,000 blue tiles, hence its name.
After lunch at the famous Pudding Shop where Bill Clinton has eaten, we headed towards Topkapi Palace. The aforementionned Mehmet the Conqueror started building the palace in 1453 and a succession of sultans lived there until 1839, when they started building more European style palaces elsewhere on the shores of the Bosphorus and moved. There were many stories related to these sultans, like the one who drowned after drinking too much champagne or the one who went mad after being imprisoned by his own brother for 22 years. The palace is huge and very nice, there are four courtyards in all... except there are 3 cruise ships in the harbour and that means thousands of additional tourists roaming around Old Istanbul
We tried to go look at the various displays of the sultans' clothes and his treasury (there was an 84-carat diamond that he used to wear on his hand... dummy) but there were just so many people it was unpleasant. There was also a room for the relics, which contained bones of John the Baptist and a piece of Mohammed's beard. There was a lineup outside and we patiently waited, except when the doors opened, all hell broke loose. These people were savages, you'd swear it was Louboutins on sale for 75% off. Good grief, it's just some bones and hair, relax people! We gave up and left and went to sit in the shade with Gerrie and Gerrit. I don't like crowds in the first place but crowds that are pushy and savage-like on top of smelling like a gutter, I can't bear.
In the evening, we had our group farewell dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Bosphorus, very pleasant. Pierre did a very nice speech and our touring team really appreciated it. On the way back to the hotel, we dropped a bunch of women off at a gigantic shopping mall while the rest of us got some much needed snooze.
Thursday morning at breakfast, we said goodbye to some of our fellow travellers and gave special big hugs to Gerrie and Gerrit who will return to their family in Holland later today. We took a cab to the Sultanahmet district and checked into a little hotel then went souvenir shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Man, it's annoying to have to haggle for everything, I feel like I'm getting ripped off all the time. We're both getting quite homesick and wish we were flying tomorrow instead of Saturday. But there's still lots to be seen in Istanbul so tomorrow, we'll visit the less major sites.