At the Boarder of Europe and Asia

Trip Start Oct 24, 2009
1
27
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed
Portus House Istanbul
Read my review - 5/5 stars
What I did

Flag of Turkey  ,
Friday, February 17, 2012

Istanbul
(This needs to get published, as rough as it is. Excuse the shoddy writing.)
 
Friday, 17 Feb.

Frankfurt am Mein à Vienna à Istanbul

$20 for a visitor's visa, good for 90 days.

Guy from our hostel was there to pick us up. He had a sign that said "Tracy Brown" that we saw as we left the baggage carousel area. He grabbed the other two girls’ luggage and we went to the parking garage. There are hybrid recharging stations in the parking garage. We al loaded into a big Renault passenger van and speedily wove through the city to our hostel. We met with ostel guy, had tea nad coffee, and decided on what activities to do on Sat. And Sun. We left the hostel on foot in search of food and fun. We crossed bridge to S. Istanbul. People around a fire built on the bridge. Fishermen on the bridge. Gauntlet of restaurateurs. South of the city, at least in the area where we were, things were already closed and closing. Owners cleaning up. Piles of trash swept up. On the way back to the hostel, we stopped in a store to buy water and ask direction. One short (5’6”ish) man walked us back to the hostel because we didn’t know how to get there.

Saturday, our second day (first full day) in Istannbul.

Woke up at 8:00 to catch the Hop-on Hop-off bus tour of the city. We ate the free breakfast at the hostle first: coffee, baguette, cheeses, fruit spread, olive tapenade, little meats, and a boiled egg. We walked to the bus stop about 20 minutes away to wait. We got on the wrong tour bus, and got off at the next stop without having paid. As we walked back to the original bus stop, we saw the correct bus approaching. Tracy ran toward it and waved her arms to flag it down. It worked. It pulled over about 75 yards down the road and we got on. We were told to pay at the main office down the line during the tour. The audio was terrible on the bus. The static crackled and popped in our ears the entire time, sometimes very loudly and painfully. I don't remember what all sites we saw, ironically due in part to the recorded tour guide program, but you should follow the tour map to fill this part in. Some parts the stand out are the substantial remains of the Roman walls of Constantinople and the information about the Jewish population of Istanbul and Turkey. There are approximately 26,000 Jews in the country, 20k of which live in Turkey. Most are Sephardi.
At the Blue Mosque, I believe, we deboarded the bus and began our search for the Grand Bazzar. As we searched we did a little shopping, not really buying anything, and stopped at a Starbucks. Maybe a mile up the road from Starbucks was the Gate 5 entrance to the Grand Bazzar. Before that we stopped at the Old Bazzar and looked at rugs, pasminas, and fabrics. That was our first taste of how pushy and aggravating the merchants can be. Actually, it was the restaurantiers the previous night, but things were about to get much worse. In the Grand Bazzar, right from the start hockers and sellers of all kinds of wares stepped to block our path, imploring is to visit their boutiques with a variety of aggressive ploys. We got hooked into seeing expensive Turkish rugs, where I was given a $9,000 discount for being an honest man. Later, the same salesman led us to a larger second-floor "wholesale" showroom outside Gate 5. He escorted us to an elevator and introduced us as doctors to another gentleman I realized I had been played when he asked me earlier what I dedicate myself to. His assistants served apple tea while he unfurled an assotment of rugs before us. All the while he asked us questions and made skillful small talk. We left after over an hour viewing rugs and discussing price. Neither T nor I like to play that game, and we never came to terms. I knew we wouldn't. We spent the next nber of hours being harassed by desperate, aggressive salesmen. Hello friend. Please visit my store. I make you special price. Can I ask you a question? Special sale for you.
Islamic prayer blaring all over the area while we walked in search of the tram. Old lady selling socks. Back to hostel.

Sunday, 19 February

Today was our guided tour day. Price was something like 70€ per person, and was run by the same company. Breakfast was at the hostel, same foods. A bus came by the hostel to pick us up and drop us at a meeting point for a larger tour bus. Toured the plaza outside the Roman hippodrome and the Blue Mosque where the snake sculpture and Egyptian obelisks are. The temp. was near freezing and we were all very cold despite being bundled up. The tour guide was under a lot of pressure to keep the tour moving becuase he had to present all information twice, once in English and then in German. The English-speakers were asked to stay close and take photos as the German half of each tour stop was being done. After the plaza, which has another, more Roman name, we walked up the stairs to the courtyard of the Blue Mosque to begin our tour. The tour guide, again, was having to duplicate each part of the tour in German, which caused everyone in the group to endure the cold more than should have been necessary. By the time we reached the entrance of the mosque, we were all uncomfortable bthere we were required to remove our shoes to enter. As the guide spoke inside, I alternately stood on top of my left and right foot in a vain attempt to warm them. Although the inside of the Blue Mosque was stunningly beautiful, the four of us left during our bit of free time to explore the structure independently in favor of finding hot drinks and a place to warm ourselves. The mosque was not heated.
As we left the front entrance, we turned right and walked down a walkway to a flight of stairs. We came across a small shopping area with a café at the far end. Briefly we warmed ourselves in a dining tent and sipped on the ubiquitous Turkish apple tea. It helped. When we found our tour group again in front of the mosque, we followed the guide and his rallying cry of "my group, my group, my group" to the destination: the Hagia Sophia.
Little time to tour Hagia Sophia. Took pictures, walked around, and left. Went to bathroom. Black cat sitting next to me. Back on bus to rug demonstration and sales pitch. Irritating to pay for tour and have yet more unwanted and forceful solicitations (syn) to purchase expensive rugs. Next was lunch. Back on bus. Vegetable stew and beer at lunch. Pretty good. Talked to Korean cadiologist. Back on bus. Went to another, smaller mosque above a shopping area. This is unusual for a mosque to not be its own free-standing structure. Pretty mosque, but we had to remove our shoes again. Not pleasant. At this point we were all starting to fatigue. The next stop was a sultans' palace. The guide's presentation was wearing on us, as his Emglish was often difficult to understand without exerting great effort. We had lost patience with the dual-language characteristic and all the waiting around this entailed. So we left the group early and explored quickly the palace grounds ourselves. Everything was beginning to look the same. We walked and found a long shopping area where Tracy and I walked from store to store hoping for some nice finds. There were few to be found. Store attendents would not leave us alone to browse in peace, and more often than not they drove us away and out of their boutiques. We did make a few small purchaces, though.
After a couple of hours we left, thinking to catch the tram back across the Golden Horn to the hostel on the new side of Istanbul. On the way Tracy said she wanted to go back to a store on the street where the Grand Bazzar is located to buy a dervish magnet she wanted and had been unable to find elsewhere inthe city. We found it rather easily, and as Tracy made her purchase, I availed myself of the starbucks across the street. Next door to the starbucks, Tracy saw an advertisement in the window of a tour agency for a dinner and show at a nearby theater. We decided to go. The tickets were 50-60€ apiece, but it looked like a lot of fun. Alicia and Katie decided not to go. After a fun conversation with the agency guy, we had some time to kill until the bus would pick us up for the show. The four of us bought more socks and cold-weather knits from a woman displaying her goods on a piece of cardboard laid on the sidewalk. The guy from the agency facilitated communication. The more we bought, the better prices we got. I got a winter hat and some socks. Afterward, we had out picture taken with the lady.
The bus came to take us to the Orient Theater shortly afterward.

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