16-days in Turkey and Greece - Part I

Trip Start Jan 01, 2014
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Trip End Dec 31, 2014


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Flag of Turkey  ,
Tuesday, June 29, 2010


TREASURES
OF THE AEGEAN: Turkey & Greece


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Istanbul airport

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Some personal observations about Turkey and Greece:
Turkey's per capita income is approximately $10,000/year, while Greece's per capita income is approximately $30,000/year. The reason I mention this is based on the simple fact that as tourists in these two countries, we paid some hefty prices for food and souvenirs. Before my departure for home from Istanbul airport for NYC, I had a
hamburger and beer that cost me US$29. While on tour in Turkey, I purchased a t-shirt for my son; US$28. While in Greece, I have paid US$7 for ice cream, $18 for a fruit drink, and about $4.25 for local beer. The typical Greek salad costs 10.5 Euros or about US$13. Gas prices range from 1.54 Euros or higher per liter; that's over US$7 per gallon. In Greece, food is taxed at 11%, and beer at 23%.  I think goods are taxed at 23%. I'm
really not sure how most Turks or Greeks survive in their own country with these tax rates.


There is also this contradiction; their roads and highways are in tip-top shape in Greece. Construction of new roads, and maintenance on old roads are on-going. To top it off, our bus driver, Spyro, is an excellent driver who has navigated sharp curves on mountain roads and very small roads in the city with expert confidence. From what
I observed, he's one of the best bus driver I have had the pleasure to be a guest on. The bus? Clean and huge; with big picture windows, we had enough room to spread out and stretch our legs. It even has a GPS map in front so we could see where we were going.


Their rest stops have clean W.C.s, with relatively good food and variety.
The US rest stops can learn from theirs.



What I found to be amusing in both Turkey and Greece were times when shop-keepers spoke to me in Japanese.


Even though there are contradictions in public restaurants and cafes where we see huge crowds or empty business places during the day, we saw many locals enjoying their meals and snacks at those high prices.  On our way back to our hotel from our farewell dinner in Piraeus to Athens, our Tour Director pointed out rows upon rows of cafes packed with people.

Because Greece has an abundance of marble, it's cheaper to use marble than it
is wood for construction.
  Wish we had that problem here.

If future tourists become aware of the high cost of eating in these two countries, I wonder how many will cancel. I'm not sure about the cost of hotels, because our tour included “all” transportation and accommodations as itemized in our itinerary, and most meals were also included.


Our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour group had 25 from all over the US, and the other group had 21. OAT tries to book 50 for the two groups, because their boat can accommodate 50 for the seven day cruise on the Aegean Sea. My roommate on this journey was from Southern California, Ron Craig. He taught Accounting and coached in middle school, and has extensive travel experience. Each group has their own Tour Director; ours was Rea, and the other group's TD was Sophia. They shared responsibilities during the seven day cruise for announcements and information. We also shared the farewell dinner at Zorba's restaurant in Piraeus on the last evening that included some entertainment of Greek music and dancing. They even served all the
wine we wanted.




I usually take plenty of cash with me on trips, because I do not like to use ATM's where the issuing bank and our home bank tack on fees that can reduce the value of the currency by some 6%. I haven't used traveler's checks for over a decade, because not all countries cash them. I came home a lot poorer, but happy with the experience.

Our itinerary in Turkey: Istanbul, Izmir, Ephesus, Kusadasi.

ISTANBUL;
June 30, 2010, Wednesday:


This journey was 16-days long, but 3-days were really “travel” days.  Our tour started in Istanbul on day 3 when we enjoyed tours to the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Hagia (pronounced “haya”) Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the spice market  I walked around the Taksim area where our hotel was located instead of visiting the spice market and taking the optional Bosphorus cruise (I opted out from the spice market and bosphorus cruise,  because - I've been there, done that - on my first trip to Istanbul in 1996).

The aqueduct seen on our way from the airport to our hotel

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Headed towards Taksim Square

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Galata Tower


Many of the sites in Istanbul have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and well worth the visit. The Blue Mosque (aka Sultan Ahmet Mosque) built in 1609 is really not “blue,” except for the tiles inside the mosque. The architect who designed this mosque also designed the mosque in Cairo.

The Hippodrome was built by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 203 A.D. The hippodrome was a stadium which served as a meeting place for the politicians, for chariot races, wrestling, boxing, and other athletic activities that took place. The arena was over 400 meters long and 120 meters wide, In the fourth century the spectator
capacity was increased to 100,000. It was also the center of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires.


The Hippodrome

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The Theodosius Obelisk was erected by
Egyptian Tutmosis III (1504-1450 BC) and brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius I in 390AD, and stood on a rectangular stone base, and it
was made of pink granite and its height is 17 meters.  Originally, the obelısk was 27 meters in height, but is now believed the 10 meters of the base was lost during shipment from Egypt. The
hieroglyphics on the Obelisk describes the victory of the pharaoh and a sacrifice to the god of the sun Amon-Ra in which the pharaoh kneels at the foot of the god.



Constantine Column was the
landmark of the city because of its height of 32 meters. The column was erected in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. This monument was completely covered with bronze plates, but during the Latin invasion in 1204, these plaques were removed and melted to make coins,


Serpentine Column is one of the oldest monuments in Istanbul. The names of these 31 cities were written on this obelisk which is 5.10 meters high. Originally, the column was 8 meters high and the column was in the form of three serpents' heads with the gold cauldron supported on their heads. Only two of these heads have been found with one in the Istanbul Archeological Museum, the other one in the British Museum.
The Blue Mosque



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The Blue Mosque: (Quotes from our local guide and Wiki)
It was built in 1609-1616, and considered one of the greatest monuments in the world. The use of the common name, Blue Mosque, is probably based on the blue tiles used in the interior. The most important element in the interior of the mosque is the mihrab
made of finely carved and sculptured marble. To the right of the mihrab is the richly decorated
minber (pulpit), where the Imam stands when he is delivering his sermon. The mosque has been designed so that even when it is at its most crowded, everyone in the mosque can see and hear the Imam.
Planter box seen our our way to Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia





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The Hagia Sophia was built as the Orthodox patriarchal basilica in 360 as the cathedral of Constantinople; it later became a mosque and now a museum .
Some scenes around the main sites

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Orient Express station in Istanbul

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Taksim Square

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Our hotel, the Point Hotel

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View of the Bosphorus from hotel restaurant and sunset

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Topkapi Palace was the official and primary residence in the city of theOttoman Sultans for 400 years of their 624-year reign. The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments and is a major tourist attraction today, containing the most holy relics of the Muslim world such as the Prophet Muhammed's cloak , sword, and footprint.   It also holds many jewels and jewelry, and the supposed hand of John the Baptist.  Topkapı Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Initial construction began in 1459 by order of Sultan Mehmed II. the conqueror of Byzantine Empire. The Constantinople palace is a complex made up of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings. At it height as a royal residence, the palace was home to as many as 4,000 people.



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The Grand Bazaar:
It is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more
than 58  streets and over 4,000 shops. It has jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. The bazaar contains domed masonry structures which was constructed between 1455 and 1461 by the order of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror.   Unfortunately, after one has walked a short distance into the bazaar, one begins to realize that most of the shops begins to look like a duplicate of the one seen when first entering this huge edifice.   Most of us stood outside the main entrance, sometimes in the rain, to leave the harking inside.   A few of us went to a coffee shop on the street to rest our shoes.


I will continue this travelogue in a new entry titled "From Ephesus to Athens."




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