Istanbul!

Trip Start Nov 01, 2007
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Trip End Mar 01, 2008


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Where I stayed
Hotel Empress Sophie

Flag of Turkey  ,
Thursday, December 20, 2007

We left Athens after a high-speed drive to the airport, making the short flight to Istanbul on a decrepit Olympic Airlines plane...it's pretty clear why nobody wants to acquire them.  The first thing that struck me about Istanbul was its modernity.  The airport is new and beautiful, and nice, new Turkish Airlines planes are everywhere.  We got into the city, checked into our nice two bedroom apartment (gotta love traveling with the parents) and decided to wander around the city.  It took us a while to get out of the hotel.  The rather old, very deaf, and likely crazy doorman (who took a liking to my dad because he tipped him well for helping us with the luggage) couldn't figure out why we were leaving, and insisted on a conversation with each of us.  Throughout our stay, he would randomly appear inside our apartment to announce something or offer us sliced apples and things like that...he was a delightful guy, but it was a little strange.  We made the 1 block walk to the park area between the Haiga Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  They were both lit up and spectacular.  The minarets towered into the clouded sky, with birds flying around them.  I wander the city a bit more, relishing being back in an Islamic country, while everybody else went back to the hotel.  I went back, discovered the free wireless (!) and spent some time checking my email and catching up on the world

The next day we had a spectacular breakfast in the atrium of the hotel, looking out on the boats passing through the Bosporus  and the bustle on the Golden Horn.  It was really incredible.  We then went to the Haiga Sofia and the Top Kapi Palace.  It was frigid.  Honestly, it was so incredibly cold all day long that with all our jackets, we still weren't warm.  The only place that was less cold was the underground cistern made from the poached Roman columns (it was awesome!).  The palace was the coldest through, and the Harem, while incredible, was the worst.  I couldn't imagine people living there.

The worst part of Istanbul were the carpet scammers.  They all speak perfect English, and convince you that they're from America and are home for a visit.  My parents fell for it every time.  We were like a walking target, and each stupid, contrived conversation took like 10-15 minutes to exit politely.  That's why I became standoffish through the rest of my trip, which caused some problems, but probably saved me a lot of time.

The rest of the time in Istanbul was great.  We wandered around a lot, went to the Blue Mosque (where Alie and my mom had to wear headscarves...in my mom's case, a turtleneck shirt), went to the Grand Bazaar (chaotic and not interesting, in my opinion), ate some delicious Turkish food, with each morning spent staring out over the city and the water.

Another notable event was in walking around the Spice Bazaar, a great place.  Aside from pushy guys trying to sell vividly colored spices to my mom, there were so many other kinds of food.  The grossest was an entire goat head, skinned, but complete with eyes and teeth.  I wanted to take a picture!

The night before we left, my mom decided she wanted to buy souvenirs.  So we went out at like 10 pm looking for quality, artsy things.  My mom picked the worst touristy place that I had ever seen...in all fairness, it was probably the only place open at the time.  It was a little shack thing across from the Blue Mosque.  I was tasked with negotiating, which was made difficult by my mom constantly changing what she actually wanted.  It was ugly, and we ended up buying a lot of what I thought was mediocre stuff for a fair bit of money.  When Alie and I went to another ceramics store, we realized exactly how crappy they were...oh well, at least they looked nice.

Alie and I parted ways with my parents at the airport, thinking this would be the last sighting for a year (malaria scuttled that), and we flew to Izmir.  When we go there, we had no idea how to get to Selcuk, and the lady at the tourist information desk knew absolutely nothing...semi surprising considering it is the location of probably the biggest archeological site in all of Turkey.  There was a bus mentioned in the guidebook, but we couldn't find it and ended up taking an $80 taxi ride, which was as expensive as the flight.  Great.

We found our destination, Homeros Pension, and met Dervish, the awesome owner of the place.  He was so nice to us, giving us a bottle of blueberry wine on Christmas, letting us use the internet at his own house, and just generally being a great friend (although he seemed to be a little too friendly with Alie).  Every night we went to the living room of the hotel where Dervish's mom made us awesome dinners of stewed veggies, chicken, all sorts of good stuff.  She was so nice to us too, and we ended up deciding to eat there every night. 

The first day in Selcuk we wandered around, going up into the hills above this really poor area, and rather awkwardly running into some kids carrying a gun.  The people were really nice though!  After climbing in the hills, we took the bus to the very very unimpressive beach.  It was all built up with hotels though, despite being pretty much a strip of dirt bordering some greenish water.  We decided to walk home...we were told it was about 5 km.  WRONG!  It took us like 3 hours to get back, walking through these almost deserted, rural, swamp-like areas in the dark.  It was kind of strange, spooky, and nerve-wracking, but we made it home for a delicious dinner.

Next day was Ephesus (incredible...see pictures on Facebook album), museums, and delicious Turkish food (lamb kebabs...yum!) on Christmas Eve.  It was pretty surreal...on place had a tiny plastic Christmas tree, but that was it.  We also went to this ceramics store with stunning pieces...all hand painted and so well shaped that they would ring like a bell if you hit them with your finger.  We ended up buying stuff...a lot of it...but the quality was impeccable, the prices were decent, and the lady was really nice too. 

The next morning, Christmas, we woke up really early and hopped on a bus for the long trip to Pamukkale.  We go there to spectacular sun on the blinding white hillside where the travertine pools are.  Over thousands of years, calcium carbonate deposits creating this wonder, and the Romans used to bathe there (actually, they built up a whole city around them), but because of the tourism explosion, water is no longer flowing and calcium is not being deposited.  See the pictures...it was great.

We got back to Selcuk really late (I had spent like 6 hours of Christmas reading God is Not Great on a bus...pretty atypical) and called home.  It was really surreal to talk to everyone...kind of like calling people on Thanksgiving while looking across the Gulf at Saudi Arabia.  Modern telecom is incredible. 

The next day was the best in Selcuk in my opinion.  We decided a bit late in the morning to check out this costal national park about an hour south.  It was incredibly beautiful (see photos) and totally empty!  We skipped rocks on the Sea, Alie saw a huge wild boar (I just heard it), and we hiked in the woods.  It was a crazy trek to get back to the bus in time (we had to run), and the next morning flew back to Istanbul.  Alie and I stayed at the Hotel Empress Sophie, a beautiful old-school hotel...all historic, but modern and clean.  It was next to the Four Seasons, and looks about the same...I think Four Seasons paid them to clean it up and improve the neighborhood.  Before leaving for Africa, I decided that I really needed to get a hair cut after like 2.5 months of growth.  That was a trip!  I went to this little barber shop, an ancient place where the guys didn't really speak English, was served tea, and Alie watched as the guy cut away.  At one point, the guy busted out this thing and lit it on fire and then started waving it around my head.  Then my ear got really hot, and I realized that he was burning off the fuzz on the outside of my ears!  Talk about a full service haircut!  It was kind of frightening though.

Alie and I parted ways at the airport the next day, after writing a ton of postcards and enjoying more time in Istanbul.  We had just spent the extra day wandering around, getting laundry done, and enjoyed a delicious fancy meal to bid farewell to Turkey.  I hung around the airport for about 6 hours, and then hopped on the Emirates flight to Dubai...next stop, Nairobi!!
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