Welcome to Turkey, which may not be part of the European Union, but which sure does feel a lot like Europe. Or at least the western half of the country does, and that is the part of our Turkish story that I have been assigned to write. Istanbul is the most developed city that we have visited since South Africa, and it has the prices to match. Here are the pictures.
We arrived at night and spent our first couple of nights in the Old Town, full of historic places. The Hagia Sofia (bet you thought it was in Sofia, didn't you?) is a massive building built as a church in the 6th century, then turned into a mosque, then turned into a museum by Kemal Ataturk. Let's talk about Ataturk for a second. He ran the opposition to the European powers after World War I and managed to get the French and British to leave, so he is universally seen as a hero in Turkey. The major street in most cities is Ataturk Boulevard and nearly every public building, park, and monument has his name on it in some way.
The most famous street in Turkey is supposedly Istikal Cadessi, which is a long pedestrian mall in the middle of the New City in Istanbul. It is filled with all the over-priced touristy restaurants and shops that you would expect, often so crowded that it is difficult to walk down the street. Before 10am, though, it is nearly empty. Despite our aversion to crowds and tourists, we did find a couple of tasty food places on the street.
The Galata Tower is all that remains of the massive wall surrounding the Italian part of Istanbul during the 13th and 14th centuries. It is nice and tall, just like you'd expect. Also as expected, you can climb to the top for some outrageous price. Unexpectedly, you can also take an elevator.
Istanbul has three peninsulas that all jut out towards each other. Two are technically part of Europe and one is technically Asia. Two major bridges connect the two European parts, and one of them is a pedestrian hotspot with restaurants lining the lower level and locals fishing from the top. This was actually a slow day for fishing--most days have twice this many fisherman. All seem to be fishing for fish about the size of my pinky finger that look terrible. Some guys seem to catch as many as a couple per day. Unclear if they are there because they have no other way to feed themselves or if it is more of a social gathering.
Inside the Hagia Sofia, the Muslims covered most of the Christian designs, but many have been restored since it became a museum. This picture nicely shows the Arabic Muslim decorations and the crazy looking angel-bear thing over on the right. The whole place has a lot of gold since both the Christians and the Muslims agreed that gold looked expensive.
Here is a view of some of the central domes of the Yeni Mosque. Yeni means new in Turkish, and this mosque was built in the 1500s, so that gives you a feel for how much older Turkish culture is than American culture. The mosque is really nice inside except for all the stupid cables that go all the way from the ceiling to about 10 feet above the floor to hold some lights.
Back in the Hagia Sofia (I'm too lazy to rearrange the pictures even if it means Tara will later harass me about my pictures being out of order), they have uncovered and restored lots of really old mosaics that the Muslims tiled over because images of people are forbidden in mosques. This one dates from around 1000 A.D., and, surprisingly, depicts the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. Okay, maybe that isn't so surprising.
Istanbul has two major palaces, the older of which is Topkapi Palace, which reminds me in name of the okapi, the closest living relative of the giraffe. In design, it doesn't remind me at all of an okapi. Here is the main gate. Most of the inside didn't allow photos, and all the ones I tried to take when no one was looking came out blurry. The highlight, however, is the treasury. A woman walked up while I was waiting in line to get in (Tara was searching for a bathroom at the time, which is normally where you should assume she is if she isn't present in my stories) and asked what I was in line for. I said the treasury. She asked what was in the treasury. I replied, "Mmm...treasure." After having been inside, I would respond in the same way. A lot of gold and diamond stuff, most of it sent to the grave of Mohamed in Mecca, but then sent back for safe keeping at some point.
On a Wednesday night, Tara found out that the new Harry Potter movie opened in Turkey that day, two days earlier than the United States (or just about anywhere else). She immediately dragged us out to look for a theater, but we could only find it playing dubbed in Turkish. We know how to say hello in Turkish, but they probably don't say hello more than five times in the movie, so there probably would have been a lot of other words we wouldn't understand. Thus, we had to wait until the following morning when we could find a theater playing it in English. We were a bit disappointed, but not much happens in the first half of the book, either.
Whenever we walk by this particular point in Istanbul, the sky looks crazy. Well, both times. This also gives a good picture of how old and new come together in most of Istanbul, though, with ancient mosques next to new apartment buildings.
Istiklal Cadessi, the pedestrian street, has what is referred to as an "Nostalgic Tramway". I call it the "silly tram" because it goes about three blocks and moves at about the speed that I walk. Tara, on the other hand, has to be restrained each time she sees it because it makes her so giddy. I don't understand it, but I took this picture so that she can remember it.
Probably the most famous mosque in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque. It was named that when IBM bought the naming rights in the 1990s. Or maybe because it has a lot of blue. It is beautiful inside, but maybe not as nice as the New Mosque.
The Hagia Sofia is impressive during the day as well. The original basilica consisted mostly of the domed part. Much has been added since then. Most of it seems to have been added to keep the earlier parts from falling down, which should make for a great big domino collapse one day.
The buses in Turkey are expensive, but some of the nicest in the world. They have night buses to almost everywhere (which conveniently save a day of travel and a night of hotel cost), and the night buses are mostly equipped with individual televisions in the backs of the seats. Amazing. Not so amazing is that everything is in Turkish on said televisions. Sometimes the weather would come on, though, and weather maps are basically the same in any language.
After Istanbul, our next stop was Ephesus, the most famous Roman ruins in Turkey. The complex of ruins is vast. Just outside the ruins is the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It currently consists of a single column that looks like it could topple over any day, making it less than wonderous. Ephesus, however, has been more heavily restored and had more to begin with. Here we are in the amphitheater.
This is the facade of the library in Ephesus. The best part of the ruins, in my opinion, even if they wouldn't let us check out any books.
This is my favorite sign from the ruins. Much more dramatic than a simple "Watch your step".
This underground church is famous locally because some Christians are said to have went to hide there, then fallen asleep for 100 years. They woke up and everything was suddenly safe for Christians. The very nice woman at our hostel seemed a little peeved that I didn't think the story might be true.
The entire area around Ephesus is orange orchards. I stole several tasty mandarin oranges from them. Thanks, orange farmers!
Next stop, Pamukkale. The city has hills covered in calcium deposits, called travertines, from millions of years of calcium rich hot springs flowing over through the area. They have been used as mineral baths since ancient times, though bathing in most of the area is prohibited now to save the rock formations. It looks like snow, but doesn't taste as good.
This picture makes us look like we are crazy snow enthusiasts. I would have taken the same picture on snow, but it took an 80 degree day and warm water running over the rocks to get Tara to look like that. Almost the whole thing has water running over it, with the water becoming warmer as you climb up the hill.
They have created a few artificial pools in which you can wade, but these lower ones were a bit cold for that. The warm upper ones were full of tourists.
Tara met a cat in the "city" of Pamukkale (the whole city was on one loop that could be walked in less than ten minutes). This might be the only animal we have ever met that preferred Tara over me. And Tara over everyone else. It almost convinced Tara to adopt it and take it with us.
These are some of the beautiful pools that are no longer open for swimming. The funny part is that a full time cop is employed to blow a whistle if you get too close to these pools, but I could have been climbing next to them with an ice axe and I don't think he would have cared.
We spent most of our time in Ephesus and Pamukkale with Christine, our American friend whom we met on the bus ride from Istanbul. And you thought we had no friends...
One more shot looking down the backside of the hills in Pamukkale. That's a lot of calcium. This hill sure drank its milk as a child.
Pamukkale also has some Roman ruins. Not nearly as nice as Ephesus, but the spectacular sunset improved the ruins.
On our hike back down in the dark, I saw a frog. I am much better at noticing wildlife in complete darkness than I am at noticing anything in the real world. This guy (or gal) was sitting in his little hot tub enjoying the evening.
That concludes part one of this three part story. If you would like to order reprints, please send a check or money order for $4.95 per copy to Andy and Tara. Or just hit print on the File menu.