A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

Lost in Istanbul at midnight

22 °C
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As mentioned earlier we had trouble getting back from the hostels where we considered staying the third night (and where the group was meeting) to our hotel. To get there was simple, we followed the tram tracks then the wall outside the Topkapi Palace. Getting back was harder, as there were a lot of hills (both up and down) and we wanted to avoid that by taking a slightly different route. That didn't really work out for us, and we ended up walking over an hour on the way back, compared with about 15 minutes on the way over.

I lost my sense of direction because I'm used to grid cities and the streets of Istanbul are winding. So we end up walking the wrong way. After awhile I figure we should be there by now, and we're on poorly lit narrow roads, so I ask the least imposing (a 60 year old cleaning the sidewalk in front of his place) for directions to Sirkeci, the district my hotel is in. He points the way I was going, so I continue. Awhile later I ask another, he also points the way I am going. Another while later, someone asks to see the map because he doesn't understand me, so I show him and he points the way I came from. A few minutes later Sue asks a police officer with an AK47 who is standing in front of a playground that is full of small children at midnight (that's right), and he gives the same directions, and says it is 2 tram stops away.

So we walk another while, up a hill, and notice it is smoky. As we are walking we hear a loud crash, too long and low-pitched to be a gunshot but otherwise similar. A block later we see a throng of teenagers where the blast came from, so figured it was kids playing with explosives or something like that. Then another blocks later (and to the right) we see several firetrucks and that 6 fire hoses are spraying into an apartment window. So that's what it was, an apartment fire. Locals are looking out of their apt windows, guess it's not every day they see this type of thing.

A few blocks later we are relieved to find the tram tracks, which we follow for 5 stops home. Longer than the officer said, but we made it back unscathed.

Posted by chrisvasil 12:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged educational Comments (0)

Turkish rugs

sunny 34 °C
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July 10 - Turkish rugs

Are pretty, expensive, and negotiable.

We nearly bought this one for Lee (with him reimbursing us). The experience was very pleasant, the salesman showed us about 50 rugs seperately (he had hundreds or maybe thousands in his shop), gave us apple tea, and talked to us. Silk on cotton, around 1.5x2 ft, the salesman brought his price down from 600 to 200 CAD over the course of half an hour (first customer special, still on at 1pm - first customer brings good luck so they're willing to negociate more, and most of the business is done in the evening), without us even asking for a price (our line was that we'd have to contact someone before we can make a decision). He said it takes over a month to make, and based on the speed of the lady working downstairs I believe it (she was amazingly fast, but a rug even that small would have around 200,000 knots).

This carpet had a tree of life design where the leaves symbolize people, very temporary, starting life in spring and dying in autumn; the tree symbolizes the world, which keeps existing before and after each person does, and the top part symbolizing paradise, also eternal, and to which people aspire and hopefully reach (which is symbolized by the pattern generally pulling upward).

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He held a lighter to it for close to a minute, demonstrating that it is real silk, as silk doesn't burn.
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Here are a few other nice silk rugs

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This synthetic one was selling for TL10 = $8 CAD full price, about 3x5ft, and the beige parts are not tufted, the green parts have the highest pile, and the other colors are somewhere in between. Very unique, I had never seen a similar one, thought of getting it for Lee but decided against.
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Here is one with a landscape stitched on top of a rag rug. Also interesting.
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Posted by chrisvasil 12:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged shopping Comments (0)

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

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The blue mosque was not nearly as blue as I was expecting. Very impressive architecture, and massive, and very pretty walls and ceilings, but not nearly blue enough to merit the title.
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The Hagia Sophia was pretty cool, and it was really nice that we had seen a documentary about it a few months ago (well actually a travel show about Istanbul that I downloaded, but that was the only part I remembered). A very cool building, it was one of the main catholic churches before (Romans? Greeks?) lost istanbul to the (Byzantine? Ottoman?) Empire. Writing without Internet, I can't find out, but that's the story... Anyway it was then converted to a mosque, with all the religious imagery and most of the imagery in general plastered and painted over, and 6 columns (minerets?) added to the original structure. It was subsequently restored, and on many places on the ceiling we can see black marks from where crosses used to be

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or layers with a raised, more freshly-painted area and nearby a much older, but prettier (shiny and more elaborate designs) painting.

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There are also mosaics that were really pretty and were uncovered, but in many cases parts are missing.

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One thing I had a lot of trouble figuring out was how they got these huge multicolored plaques of marble (this one is about 6x6ft) to be perfectly symmetrical. We figured out that they slice the marble, then have slices face each other.

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Posted by chrisvasil 12:48 Archived in Turkey Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Istanbul Hotels

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We are booked for 2 nights at Hotel Agan, a smallish hotel (5 stories, 4 rooms per floor I think) in a district (Sirkeci) full of hotels, close to all of the tourist attractions (near Spice Bazaar, within 2km of everything), but somehow not too overrun by tourists. Perhaps this is because out of the many, many similar hotels in the area this is the only one on any travel website (we booked through Orbitz for USD50 per night).

The first night it was overbooked and we were transferred to another hotel, Hotel Esen, which was awesome! After walking up 5 flights of stairs with our bags, we got to our room and found a magnificant view of the sea, bridges, and the other side of Istanbul.

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We only booked 2 of 3 nights because our tour leaves at 8AM from a Hostel 1km away in Sultanahmet. So last night we walked there to consider booking a hostel, to be right there when our tour is leaving, and to maybe also save money. The area is loud and full of college kids at bars and pubs (Turkey being largely Muslim, the local culture doesn't really involve drinking and so the bars generally cater to tourists) which didn't really appeal to us. A hostel would have been a bit cheaper than our hotel room (which they said would be 40EUR = 55USD for the third night), but we decided to stay where we were.

Also when we asked Hotel Esen the cost to stay an extra night (We stayed in room 502; rooms 302,402,502,602 should have the same view, x03 almost as good, there are 3 single beds in 502), they said 35EUR. We preferred that hotel but didn't want to move again up 5 flights of stairs so we didn't go back. I told the guy at this Agan they said 30EUR by mistake, I hope the guy at Esen didn't get in trouble....

Here is the contact for Esen, which was great. The rate on Otel.com is 45EUR, but they said the rate is 35EUR when I asked for an extra night.

Hotel Esen
40 Orhaniye Cad.
Sirkeci, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel +90 0212 527 89 49
email hotelesen@hotmail.com
they have a website but I had a Do Not Enter screen from my antivirus, so I wouldn't go to it.

Posted by chrisvasil 12:45 Archived in Turkey Tagged lodging Comments (0)

Pamukkale - Calcium rocks


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The white is rocks, though it looks like snow. On the drive over it looked so soft, but no, it was rocks.

This is a UNESCO world heritage site since this year, so the price of admission to see it went from 2 TL to 10 TL ($1.60 to $8) since the brochure was printed. Fortunately the base of the mountains is free, and I think that's all that's needed. In the pay area there are water pools maybe a foot deep in some of the rocks, which would make for great pics, but even then - it hadn't rained in awhile so I suspect there was no water ... in short we didn't miss much.

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Posted by chrisvasil 07:15 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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