Day 14 – Istanbul – Last Day! – Serpentine Column, The Great Masters, Museum of Modern Art, & Rahmi M Koç Museum

So sad – our last day in Istanbul!

The Hippodrome is filled with bits of culture and history and I only had one item left to shoot The Serpentine Column – it used to stand in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi but now most of it is gone – we have sketches and pieces of it – but mostly it is just a broken off twist of metal.

I left the last day for the less that important activities (in terms of the film) – we had seen the sights and done our shopping so this last day was just about a little bit of fun.  I had asked John Grabowski (who is quite the Istanbulophile) what might be missing from my list of things to do and he suggested I check out the Rahmi M Koç Museum.  My friend Andrea had suggest I also look into visiting the Prince’s Islands (where the banished Princes used to live) but it is impossible to go on the weekends and often tourists get stranded for the night without a ferry back.  Reports also have it that while the islands are lovely and serene (no cars – only bicycles and horse drawn carriages) that it is also a huge tourist trap and a costly one at that.  So maybe another year. Bilge was upset that I didn’t have dinner at Maiden’s Island.

Our first stop was to hit the Museum of Modern Art – Istanbul Modern, however when we got off the tram we saw a big sign for an exhibition we had seen advertised everywhere called The Great Masters: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and decided to check it out.  It was in a very nice building – The Tophane Kasrı  (which means Cannon factory – which the neighborhood was) –  and after we paid to get in we realized it was kind of a scam.  There was nothing original! It is a traveling exhibition of multimedia, replicas, and mounted prints.  The audio tour is cute but it wasn’t worth the money – some interesting items to be sure – I liked the mirror room but overall not what I expected.

Across the street we visited Istanbul Modern – which is mostly Turkish Artists.  It was a mix of – “that’s very nice” and “really? I’ve seen that before and done better”  One installation of note had hundreds of books hanging from the ceiling creating an artificial ceiling – the effects was spectacular.  They had a photography exhibition which again was mixed and had on display a very old panorama of Istanbul taken from Galata Tower – funnily enough I had just worked on one for work which was 6 years older!

Next we headed to Rahmi M Koç Museum.  After I got there I realized I had heard of this place before.  It is billed as a museum of transportation and industry but in reality it is a private museum that houses the bizarre collection of a very very wealthy man.  There is the car collection – it has one of everything and it goes on forever.  But not just cars, he has planes, tanks, boats, trains (yes trains), a ferry boat, and a submarine.  This is the most insane collection of stuff I have every seen in one place – and it really went on forever!  Each room was more lavish than the next.  There was an extra price for the submarine and when we got there the man spoke Turkish (and only Turkish).  Right before the tour I looked up the submarine wondering when the Turkish navy had one and it turns out that it is in fact a WWII US Submarine that was sold to the Turkish in 1971.  As we went through the Turkish tour Amanda kept pointing out that the labels on everything were in English and that while the instruments and been relabeled in Turkish we could still get a good idea what was going on.

Upstairs the museum had a collection of – more of everything – but a lot of things about the Turkish Republic.  Also technology – they had a display of almost every Apple Computer and iPod.  There was also a hands on section where you could play with things like blocks and a giant bubble wall.  This place really caters to all ages.  The DC-3 was fun to climb into as where the Sultan’s private train cars.

Did I learn anything about Turkish history or culture? I can’t say.  But I highly recommend this museum!

With the day winding down and lots of packing to do – we headed to the restaurant where we had promised to go to dinner and I had an excellent meal of lamp chops, rice pudding, and apple tea.  Back at the hotel they asked to take our picture with them.  In the past 3 years I have spent 5 weeks at this hotel – I am guessing that makes me a good customer.

I backed up the video files to an external hard drive (almost 400GB of data) and packed it all up.

In the morning we caught the shuttle to the airport and they crammed so many people into that van it was ridiculous!

At the airport Amanda was heading to the US and I was heading domestically to Antalya where I would then drive to central Turkey.

I waited to make sure that Amanda wouldn’t have any baggage problems.  We decided to pool our souvenirs into a single bag and to have her check it back to America for the $100 baggage fee.  At the counter there was a problem and after much waiting they said that while they could check the bag they couldn’t figure out how to charge her for it… so it was FREE!

After she checked in I headed to the domestic counter – baggage there is much different and every year I have to pay a lot of money.  With domestic flights they weigh everything (even carry-on) and then charge you per KG you are over.  However when I checked in – he only weighed my one bag and charged me 21TL for extra weight (which is $13).  I was nervous all the way until I boarded the plane because my carry-on bags didn’t have the little ‘approved’ tag on them like everyone else.  In the end – no one said anything and boarded without a problem.

In Antalya I was met by our non-English speaking driver who drove me the 2+ hours to Gonen (in silence).

Amanda had some trouble in NJ (not by customs but by security) but she managed to get everything home and nothing was broken.

Thus endeth the Istanbul adventure.

I will post more about my misadventures in Gonen soon – but not the “play-by-play” that I did for Istanbul.

Hope you enjoyed the stories and here are more pictures:

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Day 13 – Istanbul – The Hippodrome, The Arts Festival, The Istanbul Museum of the History of Science & Technology in Islam, and some shopping!

So it is Day 13 and we still haven’t filmed everything they have in the Hippodrome!

Our first stop was to the German Fountain – as I was giving my little bumper for it – a small crowd stood there watching.  One lady asked if I was famous – I replied “not yet”.  The students who are there to answer questions were looking on – I kept asking them how I was doing and they gave me the thumbs up.

Even though we have been walking through the Arts Festival in front of the hotel every day – we figured that today would be ‘the day’ for really seeing what it had.  I have already mentioned the shadow puppet guy and the marbling lady before – and they really are the standouts.  For most forms of art there are two vendors so when one is a jerk we go and talk to the other.  There was someone making knives (like steak knives), someone making canes, and a variety of people making glass figurines using glass rods and a blow torch which seems really more like state fair than traditional art.

The festival also has lots of food stuffs from Halvah to Coffee and this weird Energy Honey and something called Boza which is fermented bulgar wheat as a drink!  My favorite is till the Sultan’s Drink which is a mix of fruit juices and spices – must find the recipe when I get home.  We didn’t do much shopping at the festival – fun to watch but both the prices and the quality were only so so.

Today was designed to be a shopping day but I always like to sneak a few more things in so I surprised Amanda with a quick Metro stop to see the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam.  Long name right?  Well it is really a neat museum filled with all sorts of scientific apparatus – like astrolabes and clocks and medical instruments.  Most of the items are models but they are fabulous models!  They even allow for photography (but it was very dark) – I got a lot of interesting ideas – the sad part was – no gift shop! I would have bought a lot if they sold stuff.

One thing that they had out front was a replica of Galata Tower that was about 7 feet tall – pretty fun to play on.

OK so now back to shopping!

We headed to The Grand Bazaar – not really to film so much as to actually shop.  The problem was – it was dead – I mean it was pretty empty.  You would think this would make it enjoyable but in fact it made everyone even more obnoxious – you couldn’t look at anything without sales people jumping all over you.  This one guy trying to sell me a carpet just kept following me around!

Eventually, we found one guy who had good stuff and good prices – and my motto is you find one person and buy a lot from them – this way he gives you a better deal and you don’t feel as bad because he got a big sale.  He was good – if he didn’t have what we wanted it magically appeared from his other shop!  There was one item I looked at (for myself of all people) and he saw I wanted it and wrapped it up and then proceeded to just keep dropping the price until I couldn’t say no.  Pretty funny.

Most deals are not in the Bazaar but outside of it.  Amanda wanted to buy me a vest so we headed to where they said the vests would be outside of the Bazaar.  Everyone kept trying to sell me a leather jacket or vest and you can’t deflect them by saying you already own one – this makes you look like you are in the market.  Instead I started telling everyone I was from Florida and they just looked dejected and moved on.

So we came upon a store and in front there is the exact vest I want – right color – right material – but no one is there!  That’s right – the store is locked and while there are items out front – no one can tell us when the owner will be back!  We marked down on the map where we were and kept walking.  Soon we found another vest shop (in fact several) and went downstairs into this little basement that was just filled with vests.  I was looking for a particular material and color and he wanted to sell me everything (if it fit or not!) – eventually we settled on two vests – one of them is really dressy and both are very rugged.

After we left the ‘vest district’ we came upon the ‘scarf district’ instead of 60TL or 30 or 20 they have them as low as 2.5 TL (about $1.5) – of course they aren’t the fanciest (though they are nice) and many places only sell them in bulk.  Amanda found this out the hard way as she picked up what she thought was one scarf to find it was really 5 and they scattered all over the place.

The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar are not near each other but they are connected by street after street of shopping so we eventually made our way towards it. A strange item they sell on the street are spirographs – good old fashioned plastic spirographs with colored pens.  I have no idea why – but you see dozens of men with little carts selling them and demonstrating them.  I approached one guy and we haggled for a bit and eventually I got 4 for 20TL – the joke was about 5 feet later I see a store that has them for 2.5TL each.  Live and learn – it was still fun footage.

When the final film comes out I am going to be seen being overcharged on camera a lot – basically I am overpaying for the privileged of filming.

Near the Spice Bazaar there are a lot of jewelry places – not fancy – more like beads and stones and do it yourself kinda stores.  I was asking Amanda about the quality of some of the items and she quickly showed me how cheap some of the stuff actually was – and we left.

Right outside the Spice Bazaar is another Art Bazaar which had some nice things but most were overpriced.  Again for no reason I can figure right by the Spice Bazaar is where ALL of the shoe shine stands are – so I had my shoes shined.  The guy was telling me that he has been doing it for over 20 years (since he was a kid).  Good shine – very cheap – but after he tried to sell me shoe inserts and we had to explain that ours were from American Doctors and we couldn’t buy his.

We ate dinner close to the hotel – it was very nice – as we left dinner one restaurant guy asked how it was. We said good, he said if we came to his place tomorrow night it would be better! So we shook hands and told him we would have our final Istanbul dinner there tomorrow.

Only one more day left in Istanbul – who knows what might happen!

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Day 12 – Istanbul – Arasta Bazaar, Mosaic Museum, Rumeli Hisari, & Istanbul Cevahir

I can’t believe its already been 12 days – the Istanbul trip will be over soon but there is still much to do!

First, with a few more days of filming I needed another shave –  It was nice going back to the same barber – this was my fourth shave! Before we left we took a nice group shot.  I wish we had barbers like them in Cleveland!

Now, everyday we leave the hotel and get accosted by the various merchants in the Hippodrome.  One guy remembers us and always sells us a bottle of water.  The guidebook people however never seem to realize that after 2 weeks if I haven’t bought your guidebook I am never going to buy your guidebook.  But there is this one kid who keeps beckoning us to see his uncle’s carpet shop and I always say – not now – maybe later.

Well today he stopped me and told me that later was now.  So what the hell – we went to see his uncle’s carpet shop.  To be honest he had been very polite and friendly and we figured it would boost his image if he actually got someone into the store.  When we entered the shop we did explain to his uncle that we probably were just looking as we were poor teachers and asked if we could film.  He said yes and started the demo.

Now most Turkish carpet demos have a lot of flair – sometimes too much flair – and he realized we wanted a quicker show which is what he gave us.  He brought out the carpets, threw them up in the air, showed us that they are different colors from different angles etc.  Very fun show.  He even brought out some smaller ones – ones that I have to say as wall hangings were in fact affordable.  I of course had no intention of coming home with a carpet which it turns out makes it the perfect gift so Amanda surprised me by purchasing one for me as a present – which is very lovely and completely silly considering how hard she has been working on this film for the past 2 weeks!

It is amazing how small they can fold the carpet – it is so tiny wrapped up!

Next to the Arasta Bazaar!

Now this is a very old bazaar filled with high end (read pricey) stuff that is also very low key (which is pretty rare).  I wouldn’t go there to buy – more to browse .  There is this one store that has the most amazing inlay boxes and backgammon sets you have ever seen and so we browsed there for a bit.  We did start to realize that his quality was better than anything we had seen anywhere and in addition to letting us film (for quite a while) he started to make us some really nice offers – we purchased a lot of our high end souvenirs from him.  It was great until he started to try and push carpets – and then we ran away.

The Bazaar is right next to the Blue Mosque and you are probably wondering if it is so close to the Blue Mosque and our hotel why we didn’t go to it earlier.  The answer is simple – inside of the Bazaar is the Palace Mosaic Museum which has been under renovation and literally just reopened yesterday!  The Palace Mosaic Museum isn’t a collection of mosaics but is in fact one giant mosaic that was unearthed right there and then a pavilion was placed around it.  Its a very interesting structure – I couldn’t tell too much difference with the renovation other than that some of the mosaics were harder to photograph.  When you look at the gallery I have a sample and then I have augmented it in Photoshop for contrast and color – I can only imagine what they were like back in the day!

Before we headed back to the hotel to drop off our packages we stopped for lunch at this little cafe which I had been to twice before (last year and the year before).  Now I didn’t blog my Istanbul trip last year (as many of you know the blog stopped after my 2 weeks in central Turkey).  For the most part this hasn’t been a problem as my film has been to do those things which I did last year (and the year before) again and to augment those experiences with more adventures.  So in fact, dear reader, all you are missing are the occasional anecdotes from previous years which I have been trying to put in when relevant.  This is one of them.

So last year Tim and I are sitting in this cafe.  The menu is hysterical as it offers an item which it describes as “layers of pastry filled with food”. Well we wanted something different so we asked what type of soup they had (it is in fact on the menu) and he said they didn’t have any soup today.  Fine. We order our lunch, and while we are eating we see a man across from us and he is eating soup! So we politely call over the waiter and ask him how come he was able to get soup if there wasn’t any soup. At which point the waiter explains that the man has no teeth and they prepare his meals special for him.  Oops.

So we drop everything off at the hotel, take the tram to where it ends and grab a taxi to Rumeli Hisari (the Fortress of Europe).  Now I love this place. It’s a 15th century fortification right across the water from the 14th century Anadoluhisari and it was built to aid in the conquering of Constantinople in 1453.  What is awesome about this VERY intact 3 towered fortress is that it was built in 4 months and 16 days! That’s right 4 and a half months! Some castles I have been took decades to build.  Of course one story I heard is that the Sultan gave each of the viziers a tower to be responsible for and their record pace was in fear of his wrath!

They call the fortress an ‘open air museum’ meaning – go where you like, do what you like, please don’t get killed.  There are no railings anywhere!

Inside the towers are closed but the stairs are open and you can really climb pretty high along the walls. The architecture is nice because there are a tons of staircases to take you to ever corner of the castle.  There is also a large amphitheater in the center!  Even though it was windy we climbed pretty high (safely of course) and have some awesome views of the castle, the Bosphorous, and the bridge which connects Europe to Asia.

Our work for the day pretty much done – we caught a cab to Istanbul Cevahir. Catching the cab was easy – getting there was hard.  At first I thought he was giving us the runaround but traffic was really bad and he was trying to get us there as best he could.  He loved that we were Americans! He kept popping in CDs, first The Eagles Hotel California and then Bob Dylan – he didn’t speak any English but boy was he trying to entertain us (and himself). We did finally make it though. He seemed embarrassed by the traffic – I think he started to think we thought he was cheating us (which we did until we got there).

Istanbul Cevahir is the largest mall in Europe and the 6th largest mall in the world.  The have the 2nd largest clock in the world (when you look up it is the entire pavilion ceiling – but it wasn’t working).  They have 5 floors of shopping, a 6th floor of food court, and a 7th floor of restaurants.  A bowling alley, a roller coaster, and a movie theater.  So first things first – there was nothing showing at the movie theater we wanted to see.  Batman it turns out was not yet released in Turkey (so I will need to wait until I come home).

Our second task was to eat food that wasn’t …. well wasn’t kabob.  After a few weeks you do want something else.  We settled on KFC so we could compare American KFC to Turkish KFC.  Folks, ours is better, there’s is still good but ours is better.  We also had a staple of Turkish malls – Magic Corn.  Do you know what makes Magic Corn magic?  Butter – that’s right – its a cup of buttered corn.  I am told it (butter) also makes Turkish rice magical as well.

As for shopping – its a mall – I don’t want clothes and I can’t bring home appliances and except for the very spooky life sized doll Kelly & Me doll at the toy store (see pics) I don’t have much to report.

Getting back was easy – just two trams.

The arts festival that we walked through every night was in full swing for Ramadan and we did some more filming – what I really wanted to see again was the Turkish leather shadow theater puppets.  Not only was the workmanship amazing but the guy selling them was putting on a performance that really mesmerized the crowd.  I have no idea what he was saying but he was good!

Tomorrow is all about shopping!

Check out the pictures:

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Day 11- Istanbul – Galata Tower, Beylerbeyi Palace, Küçüksu Palace, Anadoluhisari, & Suleymaniye Hamam

Day 11 was all about various forms of transportation it could easily be subtitled: A Tram, A Trolly, A Bus, A Ferry, A Funicular, Taxis and some Walking

When we arrived in Istanbul the people who sold me the SIM card for my phone told me that it would work for less than 2 weeks unless I registered it with the government and gave me the name of the tax office and said my hotel could help me.  Alas they had no idea what I was talking about and just Googled for a tax office that was pretty far away.  My search with Google didn’t fair too well either and the few phone company stores we went to were all clueless.  So I looked for the closest tax office (even though I suspected it was wrong) and we started off the day by going there.

Of course no one spoke English there – but someone did point me to another tax office.  A short walk later we found someone else who was able to help us and basically I handed him the phone and 100TL ($62) and he handed me a receipt and indicated I needed to go back to a telephone company office (even though they had no idea what I was talking about).  When I arrive at the telephone office they saw my paperwork and told me they needed more money (funny right) and then took all the paperwork.  I had to demand they give me copies though – I mean they weren’t even going to give me a receipt – they were going to take every scrap of paper I had about the phone from them and from the government and just say have a nice day!

Long story short – it is week 3 and my phone still works.

The next stop was a little unusual – it was unusual because we were going in an round about way and a round about time but I really wanted to visit Galata Tower as close to solar noon as possible.  You see ever time I go to the tower it is near sunset which means the wonderful view is only good from one side and worse the side you want to see (the Golden Horn) is the one you can’t see well.  So we took a tram to the funicular to Taxim Square and then the trolley down to the Tower.  This may seem like a lot of travel but the Tower is at the top of a VERY VERY steep hill and its better to travel up and then back down using public transportation then just walking up to it.

We arrive at the absolute perfect time of day – the sun was right overhead and the Tower wasn’t that busy. Its a great tower with an elevator to the top (or near top) and a fancy restaurant inside.  I wound my way around the Tower to take a panorama – it can’t be perfect because of the tower itself – but as you will see it gives a pretty good view – I will spend time back in the states doing a better job stitching it.  Great views of Topkapi and the Hagia Sophia and the entire Golden Horn – it was exactly what I wanted.

In fact the rough panorama is available here:
Panorama of Istanbul from Galata Tower

After we had a snack in the tower but it the rice pudding tasted like salad – I wish they had plastic wrap!

Next we headed back downhill and caught a Tram to the Ferry stop where we took a Ferry and then a taxi to Beylerbeyi Palace.  We were going to take a taxi because I wanted to save time but the bus was right there.  Beylerbeyi is actually on the Asian side of Istanbul so we were back in Asia!  The palace is nice but you have to go on a guided tour and no photos are video is allowed (see photos in the gallery – thank you camera glasses).  So they told us we had to wait an hour for the English tour group which I was upset by and Amanda suggested we just go on the Turkish one anyways since I had been there twice and could tell her what was going on.  Not a bad plan.  As I went to implement it we saw a group just entering and the guide was speaking English so we got in the back of that group.  Of course this was a private group but no one said anything and we lingered in the back.  Since she was a private guide she also didn’t watch the group carefully and a lot of people took pictures when they shouldn’t have and I was able to really lag behind taking photo and video.  When it was over we slipped back away and stopped for a quick lunch at the palace.

What I wanted to add to the trip was just down the street and so this time we got a taxi to drop us off at Küçüksu Palace.  They filmed part of the James Bond film – The World is Not Enough here (and in other parts of Istanbul).  Made me a little sad because my late Uncle Leonard would have loved it he was such a Bond fan too.  The building was closed and I took pictures outside of the cast iron gates (it looks like a wedding cake) and then people started blocking my view and we realized that the gate was open so we ran in and got some photos and video – on the way out I get yelled at and they asked if I opened the gate – I said I found it open (which was true) and was leaving – and they suggested I come back the next day (but I did what I wanted to do).  I didn’t get to go inside but that is ok – sometimes you just see a place from the outside – first I saw it from the water but now I got much closer.

We weren’t done with Asia yet though – we walked 5 minutes back up the road to Anadoluhisari (The fortress of Asia) which is a 14th Century Ruin across the Bosphorous from Rumelihisari (the fortress of Europe) which is 15th century.  Its pretty much a ruin so a quick few snaps and off to find our way back to Istanbul where I had made reservations at a hamam that our hotel had recommended.

The problem is that in our hurry to get from place to place – I didn’t buy a bus ticket and you NEED a bus ticket to get on the bus (I had only gotten enough for the first bus trip).  So I played dumb and when the bus came he kept saying he couldn’t take the money and we needed tickets but we looked sad and he let us ride for free! And it was a long trip!

So after our free ride we headed to the Suleymaniye Hamam.  It is a famous hamam (though not the most famous in Istanbul) and more importantly it is co-ed.  Now I know that this isn’t as authentic experience but sometimes its ok to have the tourist version.  Also its by appointment only and for couples and groups only so it has a good reputation.  We went in and they handed us out clothes – though Amanda scoffed at what they asked her to wear (she had prepared her own outfit) and they sent us into hamam which looked like ‘Spring Break Istanbul’ it was filled with young men and women in bikinis and swim trunks loudly laughing and having a good time splashing each other.  As older and respectable adults we sat in the corner where I splashed ice cold water on her. 🙂

They took them into the side rooms 2 by 2 and gave them the exfoliation and bubble massage treatment – to be honest they were pretty good – and then after they wrapped us up and sat us to cool down – nicely offering us beverages (that we would have to pay for on the way out).

The only bad part of the day was the scary walk to the tram station.  To be honest – it got really dead and dark right there and we didn’t want to walk all the way to the tram station.  So we quickly zig zagged through some streets and I grabbed a taxi to take us home.  Quiet an adventure.

To my mom (and Amanda’s mom) please know that the most dangerous part of Istanbul is not the climbing or the walking or the people – its the insane drivers!  Riding in a car and cross the street – that’s the danger.

We had dinner back near the hotel (mmm Bass) and headed off knowing that Day 12 would be another crazy day!

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Day 10 – Istanbul – Chora Church, Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, Theodosian Walls, Fatih Mosque, Valens Aqueduct, The Prince’s Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, and a terrible Dinner!

I warned Amanda that today would be a busy day – lots of walking and maybe some shopping.

We grabbed a taxi immediately outside of our hotel and he took us around the sea walls to Chora Church.  He kept hinting that he could give us a big tour but I settled for the 25TL trip and let him go.  Chora is hard to get to unless you like buses or take a taxi but it has some of the most amazing mosaics and frescoes you will ever see.

There is great shopping near the church and you can get some great deals on ceramic tiles but I told Amanda she had to wait to shop until we circled back to the church.  We then followed the Theodosian land walls to to the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus which for the life of me I cannot pronounce (and needed to on camera) which is a ruin of a palace that used to be a poorhouse, brothel, treasury, menagerie and now is being restored as an event space.  We then climbed the Theodosian Walls (mom don’t worry its more dangerous trying to cross the street here) the walls are high but like 12 feet thick and you get some amazing views of the city – plus you are standing on the 5th century walls of Constantinople!

Then we went back and did some shopping.

I asked a taxi driver to take us to Fatih Mosque but he was being a jerk about price so instead of haggling I just go out and the driver in the next cab laughed at him and undercut him by half.  Fatih is nice and Mehmet the Conqueror (who conquered Constantinople in 1453) is buried there.  We then walked to the Valens Aqueduct which is a CRAZY busy intersection and a huge structure.  Then to two more mosques The Prince’s Mosque & Suleymaniye Mosque. Both are spectacular in their own ways.  It is so hard to photograph Mosques from the outside – the closer you get – the less you see because the domes vanish.

The park in front of Suleymaniye was bizarre – it was like a sanctuary for feral cats – I am not kidding we saw over 100 cats just running around in this green space – it was almost scary!

We walked through the part of town that had vest shops but alas I couldn’t find anything that I liked (yet).  We also stopped at a grocery store to get some essentials – so much cheaper to shop were the locals shop.  On the street we grabbed 1TL of white cherries – that is 62 cents for a big bag of cherries!

A quick metro ride and we were back at the hotel – after we headed to dinner and it was just lousy – the food was lousy – the service was smarmy – and I think it made us both a little sick.  You can’t win them all.

Tomorrow back to Asia!

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Day 09 – Istanbul – Galata Bridge and a Bosphorus Cruise to Anadolu Kavagi & Yoros Kalesi

I am fuzzy again so this morning I had to head back to the barber for a shave – I didn’t bring a razor this trip – its the barber or nothing!

We then headed down to the docks for a Bosphorus Cruise.  You can either go for a short cruise which is a quick 2 hour circle or the long cruise which takes 1.5 hours one way and stops at 5 different places.  I like the long cruise because you can get off at the end in Asia by the Black Sea.

While waiting for the ship I pointed out to Amanda the fish restaurants (and people fishing) at the Galata bridge and promised her fresh Bosphorus fish for lunch.

Its really a slow day – we spent most of it on the ship enjoying the sun and the breeze (I think I slept a little) and we saw some of the nice sights from the water such as Dolmabahce Palace and Rumeli Hisari & Anadoluhisari (which we visit later in the week).

When you land at the last stop in Anadolu Kavagi (which is in Asia) you get accosted by every fish restaurant hoping for your business. I let a few of them beckon me over and finally this one guy gave me a good story and we went to his place.  They brought out the selection of fresh fish and I selected a large fresh caught bass from the Bosphorus.  I had some battered mussels and Amanda had some battered calamari – and even though I’m not a fan you could tell it was good stuff. The big Bosphorus bass was huge and awesome – we ate it for some time – really just a lazy day and then headed for a taxi.

The driver told us that round trip to Yoros Kalesi the castle on the hill was 25TL and I asked about going further up the Black Sea which he said he could do for another 50TL but we were going to run out of time.  I was excited to see that more of the castle was open.  The first year I went it was all open and last year all closed for an archeology excavation – this year they let you into more.  It was nice seeing the active dig but better seeing deep into the Black Sea – it just opens so wide in this expanse of blue.

We also did a little bit of shopping in the village but the last boat left at 5pm and we were on it.

Back on the boat we saw more of the shoreline and just sat back and relaxed some more.  We headed back to the hotel and went for a Chinese dinner.

Its a strange restaurant, the food is just OK, but after 9 days it was a welcome difference.  We also stopped at a dessert restaurant which was crazy  – the menu was a giant full color glossy picture book – I wanted to steal it – instead I just ordered too much crap and we took a lot of it with us.

Again – a lazy (yet active) day.

Tomorrow a long walking day – no previews though 🙂

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Day 08 – Istanbul – Dolmabahce Palace, Taksim Square, & Istiklal Caddesi

Today was very hot – I mean its been hot all week – but today I really felt it.

Of course waiting in line 90 minutes to get into Dolmabahce Palace didn’t help!

It is a wonderful 19th century palace – last home of the Sultan’s and first home of the president of Turkey. They don’t allow photography or video on the inside and the have two different tours (one of the main palace and one of the harem section).  You have to see the inside via tour groups and the English groups are barely English – they are more like non-Turkish and everyone else just tries to get what he is saying – our guide kept going into French and Spanish and it turned it into an English lesson in vocabulary.  Like most guides he spent a lot of his time yelling at people to not take photos, touch the furniture, and too keep up. While it may sound torturous it is an awesome palace built in the European style and has a very Versailles like feel to it.  The last hall is enormous and just the one room alone is worth the entire tour – the dome is painted to look bigger than it is – and it is pretty big to begin with.  The harem section or private living quarters are nice and not as ornate – it is funny to see the bathrooms – just lovely marble holes in the the floors.  This section has the rooms that the Ataturk spent his last days in – he died in the palace and all the clocks are stopped at the time he died.

The castle has a Crystal Pavilion and a clock museum that I had been to before but both were closed – I was feeling a little cheated but the aviary was open and the peacocks were quite active. Amanda loved shooting the peacock footage I think she has some other project in mind for it.  Amanda has been a real trooper throughout the trip – very focused – climbing castle walls – braving the heat and the crowds and looking for the perfect shot – she also likes to feed the feral cats and I would guess she would try and rescue them all if she could.

After the palace we headed to Taksim Square which is just a very busy square and the ‘heart of modern Turkey’.  Adjacent to it is Istiklal Caddesi A 3km pedestrian only street full of shopping and boutiques (and 4 Starbucks).  There is a trolley that runs down the street but we didn’t see it – we later found out because the police were getting ready to head to Taksim and when we saw the troops in full riot gear heading towards the square we headed away from it – I am told they are always like that when there is a protest and that it wasn’t trouble.  The trolly did run after they cleared through but we just walked all the way down to Galata.  I am saving Galata tower for another day so I can get some better lighting.

Then back to our side of town for a quick bite of dinner and the hotel.

Now for the interesting news.  I was wearing my video glasses all day and I have footage of Dolmabahce and of the Police marching – I haven’t seen it all yet but I think some of it might have come out!

Tomorrow we cruise the Bosphorous and visit a castle in Asia!

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Day 07 – Istanbul – Week 1 recap + Sweets, Sirkeci Station, The New Mosque, Spice Bazaar, and Hamam Take 2!

So I ended the last entry with – Tomorrow we head to Dolmabahce Palace!

Well that is true because now – Tomorrow we head to Dolmabahce Palace!

I looked at the schedule and needed to rearrange a little to be sure to get to everything in a timely fashion.

We started out the day by pickup up our laundry from the local cleaners – not bad – 10TL per KG and we had 10KG so about $60 to do a duffel bag worth of clothes – it needed to be done and he folded everything so nicely.

Our first real stop after breakfast was to Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir – this family owned sweet shop has been making Turkish Delight (and selling it from the same location) for over 200 years! It’s a must see and they give samples.  If you really like samples you go down the street to Koska where its just a candy store from hell – samples at every counter – everything is clean and sleek and well lit.  Very yummy morning.

Not far from the candy shops is Sirkeci Station which was once the terminus for the Orient Express that carried people from Paris to Istanbul – it ran until a few years ago but fell victim of fast trains and of course airplanes.  They have a great little museum there (free in fact) that really had some wonderful artifacts about the Orient Express.

Next we headed to Yeni Camii aka The New Mosque – which is very crowded and I had never been to before.  It is called The New Mosque even though it is about 400 years old.  Inside it is gorgeous I mean almost as nice the the Blue Mosque.  I think people go to the Blue Mosque and skip all the others but they really do each have their own flavor of style and decoration.  It is very active not just with tourists but with worshipers as well.

We probably spent 20 minutes right outside of it photographing the pigeons. There were TONS of them and the little kids were running in and out of them causing them to flock up and fly around – it was half comedy routine half horror film.

The real stop for the day was the Spice Bazaar.  This was probably more fun than the Grand Bazaar (no, not because they feed you) because it is more engaging and they really know how to put on a show concerning spices and teas and sweets.  They sell other stuff too and right around the Bazaar is a good place to get clothing and kitchen goods and we left with many many bags of stuff.

The trams can be very full in the afternoon and the taxis annoying so we braved the long walk back to the hotel.  20 minutes but shop lined the entire way.

Yesterday, we passed a little Hamam called Kadirga that looks nice (and old) and I asked  him if I could film inside and while I am not sure if he understood fully he said yes.  So today we came back and for 50TL each got a traditional Hamam.  I can only speak to my experience as Amanda requests that if you want to know what hers was like (and are a friend) she might share her story.  Mine was hysterical.  The old guy who was doing my hamam thought that the waterproof video camera and tripod were the funniest thing he ever saw – and though he didn’t speak any English he kept checking the shots for me and cleaning off the lens (with water when it fogged).

He must have thought it was for TV or something because he spent a TON of time on me and did each step twice – very exfoliated and very scrubbed clean – they wrapped me in towels and sent me back to Amanda who was already done and in the waiting area.  Highlights of this are bound to make the final film (and no you don’t see anything icky!).

What a day – hell – what a week!

Oh and one last story – so at breakfast I needed to use the bathroom.  At the restaurant the men’s room was locked so he pointed me to the ladies room. This was one of those places where it is a single toilet for each gender so what did it really matter.  Well when I was done I went to flush the toilet and the button on the wall didn’t do anything, so I pressed another button and it didn’t do anything.  I pressed a third button and this fountain of water comes shooting out of the toilet (just misses me) and splashes everywhere.

So I quickly clean it up – find the correct button (flush the toilet) and as I hurry out of the room – this lady is waiting with her daughter and giving me the stinkeye for using the ladies room – I try to explain that the guy told me I could use it but she didn’t speak English and I just shuffled off thoroughly humiliated!

Week 1 Recap:

Day 1 – Sunday (1/2 day)
Just relaxing around.

Day 2 – Monday
Shave #1
Blue Mosque
–Egyptian Obelisk
–Constantine Obelisk
Column of Constantine
The Grand Bazaar
Sahaflar Carsisi – The Book Bazaar

Day 3 – Tuesday
Hagia Sophia
Basilica Cistern
Dinner with Freedheims

Day 4 – Wednesday
Hagia Sophia Mausoleum
Hagia Irene
Topkapi Palace + Harem

Day 5 – Thursday
Shave #2
Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art
Istanbul Museum of Archeology

Day 6 – Friday
Bucoleon Palace
Yedikule Fortress
Theodosian Walls
Dinner Music & Dervish Dancing

Day 7 – Saturday
Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir
Sirkeci Station
Yeni Camii (The New Mosque)
Spice Bazaar
Kadirga Hamam

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Day 06 – Istanbul – Bucleon Palace, Little Hagia Sophia, Yedikule Fortress, Whirling Dervish, and Feral Cats

If today seems like it is all about feral cats – it is because it is!

Istanbul is filled with feral cats – some cute and cuddly but most you wouldn’t want to touch. They are sad.

We started off by walking down to the sea wall – where the ruin of the 5th century Bucleon Palace barely juts out of the wall.  There we saw a feral cat and her kittens that I swear is the same cat I met 2 years ago – very cute – and very cuddly – very affectionate.  I think it remembered me.  It had the cutest litter of kittens you ever saw and they kept coming out to greet us one by one.

I did a great job remembering where the Bucleon Palace was – not so much where the train station to Yedikule was.  We walked for a while and found the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque (formerly a church) and it was worth the wandering because it is very pretty. It also had a neat graveyard with some very decorative stones.

There a little girl handed me a weed like it was a flower and then charged me 1 TL. It was very funny – all the little kids were trying to give the adults weeds and charging them – I think I was the only one who paid.

After getting directions from several Turkish men who all told me it was 500 meters down the road and left at the fish restaurant (of course it felt like we walked for miles trying to find it) we did eventually get on the train for Yedikule.

I love this castle – it is awesome.  Half of it is 5th century – made up of the original Theodosian Land walls of Constantinople – and the other half is 15th century Ottoman which enclosed the walls into a fortress.  Like previous years there was no one there and you could walk and explore and climb and it was pretty neat going in and out of the towers and walking along the walls seeing some amazing views of the city and the sea.

After the fortress we headed for dinner. Last year I found a place that had a little show – musicians and a whirling Dervish – we made a reservation which it turns out was a napkin places on the table with the time on it. He put us right in front and let me film everything.  Dinner was good – we had unusually attentive service and it was fun watching the people eat and smoke the hooka.

One funny bit is that after dinner Amanda had her glass of Turkish tea and since we stayed for the second show she had a second glass of Turkish tea and then the manager liked us so much (because we left a tip) he brought us two free glasses of Turkish tea and Amanda had both of them (because I only really like the apple tea).

Tomorrow we head to Dolmabahce Palace!

Enjoy the photos – especially the sampling of The Feral Cats of Istanbul.

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Day 05 – Istanbul – Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art – The Istabul Museum of Archeology

It was a slow start today and we ended up getting out of the hotel a little later than usual – we also stopped at a local laundry who will wash our clothes for 10TL per KG.  I will find out what my laundry weighs in the morning!

I was fuzzy again so I headed off to get a shave from my favorite local barber – I think he likes me as he not only gave me an awesome shave but also a head and neck massage.  I will see him again in 4 days!

Today was all about museums – the first was the Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art.  It’s not the best museum – it is old and doesn’t have good air handling but it does house a great selection of Turkish carpets (which is funny when you think that the buildings surrounding the museum also house “a fine selection of Turkish carpets”).  One man said to me today “You look like a carpet buyer” I told him that I better go home and change clothes to reflect that I wasn’t.

The neat part is that the museum is actually the 16th century palace of Ibrahim Pasha – almost a castle as it was built for defense!

His story is crazy.  He was a palace slave who became boyhood friends with the future Sultan and when the Sultan became sultan he was promoted and rose up through the ranks to be the Grand Vizier and even married the Sultan’s sister. He became so powerful that people got jealous and the Sultan’s wife accused of being disloyal and they had him strangled.

Back to the museum. Metal detectors and x-ray machines on the way in and no video allowed.  They always look at my equipment funny – the video camera is on a metal mount that makes it look fancier than it is – at Topkapi yesterday as I explained to the guy it was a regular camera he just smiled and said “No one saw it – just take it in”.  Today they were a little more suspicious.  To be honest I am not much for shooting video in museums – you can get a quick overview or flavor but it isn’t a real experience.

There was a neat exhibition that mixed an artists’ work with items form the collection.  It was supposed to relate to the 5 senses and he had braille on his painting and thick overpaint that invited the viewer to touch alternate images on the paintings. Very nicely done.

They also have a “Turkish Coffee Experience” where for 30 minutes you get hands on training in Turkish Coffee – I was tempted but you don’t get to film it so I skipped it (for now).

The museum is nice – old – and hot. Very hot for a museum and very stuffy.

I got busted using my still camera to shoot some panning video of one of the carpets – they didn’t do anything but I got a stern talking to.  They didn’t notice that the video camera was on for a lot of my walk through but to be honest it wasn’t good footage anyways.

After the museum (and 30 minutes of me trying to tell the story of Ibrahim Pasha on video in the garden where they don’t allow video) we headed to the Archeology museum which was luckily open late (till 7pm).  There is a great sign on their ticket booth that says “This is NOT Topkapi Palace” I can only imagine how many mistakes they must have had to have to put that sign up.

The museum was under construction but even so it goes on and on and on.  Its fun – but its long.  At some point you start to visually skim.  There is a great pavilion called the tiled pavilion filled with Iznik tiles and the Museum of the Ancient Orient is easy to miss but filled with things from the art history textbooks.

After the museum we headed to dinner to call it an early night because tomorrow it is off to Yedikule and the Fortress of the 7 towers!

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