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Getting to Sarajevo

A day in and between airports

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View Semester Break, pt. 1 on kmclean's travel map.

We got up early to catch the first flight to Istanbul from Kayseri, one of the airports in Cappadocia. Our shuttle driver seemed to be the only Turkish driver we’d come across between all of our tours and transfers who didn’t take narrow alleys at inordinate speeds and run red lights. Of all the times we could have used one of those crazy drivers it was then, but even though we were 45 minutes later than expected getting to the airport, we made our flight and landed in Istanbul only a few minutes late. We landed at the Sabiha Göcken airport on our cheap Pegasus Airlines flight and had to head to Atatürk airport to catch our flight to Sarajevo. We had 6 hours between the flights, so we took public transit from the eastern outskirts to the European side airport and saw the city for one last time. I still can’t believe what an amazing city it is.

When we got to the other airport we were a little worried when our flight wasn’t on the boards. When we asked at information, it turned out the Bosnian Airlines flight we were supposed to be on had been cancelled, and they told us to talk to Turkish airlines to see if we could get on their flight – the only other flight to Sarajevo that day – two hours later. We waited in a lot of lines and talked to a lot of people who really had no reason to care whether or not we made it to Sarajevo that night, but eventually found out that we had already been moved to the afternoon flight with Turkish Airlines.

I’m not sure what happened to our original flight or how we were automatically re-booked, but it all worked out in the end and we made it to Sarajevo only a few hours later than expected (p.s. Don’t use tripsta.de to book flights – I got no e-mails or calls from them this whole time!). It’s always a shame to waste a whole day in an airport, but the trip over land I figure would have taken us at least 4 days, so I guess it’s a fair trade-off. We’re here now at least and looking so forward to seeing this amazing city.

Posted by kmclean 15:03 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul airports Comments (0)

A Different Side of Istanbul

We spent some time exploring what Istanbul had to offer beyond the tiny ancient peninsula, Sultanahmet

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We spent a lot of time in and around Sultanahmet seeing the historical sites and buildings in Istanbul, but we managed to get out of it once in a while. We spent a half a day on the other side of the Golden Horn in the “modern” part of Istanbul, in Taksim and Beyoglu, and a day on the other side of the Bosphorus seeing the Asian side of the city. We also did a Bosphorus cruise and spent a few hours in a district at the very top of Istanbul on the edge of the Black Sea. It’s such a massive city. All of these districts were really interesting; it always felt like being in a new city. I guess in a city the size of Istanbul the separate districts really each have their own character.

Taksim and the surrounding area was really interesting, people call it the “European” part of Istanbul for a reason. Walking down the main street, Istiklal (Independence) Avenue, looked just like being in Vienna or Prague. They even have a “nostalgic” old-fashioned, restored tram running up and down the street. There are tons of chain stores but also a lot of boutiques selling local, or at least made-in-Turkey stuff. This part of Istanbul had a totally different feeling. The people on the streets don’t yell at you or try to get you to come in and buy their stuff, and when you do buy something it’s just in a shop or boutique, there’s no crazy mark-up and no haggling. Not even the restaurants have a guy standing our front trying to rope people in. It was kind of nice after shopping in the Grand Bazaar and spending quite a bit of time in the old city, although talking to the shop owners and getting them to give you a decent price can be a lot of fun.

We also saw Kadɪköy, a district on the Asian side of the city. It was completely different, again. It was really not made for tourists and felt a lot more “real” than the other parts of Istanbul. There were still a ton of little shops, great restaurants and a great market, but it didn’t feel like it was all only built for the tourists. Almost nobody there spoke English and the prices for just about everything were about half what they were in the old city. I guess that’s to be expected, but it would be worth seeing this part of the city early during your stay in Istanbul so you get an idea of what things should cost. At the Grand Bazaar we usually paid about half of what they originally told us, but if you don’t feel like haggling, once we told them we had seen the exact same thing somewhere else for a certain price, they’d just say “give me the money” and give it to us for that price without any questions or bartering.

We also took a Bosphorus cruise and got to see most of the palaces and mosques that are right on the water. At the end of the Bosphorus there was a break for a few hours and we got to wander around a tiny district near the Black Sea, I couldn’t believe it was still “Istanbul”. It took an hour and half on the boat to get there, but the city busses were still running all the way up there. It felt more like a rural fishing village that a subdivision of a massive city. The restaurants served mostly fish and there were only a couple small shops. If it weren’t for the Istanbul city busses driving around I would have thought we were somewhere in Nova Scotia.

Anyway, I’m really glad we had the time to see a few other parts of the city. There’s still so much we didn’t get to see – I think you would need a year to see every district and subdivision of this massive city, but it was great to get out of the Old City from time to time to see what the city was really like. The Old City is definitely the best place to start if you want to see the typical Istanbul sights, but to get a different idea of the city and maybe see what it’s really like for the people who live there, it’s great to be able to see a few other districts.

Posted by kmclean 13:06 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities turkey istanbul Comments (0)

Istanbul's Old City

Must be one of the coolest old cities in the world

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View Semester Break, pt. 1 on kmclean's travel map.

Istanbul is definitely my new favourite city. It has an amazing history and all the museums you could ask for to go with it, but there are so many other things to do, too. Another huge attraction in the old city is the Grand Bazaar. We spent a lot of time there and also at the Spice Market, or the Egyptian Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is as old as the Ottoman Empire itself, and one of the biggest and oldest markets in the world. And after a long day of touring and shopping, a visit to a Turkish bath (hamam) was the perfect way to wind down.

The Grand Bazaar had already reached its current size at the beginning of the 17th century and was one of the biggest trading posts of the time because of the Ottoman Empire’s total control over the route from Asia to Europe back then. It has 64 streets and about 4000 vendors. A lot of them sell kitschy tourist stuff, but some have decent things and a few have art or other things they’ve made themselves.

The Spice Market is similar but a lot smaller, and most of the vendors sell spices, obviously, and also herbs, teas, and yummy Turkish treats. It was built using the tax money collected on the trade of Egyptian spices and herbs, so it’s also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. It’s starting to get overrun with tourist souvenir stalls, but there are still mostly food vendors selling all kinds of delicious Turkish teas and treats. We definitely spent too much money at both Bazaars, but where else better in the world to do it?

After our first day walking around the city and shopping at the Grand Bazaar, we tried out a Turkish bath. They're conveniently open until midnight so it's the perfect thing to do at the end of the day, although I heard it can get quite busy after supper. This time of year nothing is very crowded, though, and we didn't run into any crowds or have to wait long at the hamam. I had heard a lot of crazy things before going in and we were both pretty nervous, but it turned out to be amazing. Mike and I both went for the “traditional” bath, meaning you get scrubbed down and massaged by a little Turkish lady, or huge Turkish guy, in Mike’s case.

The building itself was really beautiful, and kind of looks like a Mosque without the minarets. The bath we went to was around the corner from the Grand Bazaar and has been open since 1584! Coming from Canada, I still can’t get over how old things in this part of the world are. We both had a really great, and relaxing, time. Not at all as horrifying as some of the things I read. I would definitely recommend doing it if you’re ever in Turkey.

The Turkish bath was the perfect way to end off a day of touring and shopping. We had an amazing time seeing the historical buildings and shopping at the Bazaars in Istanbul. The Old City of Istanbul has so much to offer and I think you would need a year to really see everything. We luckily managed to squeeze in a few of the major sites during our short stay, but it was also great to get to check out some other areas of the town.

Posted by kmclean 12:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities turkey istanbul bazaar hamam Comments (0)

Churches, Mosques, and Museums in Istanbul

Our first taste of what the world outside of Europe is like, and the first stop on our latest adventure.

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View Semester Break, pt. 1 on kmclean's travel map.

We started our most recent adventure in Istanbul. The semesters in Germany are arranged more like high school in Canada than university, giving us a very convenient 2 month break during the low season. It’s our first step outside of Europe, and I think Istanbul is my new favourite city. I wish we had come here last instead of first, but either way it’s an amazing city to have seen. The day we arrived we just dropped our stuff off and then headed out to see some of the nearby sites on the “historical peninsula” of Istanbul; Sultanahmet. We spent our first day in the old city on a tour, seeing most of the historical buildings and sites. Our hotel was right in the centre of the old city, so we spent a lot time at the beginning and ends of days in and around it seeing the sites. It’s an unbelievably cool city with such a dynamic and LONG history.

The historical centre of Istanbul was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, and it really is the place where Europe met and clashed with the Middle East and Asia. Any churches built before 1453 were converted into Mosques (except for one in the Topkapɪ Palace) and some were then turned into Museums after the secularisation of Turkey. I had never seen a Mosque before, and I have to say they’re all really impressive. The insides are really bright and well lit, and because of the way Muslims pray they’re always really warm with beautiful, clean carpets. They seem more peaceful and welcoming than cathedrals, which are usually cold and dark. Also there are no torture scenes or brutal battle depictions on the walls and no images or sculptures of people being tortured to death, because in a Mosque there can’t be any pictures of people or animals. The walls are only decorated with patterns and in the fancier mosques thousands and thousands of beautiful tiles. I know these are some of the most extravagant and beautiful mosques in the world, but they were really beautiful. Also really interesting was that they were built extremely quickly, even by today’s standards.

They Blue Mosque was built in only 7 years. It was funded by the Sultan so that partly explains why it was so quick. Also there were no wars interrupting its construction. It’s still unbelievable though, considering most cathedrals in Europe took literally hundreds of years to build, and most are under construction or restoration still today. The Frauen Kirche in Munich was built in 20 years and that’s still considered extremely quick by European standards, and it’s not nearly as extravagant as the Blue Mosque, inside or out. Even more impressive than the Blue Mosque, though, is the Hagia Sophia. It took only 5 years to build in the year 532! Mostly because they recycled materials from other conquered temples, but most buildings today are barely finished in 5 years. We could really take some advice from the Turks. The building that’s there today is actually the 3rd reconstruction – the first Hagia Sophia stood on that site in 360 and was destroyed by rioters. The second one was also destroyed, but the third and current one has been there for nearly 1500 years now. It’s unbelievable. Luckily it’s a museum now and under the protection (and funding) of UNESCO, so it’s still having restoration work done. After Istanbul was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453 it was converted into a Mosque. Minarets were added and since Mosques can’t have any depictions of people or animals, the frescoes and mosaics were plastered over. Today they’re working on removing the plaster to reveal thousand year old mosaics, it’s an unbelievable project.

On our tour of the city we also saw the Chora Church Museum, another former Byzantine church-turned-mosque. The “museum” part is the artwork on the walls themselves. It was built in the early 5th century as a Byzantine church, but most of the artwork inside was done around 1300. After Istanbul was conquered it was also converted into a mosque, meaning all of the mosaics and frescoes were plastered over, and the faces of some of the people were even carved out before that. A lot of restoration work has been done since then, and the plaster has been safely removed in many places so you can see some of the artwork.

Istanbul is full of churches, museums, and mosques like those ones. We saw the New Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque as well, both were amazing. The Topkapɪ Palace was really neat, too. We spent a lot of time in and around the old city seeing all these sites, but luckily got to see a few other parts of the city, too.

Posted by kmclean 12:52 Archived in Turkey Tagged cities turkey istanbul Comments (0)

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