Sunday, March 14, 2010

Traveling in Turkey

Istanbul sights: The Blue Mosque, the Spice Market, the Cistern

Antalya sights: View from our Divan Room, Archeological Museum, Kaleici Museum

Sights to see in Kas: Amphitheater, Lycian tomb, harbor sights

Turkbuku: view from our Divan room, Bodrum Castle, Learning about Meze

House of the Virgin Mary, Ephesus, from our room at Radisson Blu, Cesme
There are times when I think a hotel sets the mood for a destination especially with a city hotel, which are often cramped and noisy. In Istanbul we lucked out by staying at the Barcelo Eresin Topkapi. It was reasonable for a 5-star hotel plus it included an expansive international buffet breakfast and had a spa with an indoor swimming pool. The best part was the location, which was quiet and next to the remains of the city walls built about 1700 years ago. I find city walls amazing in size and scope plus the fact that the massive remnants are still standing after so many years. I guess people have always been afraid of attacks. I liken the walls to the Home Land Security in the United States today.

The tram stop was across the street from the Barcelo making it easy to explore a different part of the city each day. The historic center has the most popular tourist sites including the impressive Blue Mosque, Haghia Sophia, and Topkapi Palace. We visited them when we were in Istanbul in the 1980s. This time I was most impressed with the Basilica Cistern, which was not open to the public during our last visit. It seems that in antiquity they built things to last. Emperor Justinian built the cistern system in 532 to store water for the palaces and surrounding buildings. The cistern is 470 by 215 feet. The roof is supported by 336 massive columns. Water was delivered though 12 miles of aqueducts.

One of the best views of the city is from atop Galata Tower built in 1348. From the tram stop we took a funicular to the top of the hill and walked down to the tower. An elevator took us nearly to the top where a winding staircase led to the narrow walkway that circles the top. The last time we visited Galata we were the only tourists and we got lost trying to find our way back to the main road so this time I paid special attention to the streets radiating from the tower so we wouldn’t get lost. It didn’t work. Medieval streets twist and turn but we kept heading down toward the water until we found our tram station.

Istanbul developed because of its location on the waterways connecting the Mediterranean with the Black Sea so it seemed only right to view the city from the water. We took two boat trips. One was a sightseeing tour that traveled along the European side of Istanbul and returned along the Asian side. Istanbul is a city that straddles two continents connected by bridges and ferryboats. Another day we took a four-hour ferryboat to the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara for two dollars. During the Byzantine period royalty were exiled on the islands giving them their name. Later Ottoman sultans were also exiled there. The boat stopped at four islands. There are no cars on the islands making them a welcome respite from car-clogged Istanbul. It was a beautiful sunny day and the ride was very relaxing.

We were very pleased with the changes in Turkey since our last visit. Today the shopkeepers, even in the Grand Bazaar with 4000 shops, seem less aggressive. The transportation system throughout Turkey is excellent and the friendly people were always ready to help a disoriented tourist.

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