31 August 2009:
0850hrs: Early morning today. Out of the hotel and out to take the tram. Line T1 passes right outside the hotel in Sultanahmet, 3 minutes walking at the most. Was hoping to pick up the Akbil stored value key fob thingy but the ticket office was closed. And the only place selling the tokens required was a corner coffee shop. The sun is out in full force, and when the tram arrived, it was hot as a sauna inside. Evidently the airconditioning stopped working today. Or this is as typical as airconditioning in europe, which is most of the time, not working as well as it should. Which is very unfortunate as I’ve never boarded a tram and drip wet in sweat while inside. Anyway, destination is Yusufpasa and then transfering to Metro line M1 at Aksaray and going to the Istanbul Otogar.
The interchange at tram stop Yusufpasa requires leaving the station and passing an old mosque, Murat Pasa Camii (1493AD) with old islamic tombstones that look big enough to be middle age european tomb stones. Anyway, 100m is all it takes to walk over to the Aksaray metro station. Another token is required.
Metro M1 is not that bad. Was expecting filthy and oily smelling european equivalent. Its somewhere between that and a modern asian metro train. I’d say it is half dodgy. Coloured bright orange, just to state its utilitarian existence. Either that or it is made so that people can tell they’re in a Metro and not just some tiled up boring government building. Good news is that a tram token (jeton) also works here at the turnstiles. They look the same anyway, which leads me to the simplified conclusion that the tram and metro has the same owner/operator. Kuala Lumpur: learn from this!
0950hrs: At the Otogar. The metro drops you off in the inside center of a circle of I-have-no-idea-how-many bus companies. Without counting, I’d say at least a hundred of them. Some flashy and posh, others bare and budget. The system here is good. Walk to the front of the shop, buy tickets, then go out the back and board the bus. I started asking around a few and was recommended to go to Metro or Ulusoy company for Edirne. So it seems not all companies go everywhere. Ulusoy looks like a big one, hence it shall be my carrier of choice. Ticket to Edirne cost me 20TL leaving on Wednesday 2 September and returning the same day. I can’t decide on the return time, so will buy it when I get there. Was assured by the people at the Ulusoy counter that they usually have some space left (apparently Turks don’t buy things way in advance).
1006hrs: On my way to Topkapi-Ulubatli M1 Metro stop, right at the old city walls. This is the inner wall, on the map there are two layers of protective walls. The Topkapi section seems familiar, would even go on to speculate that’s where the last Byzantine emperor got killed when Mehmet II broke through the walls, but need big time citation for that. And somehow I’m thinking that it could be on the outer wall where this took place 700 years ago. Planning to walk down south to the Cannon part of the wall, where the tram station is. This is probably where the Ottomans got through by pounding it with a giant cannon made by the eastern european mercenaries. History galore!
1026hrs: Standing outside the city walls at Topkapi-Ulubalti. Light isn’t too good so the DSLR stays in the bag. The wall here looks like it is two layer thick, the outer wall, could be pole vaulted by an olympian for sure but the second requires superman. The wall meanders up and down following the contour of the hills, still very imposing in this time and age. Amazing. Some parts are crumbling and others are renovated, but one of my favourite city walls so far. Love it. I’ve read about the invasion of the Ottomans and how they broke through the wall and now I’m here looking at it.
1116hrs: Walked on to the tram line and took it back towards Sultanahmet. Missed the Aksaray tram stop and got off at Laleli Universite, the next stop. Good too as I stumbled upon the Laleli Mosque, a small but still interesting looking mosque. Its a working mosque so I try not to enter this one even though I came prepared with trousers.
Lunch will be early today. Its noon and I think I need to refuel. Simple lunch of kofte meatballs in sandwich garnished with bell peppers and strangely they stuff fries into the sandwich too. Not too filling, giving some room for another meal around teatime later on.
A little walk later and I’m at the grand arches of Emperor Valens’ Aqueduct. Didn’t expect to hit this thingy. And from here, one can see another part of Istanbul behind the aqueduct. I tried a few lenses to see which one works. Right after I fell for the oldest trick in a conman’s book, targeting a traveller’s compassion. A shoeshine guy comes, drops his brush and when you pick it up he offers a free scrub, when you accept it, he goes on talking about sick baby etc and asks for donation. When I took out my wallet he sees a wad of cash and dips his hands into it. Quick reflexes pulls it back, realises all these story is a whole load of crock, if he was desperate, rudeness is a reason to get nothing. One lesson. Never speak to anyone on the streets of Istanbul. Bastards. Would have beaten up the guy next time he comes up to me. Asshole.
Still a long way to walk today. I have barely begun. Took time off having turkish tea cay at Sehzade Mehmed Sofrasi in Sehzadebasi Camii, a nice restaurant in the courtyard of an mosque. Probably old but not too sure. Tried to order figs for dessert but since it is Ramadan, they only have some pudding for dessert. No pudding. But since this is Ramadan, the manager didn’t want to accept payment for the tea. Can’t do much more than to thank him profusely. Restoring my faith in humanity for a while.
1330hrs: Spent some time hanging around Sehzade Mehmet Mosque (1543AD), a nice looking mosque built by Mimar Sinan, my second one on this trip. It takes up quite a large tract of real estate to the west of the Bazaar area of Istanbul.
After a little stroll throught the backlanes, got to Suleymaniye Camii (1557AD), another domed mosque Ottoman-style. But not before getting stopped by people hoping to appear in my photos. This mosque has more tourists that the usual mosque which suggests it is popular among the Lonely Planet carrying tourists. I walked around the courtyard looking for a good vantage point to take a snap or two.
Right behind the mosque is the tomb of Sultan Suleyman, bigger than most tombs of course, and apparently a super Sultan during the heyday of the Ottoman era. I’ll have to read up on this after the trip. Two other sultans are buried under a rotunda with a constant dose of burnt incense filling the air. The Sultan’s wife and daughter are buried in there as well, but smaller grave. Other than taking off your shoes, no other formalities when the room. There are old women praying inside the room as well.
The inside of the mosque is mainly under renovation and only a small right wing of the mosque was open for prayers and visiting, so it is difficult to know what the popularity of this is all about. After finishing my roll of tri-x I visited the second floor balcony, which by the way, looked like an exceptionally peaceful place to hang around with women reading the quran. Took a couple of shots underexposed by a stop to give it the look I want. Too bad the rest of this mosque is not opened at this moment. Did I mention this mosque is another of Mimar Sinan’s design?
1541hrs: Now at Beyazit Camii after going around the perimeter of Istanbul university. Its located on a largish square overlooking the main entrance of Istanbul University. By now all the Ottoman era mosques start to look the same. Spent a few minutes inside. There should be three more hours of sunshine today and with a freshly loaded M6 with ERA100, it’s time to take a walk down the main Divan Yolu Caddesi back to Sultanahmet.
1601hrs: Grand Bazaar… This the type of place I want to avoid. Big and popular and really nothing I really want to buy. The kind of place where tourists make nice prey. It was not as tight and shady as I thought it was, what a waste as I had another roll of Tri-X ready to shoot some grainy B&W but it doesn’t look as great as I expected. Took some pictures with the ERA100 and recorded a sound clip or two, and very quickly I was out of the Grand Bazaar and walking the road back.
1617hrs: Atik Ali Pasa Mosque (1496AD) is another mosque on the circuit but I will not take off my shoes for this one. I have seen a mosque too many now for today. Time to continue down Divan Yolu. Along the way, you get to pass graves of notable people, and the interesting bit for me is a monument called the Cemberlitas, erected when Constantinople was the capital of the Roman empire around 300AD. All I got to see is a noticeboard saying it is so and a large scafolding covering the whole column. Looking right at the Camberlitas is a juice shop so its time for me to load up some vitamins. Went for promegranate plus orange, which is sour-ish and acid-y as hell. Paid 5TL for that combo which is made with juice only and nothing added to it. Great!
A little while more down the road is another cemetery with a building containing the grave of some old Ottoman Sultan. Nah, enough of those as well.
1706hrs: Now this is a revelation. Next to the well known Basilica Cistern, is Binbirdirek Cistern, notably smaller by a bit, but is mostly dry and, when I was there, contains an art gallery and a restaurant. 10TL is the entrance fee and includes a cup of coffee or tea at the cafe inside. Background music is present here and the lighting is slightly brighter than the Basilica Cistern and none of those red accent lights – it is possible to see in better detail the whole cistern. I skip the free drinks and it is time for a quick dinner.
1721hrs: Figured that since one of the shop last night had very long queue for its Kofte, it is time for me to eat there. Shop is called Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi. Inside looked like time was stuck at the 1930s, waiters with aprons, and smart clothing. I ordered Ayran (some yoghurt drink similar to the indian lassi), a portion of Kofte which comes with preserved green chilli, and a pilaf of rice. Best damn kofte I have ever tried (though my lifetime tally is just 2).
1830hrs: Had some time left today, so took the train hugging the coast to Yenikapi Docks to get tickets for Thursday’s trip. The trains are old and it looks like only thugs and gangsters take this train. It’s possible to force the door open so you get all these thugs sticking half their body outside the train door. But it also helps them to get off the train a few seconds earlier by jumping off it before the train stops.
At Yenikapi, bought a boat ticket for going to Yalova on the third of September. There seems to be boat trips all the way to Bursa, which I might use on the return trip. 13TL for the ticket, not too bad.
Buying tickets for ferries are not that difficult at Yenikapi. I had to go through xray and other security apparatuses though, something I’m not too keen on going through all the time with all the film in my hand carry bag. But there is no choice.
Few minutes later, I’m back on the TCCD hoping to get to the waterfront overlooking Anatolia to see the evening glow before the sun sets.
1941hrs: Watching the sun setting on the European side of the Bosphorus. There are hills on this side, so around 1915hrs the Anatolian side will bask in orange glow and suddenly it becomes normal again when the sun dips below the hills. At this moment, it is still bright but that is all, no more spectacular colours. Took a picture of the houses on the other side before sitting down to type this in while the feeling of staring at the Bosphorus outside the old Constantinople city wall is still fresh. Did a 10 min recording of ambient sound while waiting for the skies to turn dark as darkness sets in. The ferry boats chugs along and once in a while, an oil tanker from the Black Sea comes along.
And during this Ramadan month, Sultanahmet Square comes alive with plenty of food stall, band performances, traditional dances and the whole place is just packed with people the whole month. They break fast on the grass in the park, mostly large families eating together. Tourists get to see all these show of culture in one small location.
Continue to Day 3…