Turkey: Istanbul Day 1

Turkish Flag at Topkapi Palace, Istanbul
The Bosphorus and Anatolia from Topkapi Palace

30 August 2009:
Had running nose a few days before the trip and on the verge of getting fever. Not such a good idea in this day and age. However, I was recommended a a lifesaver tablet – Actifed to handle the runny nose, with a pleasant side effect where it knocks you out cold. Took it 30mins before the flight and I was sleeping all the way. Had to wake up in Dubai, thanks to the landing, but was asleep again once we took off.

0805hrs: Arrived at Istanbul IST, early in the morning. As I was able to sleep all the way, even with the time difference, I was all full of energy and can’t wait to start the day. I’ve got a small little backpack in the cargo hold, so waiting at the conveyor belt number 3 for my lone backpack to emerge. Not too much time to take in whatever atmosphere is here at the airport, I’m just thinking about checking into a hotel, get a nice shower and then start wandering around Sultanahmet.

0839hrs: Arranged for a hotel pickup since I’m not in the mood to take a taxi. While waiting for the car to arrive, was able to chat with the caretaker over a cup of tea. This is my first cup of authentic Turkish tea made by a Turk, and it tastes like any ol standard Lipton tea left to brew for a long time so that it is thick.

On Kennedy Ave next to the sea of Marmara

The trip from the airport to Sultanahmet is quite scenic in itself. I have been going through the satellite maps of the route a few times, and I could tell which road the driver was taking. The view over the Sea of Marmara with what looks like oil tankers from the Balkans are just confirmation that I’m finally here. I don’t get to see too many large ULCCs here, perhaps because it has to squeeze through the small-ish Bosphorus straits.

The first thing one does in old Istanbul is to stumble upon Sultanahmet Square

Sultanahmet Mosque from the park

Continue reading “Turkey: Istanbul Day 1”

Turkey: Prologue

28 August 2009:
Typing this on the flight from Singapore to Istanbul.

Trips with a historical slant can be stale for those who prefer to ignore the significance of places beyond its heyday. I have a feeling that most parts of my upcoming 2 week trip will be of interest to only a small minority. I have spent almost 3 months reading Edward Gibbon’s excellent “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, referencing wikipedia and making notes on google maps, charting the locations as I go along. Luckily for me, most of the action towards the end of the Roman Empire centers around present-day Turkey.

The focal point of course is on Constantinople, also known today as Istanbul, where Emperor Constantine decided to establish the first Christian kingdom, arguably because he decided to side with the growing popularity of a new religion. Sacked a few times by passing crusaders and finally falling to the giant cannon of Sultan Mehmet II of the Muslim Ottomans less than a thousand years later. In Istanbul I would expect the signs of history to be more obvious, but it would be a challenge to find the remains of the wall where the muslims breached the city wall.

Planning to stay 3 days in Istanbul. As for the rest of the trip, the rough planning is as follows:

After Istanbul, and using it as a hub, I will do two day trips. First of it will be to Hadrianople – present day Edirne – next to the Greek border. This is where the Ottomans set up their capital and headquarters before heading out to conquer Constantinople. I expect the city to be bland,with history hidden behind a modern facade, tourists passing through, oblivious to the role this city played in the founding of present day Turkey about 700 years ago. A day trip out of Istanbul should be sufficient.

Then there’s Nicaea – present day Iznik – where a bunch of church elders held a meeting a bit more than a thousand years ago and decided on the Nicene Creed, a story setting the relationship between the key figures of today’s Christian church doctrine. All other conflicting views were banished, and purged. Iznik is famous for the tiles that graced many Ottoman monuments in Turkey. Again, I’m expecting a ruin or two but nothing more than the pleasure of getting GPS coordinates in a city steeped in historical significance. If time permits, perhaps Iskander Kebab in Bursa not too far from Iznik before returning to Istanbul.

To save time, I plan to then take a flight down to Nevsehir, in Cappadocia. A bus from the capital would take too long, losing up to a whole day to get to the heart of Turkey. At Urgup, I have made advanced booking on a rental car which will be with me the whole trip in Cappadocia while I try to cover the whole area in 3 days. It is probably ambitious to do so with public transportation, so we shall see. Distances seem quite short so I shouldn’t have to use up tanks of petrol everyday.

Planning to spend 3-4 days there depending on my mood. Cappadocia would be the landscaping part of the trip, and my DSLR and a couple choice lenses and tripod will come with me for this purpose.

The next few day post-Cappadocia is unclear at this moment. Will probably make it up as I go along. One possibility is to go to Kayseri, hanging around the most muslim city of my trip, and taking the overnight train down to Adana to have a kebap, and finally down to Antakya (ancient name: Antioch). The second plan is to skip Kayseri, but since I’m not in the mood to apply for a Syrian visa, not sure what I will do in the 3-4 days down south in Antakya. Will worry later. All I know is that I have to be in Adana at a certain time the day before the flight back so that I can catch a domestic flight from Adana back to Istanbul, where I will spend another night before leaving Turkey.

Total duration: two weeks. This will be during Ramadan season, so I’m prepared to fast if I have to, eating breakfast and dinner only.

Equipment wise, I have the standard blogging machine, my Nokia E71 that will double as an alarm clock as it has the most irritating ring of all, and tripling as a GPS backup since it has google maps allowing me to have an eye up in the sky if required. Primary GPS is my trusty 10 year old Garmin eTrex Vista loaded with world map for this part of the planet. For the first time, I will bring a PCM sound recorder to get ambient sounds into my archives, honours going to the Sony PCM D50 recorder. A trip is not a trip without cameras, of course . I will have the usual 3 cameras. People shots will be made with a Leica M6 Classic and just one lens, a 35mm Summicron ASPH which should be versatile enough for close up action. Bringing 20 rolls of film, Kodak Tri-X, Chinese-made ERA100 and Fuji Neopan1600. Not forgetting a single roll of Kodachrome, just in case. DSLR for landscapes with a rugged-ish Nikon D300. Lenses that will come along: 12-24mm f4 AFS, 10.5mm f2.8, 28-70mm f2.8 AFS and my favourite all-round lens: Micro-Nikkor 105mm f4 AI. All Nikkors. Point and shoot honours will go to a Ricoh GR Digital in a belt holster for quick grab shots. A light Gitzo 1531T travel tripod and RRS BH25 tripod head comes along. All these goes into a Kinesis  Journeyman bag configured for half gears and half clothes. A Kinesis M550 multipurpose bag serves as a day and accessory pack when I need to move fast.

Enough on the equipment. This setup allows me to move fast and to jump on buses and planes without any big bulk. It’s heavy for sure, but nothing big plate of kebab at the day cannot soothe. And so it begins…

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