Turkey: Back to Istanbul & one for the road…

Old cameras at the hotel. Nothing special, Arca Swiss LF camera, and no exotics to nick.
Last night in Istanbul

11 September 2009:
Arrived back in Istanbul from Adana around 1600hrs today. From sunny Adana, I came back to a cloudy Istanbul. I have Kodachrome loaded in my Leica ready to shoot but it was never meant to be. By the time I got to the hotel, it was starting to drizzle a little, the sky grey as usual. News on the way indicated heavy flooding in parts of Istanbul, not in old town for sure. But I’m happy enough to have almost two weeks of sun, so this last day of less than perfect light is not going to be an issue.

On the last day I have here, it will be used to explore places I left out in the first few days. First off, to Eminonu docks to have a fish sandwich. I didn’t really miss this one earlier, if you recall, but the fish sandwich is so good here, I will need to have one last one before I leave. Recognised this time, the fish in question is Mackerel, so this is not for the people who hate fishy smell. It’s basically pan fried mackerel with salad in bread. Simple and good. Then its off by bus to Balat as I still have some more credit left in my transport key fob. Walking around and shooting the other side of the Golden Horn, this place looks a lot quieter than Eminonu or Sultanahmet. Right after, at Ayvansaray Iskelesi, a ferry took me back to Eminonu before sun was down. Originally I had plans to go back to Harem to take another set of sunset photos but cloud cover was so thick it was going from light to dark without the amber transition in the sky, so plan scrapped and decided to spend some time at Rustem Pasa Mosque.

On the way to Eminonu...

Bosphorus Car Ferry

No, no the fish sandwich I'm after...

Locals (I guess) looking at a passenger Bosphorus ferry, Galata tower in the far background...

Ayvansaray Ferry Terminal in Balat

Continue reading “Turkey: Back to Istanbul & one for the road…”

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Turkey: Istanbul Day 3

Sun setting over the Galata Tower
Hanging chandelier at ground floor of Aya Sofia

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1 September 2009:
Today is a mixture of sightseeing and chores. One of the plan of this trip was to switch hotels in Istanbul. The idea is not to experience all the hotels in the vicinity of Sultanahmet, but rather, to move around to get a different vantage point of all the landmarks of the city. It is possible, within some tolerance, to determine if a hotel terrace has a good view in Google Earth. Sometimes it works, sometimes there is a building in the way. So it only makes sense that I stay in 3-4 hotels during this trip. The next two days I will be taking day trips out of Istanbul, so it is only making sense that I move to a hotel that allows me to move around to the otogar or the ferry pier easily early in the morning.

0852hrs: Paid 170TL for the hotel and on my way to Aya Sofia for this morning’s trip. It is starting to rain so it is no fun. It did rain overnight, wet roads and all visible this morning. My window was opened all night long and I was lucky not to drench out the whole room. Woke up early in the morning by the morning Fajr prayer calls from countless mosques in the area. In my state of early morning concussion, I was still able to find my audio recorder in the darkness and recorder the prayer wars between mosques. I wouldn’t politically call it ‘fighting’ but it does seem like there is a small element of rivalry there. But overall the plan for this trip to Istanbul has turned out well, walked the city when the weather was fine in the last few days and just as the weather turned bad, I’ve only got the interiors of Aya Sofia left to go through today. Plus some time wasting walkabouts this afternoon.

0901hrs: Queue for Aya Sofia is already relatively long despite the rain, and mainly made up of private tour groups with special tickets ready. On the way in the entrance is strewn (not exactly true, there are some elements of orderly arrangement) with pieces of the old building that was supposed to be here before the current one was build. I spent a little more time than the tour groups checking all the pieces out , architecturally it seems rather roman, carved marble slabs, columns and arches are all over the place. But if the previous temple was all stone, I wonder how it got burnt down.

Continue reading “Turkey: Istanbul Day 3”

Turkey: Istanbul Day 2

Morning on Day 2
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.

Early Morning in Sultanahmet

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.

Plain shoplots close to Yusufpasa Tram stop

Murat Pasa Mosque

Aksaray Metro Station

Istanbul Metro

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!

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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…