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

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Turkey: Adana & Tarsus

Sabanci Merkez Mosque in Adana
I have been advised that there is nothing to see in Adana. I confess, the only reason I plan to stop by Adana is to catch a flight back to Istanbul, and to try out Adana Kebab at the source. Other cities may make the meanest Adana kebab, but I want to have it in Adana to strike another item off my to-do list. Adana also happens to have one of the most regular flights to Istanbul from this region. Being quite close to Antakya, I should be able to travel here and have enough of the day left to move around.

10 September 2009:
Spending most of this morning napping in the two and half hour bus from Antakya. It could have been faster if not for the bus stopping at every otogar along the way.

On the bus to Adana, with my small pack containing the usual accessories: GPS, audio recorder, blackberry, phone, etc

1338hrs: Been a long travelling day. Made the questionable decision to leave the otogar at Adana, go downtown and look for the hotel to drop my bag first before heading out for a day trip to nearby Tarsus.

Why Tarsus? Adana is a big city, in fact one of the biggest in this region. I don’t know if there’s a big attraction in Adana other than the big American air base at Incirlik. Tarsus is a historic town, at least historic enough for me to have heard of it, and sure as hell beats wandering around a city with more than a million inhabitants like Adana on a hot summer afternoon. The way from the Adana otogar to the city center is not too convenient. There is no free shuttle bus from my bus company, so I took a public transport instead, bus 117, and they happened to start a kilometer away from the place I wanted to stay. The noon sun was no making things too comfortable.

In Turkey, a statue of Ataturk seems to symbolize the center of the city and this is also where I found a small boutique hotel to drop my stuff. After a little asking around in simple english, catching bus 140 to the otogar, hoping to catch the Tarsus bus at the right time. While travelling, I try not to remain too idle waiting hours for a bus. However, taking a bus here is not that easy. The names on the front windscreen of the buses here are quite confusing. There seem to be just a couple of final destinations, from the looks of it. A surefire way to catch the right bus to the Otogar from the Centrum of Adana seems to be either bus 120 or 140. Strangely, public buses to the otogar seems to be always driven by women. The driver on the bus I took has heavy make-up and is quite presentable. Passengers are all staring at her when they get on the bus, so that means that this is an exception!

1409hrs: And we’re off in a minibus at the otogar bound for Tarsus. Strangely the driver’s attendant asked us to leave the van and walk 100m outside the otogar before we were supposed to leave and join the minibus outside. (ed: I would find out why later, I think they are trying to keep as much of the ticket fare for themselves!) And this guy drives faaast. 3.5TL for the fare. Bus is not full, myself, a lady and her daughter, and a mufti. And two backup drivers. This place is strange!

Downtown Tarsus

1454hrs: Drop off point in Tarsus is right next to Cleopatra’s gate. Confirmed by my GPS. This minibus goes all the way to Mersin if I got the message right. The return path is on the otherside of the Cleopatra’s gate, I presume as the bus returns from Mersin. Nothing cleopatra-y about this gate, just one of the gates forming the old city wall of Tarsus. The assumption is that since it is one of the major gates of old Tarsus, since Cleopatra came here (where she met Anthony), she must have passed through it. Part of it looks renovated but there is a little bit sticking out that still has some carving left. I’d say less than 10%.

Tarsus' Cleopatra Gate

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Turkey: Kayseri

Prayers at Hunat Mosque, Kayseri
Bus Drivers at Kayseri's Yogunburc Street station

After Cappadocia, in the interest of making use of whatever time I have here in Turkey, I thought it was not too smart to be spending the whole day travelling. So next to the region of Nevsehir, is a large city called Kayseri which I could get to in a few hours, and if I am lucky, I can catch an overnight bus to Antakya all the way down south.

7 September 2009:
Kayseri is also called Caesarea in ancient times before the arabs conquered it. I suppose this is the famous Caesarea that I have heard about. No idea what is there but no harm checking it out to know (Ed: Apparently it is not, there is another Caesarea in Israel). Most people I’ve spoken to in Cappadocia were amazed I was going there as it has nothing to see there.

Urgup to Kayseri

1100hrs: Right on the dot, the bus starts leaving Urgup’s otogar for Kayseri. Fare: 6TL. The next bus to Kayseri is in 2 hours after lunch so it is perfect that I’m here at this time. The bus indicates that it goes to Nevsehir but I was assured it goes where I thought it was going. Along the way out of Urgup it stops to pick up passengers, and soon it is full, about 30+ passengers as my quick estimate puts it. As it passes the local police station, a policeman comes on board to check, possibly visual profiling, but I, being the only asian looking person, was not checked in detail. And in less than 10 mins we are on the road into the Cappadocian desert, dodging the occasional farmer’s donkey and tractor carts that takes up a whole lane on the road. This highway has 2 lanes and bidirectional, and rather devoid of any vehicles, meaning that the bus driver could drive as fast as he wants. Landscape are craggy hills, valleys with poplar trees and farms. Seems like there are plenty of pumpkin farms around. My GPS registers our speed at less than 90kmph.

Kayseri Otogar Interiors

Loading up water on a hot day at the otogar...

Exterior of Kayseri Otogar

1216hrs: Arrived at Kayseri Otogar after an hour on the highway. The otogar is made up of a few buildings in the outskirts of Kayseri city and one of the building houses the ticket booths. Saw one with a midnight bus to Hatay/Antakya so I took a sleeping berth, so I think, for 40TL which is about the most expensive bus trip thus far, but it saves the hotel expense so, could be worth it. The girl at the counter thought I was Japanese again, and I learnt from her Turkish for ‘hello’ is ‘merhabah’ (similar to arabic I thinks) and ‘goodbye’ is ‘gule gule’ which I see a lot while driving in the Cappadocian countryside in the last 3 days. This otogar looks modern and has plenty of shops. I see left luggage service too, which I will use to deposit my bags till tonight, and make a trip to Kayseri’s merkezi (town centre)!

Little ticket booth to buy bus tickets before boarding...

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Turkey: Edirne

Early morning in Istanbul en route to the Otogar
Most tourists come to Edirne to see Selimiye Mosque, one of Mimar Sinan's prime creation

Edirne, in Thrace, is a city with plenty of history. In Edward Gibbon’s tome on the fall of the Roman Empire, this is where the Ottoman’s Mehmet II launched his attack that took over Constantinople around 1300AD. Historic place, which means I will need a GPS waypoint of this place.

2 September 2009:
It is an early morning for a daytrip to Edirne (Adrianople or Hadrianopolis), and the position of my new hotel allows me to take the first tram that passes Sultanahmet station on the way to the Otogar after a change of trains. Hope to grab my sleep later on the bus as the trip should take some time. If you recall, I booked this bus ticket in advance from the Istanbul Otogar on Monday and will be travelling with Ulusoy bus company on the 0800hrs bus. The trip should take around 2 hours. Left the hotel before 7am and at this time, Sultanahmet is totally dead. Nothing except sanitation workers sweeping up rubbish on the street from the night before. Lucky the tram starts moving at 6am. It looks like a blue sky day but I will be careful. Going with a small backpack with a spare lens, waterproof jacket and my all-important iPod. All cameras are coming along and I expect a long day of walking and aimless wandering in Edirne.

Local Edirne town bus

0715hrs: I have done this public transportation routine before. Tram to Metro station Aksaray and straight on to the Otogar from there. Just hoping to get there with enough time to have a light breakfast this morning. It’s always good to have a feel of the area before a tight schedule so that muscle memory takes over.

Nothing special here, boarded the bus like clockwork, and proceeded to the all important nap.

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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.

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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

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