Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Thursday cruise on the Bosphorous Strait

The Bosphorous Strait forms part of the boundary between Europe and Asia with parts of Istanbul on either side; hence my references in earlier posts about heading across to the European or Asian side of Istanbul. On Thursday we took a ferry sailing up the Bosphorous Strait from Eminonu up to Anadolukavagi. The sailing takes about 90 mins each way and we had 3 hrs onland during which time we headed up to the remains of Yoros Castle, had a lunch of some v tasty sea bass and a brief wander around the village before returning back to Eminonu.

All aboard - Bosphorous Cruise

Waiting for the off... it was a beautiful day out

Along the way we passed some wonderful water side luxurious homes...
Luxurious Water Front House

I was constantly flitting back and forth to look at stuff on the Asian side or the European side... busy busy
Enjoying the Views

Once we landed we took the short walk (~20 mins) up to the remains of Yoros Castle. To be honest there's no much up there but great views.
Relaxing at the Top

Needless to say, all the restaurants down at the waterfront try to grab you the minute you walk past. We passed two restaurants on the way up; they were sorta the same but anyway we stopped at one on on the way down. Due to the location they were all mainly fish restaurants. I'd had a rather disappointing fish dinner the night before but I had the sea bass (unlike in Ireland the fish comes with head etc still attached!) here and it was very tasty. Very much enjoyed :)

Once we got to the bottom we found a bench and sat in the shade to cool down... well Dave sat down I wandered off for some ice cream :) Noticed these two old guys across the road from us just sitting around chatting (I did notice in Turkey that alot of blokes seem to sit around chatting while the women out working!)
Chilling & Chatting

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Wednesday - Istanbul


As on Monday morning we were up early after another overnight train journey; this time from Ankara back to Istanbul. It looked like it was going to be a sunny warm day so happy vote from me!

Got the ferry back across to Europe (aka European side of of Istanbul) and tram up to the Sultanhamet stop in the Old Town. A bit of wandering around before we finally found our hotel but find it we did. It was only 9am so we were hoping to leave our bags, head out again for some coffee and breakfast and come back in the afternoon to check in to our room. So, imagine our surprise (& happiness) when we got told that our room was ready! And our room was really very nice - a good size, a nice layout and lots of windows.

We headed around 10am and headed off to get some coffee & food. Our plan for the day was to follow the Old Town Back Streets walk in one of our guide books with the Blue Mosque and the underground cistern if time allowed. This was very enjoyable and covered the Grand Bazaar, the Beyazit District, the grounds of the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent (but unfortunately mosque closed for renovation :( ), Uzun Carsi, the Rustem Pasa Mosque, Hasircilar Alley and the rather disappointing spice market.

The Grand Bazaar was a bit of a letdown to be honest. The problem is that you constantly get hassled! If we stopped to look in our book or at a stall you were pounced on. And they all seemed to be selling the same stuff. However, luckily the Rick Steve's Istanbul guide book suggests a tour within the grand bazaar and brought us in to much older parts of the market (courtyarded areas with small little workshops where you don't get hassled these are know as Bedestens) where we were the only tourists in both cases. In the second bedesten there are workshops where they melt down old bits of gold and we got invited in to one of the little workshops because they had seen the guidebook we were carrying and the owner is in it.
Melting Down Gold

It was seriously hot in there but great to see and it really made my visit to the Grand Bazaar so worth while!
In the Workshop

After that we wandered through the Beyazait district before getting to the mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. This is meant to be a beautiful mosque well worth the visit but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. Oh well, another time :)

After that we wandered through the Uzun Carsi before getting to the Rustem Pasa Moque. The former is a madly busy narrow street with all these little shops selling a mad variety of things - hardware, stationary, toys, shoes etc and they were all jam packed in together. The Rustem Pasa Mosque was built in the 16th century and is stands on a platform supported by vaults that have shops underneath them! I had a scarf and long sleeved top in my bag and was wearing a knee length skirt but it seems that knee length isn't sufficient so I was handed a warp around full length skirt to put on before going in. I thought that this mosque was beautiful. There were some tourists in there but nothing like what we'd see in the Blue Mosque that afternoon! The tiling and domes really are gorgeous and there's something just lovely about walking around in your bare feet in these places.
The Rustem Pasa Mosque - Pillar

Hasircilar Alley which we wandered down on leaving the mosque on way to the rather disappointing Spice Market was another place jam packed with little shops and then food stores. Near the end there was a place selling just coffee beans - the smell emanating from it was just fab :)

After lunch in the park (some meaty wrap thing for Dave and a cheesy bread thing that I'd had for breakfast for me) we headed in to the Blue Mosque. I guess I knew that this place was be busy but there were so many tourists and it's just so large that I didn't like it as much as the other mosques that we'd been to. But it is, like the others, fantastic to look at!
Blue Mosque Interior

I found myself lying on the floor so I could take photos of the tiling on the pillars and domes (I got chastized for that unlike the numerous women walking around who hadn't covered their head or arms?!?)
Blue Mosque - From Pillar to Dome

As we had the time we then headed off to see the Byzantine Underground Cistern. It was more Dave than me that was interested in going to see this but I'm so glad we did; it was fantastic! Well worth the visit. The lighting was beautifully done in there too. This places dates to the 6th century and is sometimes known as the Basilica Cistern as it's built on the site of an earlier basilica.
The Basilica Cistern

After all that it was time for an ice cream, a sit in the park and then back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before heading out for dinner. Dinner was, I'm afraid to say, disappointing :( This restaurant had a big sign outside saying they're recommended by Rick Steves (our guidebook) so we reckoned it would be okay. However, for a start we didn't go with the fixed price menu 3 course menu which didn't go down particularly well. My fish was fairly tasteless to be honest (had a much nicer one the next day) and not a good reaction when we said that we didn't want dessert. In total, average food with less than fantastic service. But overall, a fantastic day :)

Monday, 7 June 2010

Tuesday in Goreme


Woke up in our lovely room in the Arch Palace in Goreme. It was fantastically bright and sunny and warm outside. I was happy :)


We had a yummy breakfast on the terrace with lovely view over Goreme.

Goreme Village

After breakfast it was checkout time, store the bags an doff to get that coffee that I desperately needed (it had been 48 hrs by now) before heading off the Open Air Museum. The coffee tasted good, not fantastic but it did the trick for me and it was beautifully presented with a totally tasty little chocolate cake.

Much Needed  Coffee

After that we decided we really should get a move on and head off to the Open Air Museum where we'd end up spending the morning before getting a Turkish pizza (meat for Dave, veggie for me) before getting on bus back to Ankara at 2pm.

The Open Air Museum (World Heritage Site) is totally worth a visit. It was busy with a number of tour groups but I guess being in the open air meant that this was only a problem when trying to get in to certain churches (Kilises). This was originally a Byzantine monastic settlement housing some 20 monks and from the 17th century it was it was a pilgrimage site. What makes this so amazing is that all the churches and living accommodation is cut out of stone and there are wonderful frescos in the churches. Some of the frescos have been defaced by the iconoclasts but not all.

St George in the Azize Barbara Sapeli

Fresco in the The Barbara Sapeli

Building Interior

Dining Hall for the Monks

Frescoed Ceiling

Ceiling Fresco

Fresco in the Karanlik Kilise Church

Defaced Fresco

Karanlik Kilise Exterior

After wandering around here for a few hours we headed back in to Goreme and I had my first and last lunch that I enjoyed rather than just getting something to eat - a Turkish pide (neeless to say, one of the meatless ones :) )

The rest of the afternoon was on the bus back to Ankara. Once there we had a fish sandwich for dinner (as before I still think they're too dry) and then off to the train station for the overnight 22:30 Ankara express to Ankara. Overall, a great day :)

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Monday - Ankara - Goreme and Goreme


I had the alarm set for 6:45am on Monday morning as our train was due to arrive in Ankara at 7:07am. We were up and ready just in time without any rushing. Turns out that we could have had an extra hour in bed as our train didn't get in until just gone 8am! From the train station we had to get to the ASTI bus station where we were going to get a bus to Goreme in Cappdocia. According to my LP there was a metro station less than a 10 min walk away so on left the station following the signs for the Metro. On exiting the station however that was it... no sign to the Metro and in fact we didn't even know what street we were on. We were studying our LP determining where to go to next when a German couple came up to us and asked if we knew where to go to next to get to the bus station. We said No but we were working on it and they said fine, they'd wait until we figured it out :) We then decided that as there were 4 of us we'd just get a taxi to the bus station and that was a great idea as the total journey took about 10 mins and only cost 10TL! Talk about saving us alot of trouble and time, and even better we were in time to get the 9am bus to Goreme :) For those folk who might be visiting Ankara soon and looking for that mysterious metro station... take a left on exiting the station and it's about 2 mins down the road as we discovered on return the next night!

We had a bit of time before the bus so Dave grabbed a coffee. I reckoned that it looked a little nasty (yes I am fussy) so thought I'd hold off for later. Bad idea. Our bus departed at 9am and left on the dot. After leaving there was an attendant bringing around water and the coffee which I said yup to. Unfortunately it was 3 in 1 one... coffee and milk too. Yuk! By the time that we got to Goreme after 2pm I had a pounding headache! I may only drink one coffee a day but it would appear that my body does not react well if it does not get that one coffee!

After checking in to our guest house (the lovely Arch Palace where our room was only 40 euros for the night!) where we were shown to a spotless bedroom after Mustafa laid our a rather busy 23 hrs itinerary for us. Once we were in our room we decided that we'd do a subset of his itinerary as we were on holidays after all! We had a quick change... we had been on a bus for over 5 hrs remember, and then out for some lunch. For the first, and last time in Turkey I saw falafel on a menu so so I had a falafel plate for my lunch! I could have done with a coffee but it was gone 3pm so much too late in the day for me for that.

Cart & Vines

After lunch we wandered up Museum Rd... we had considered going in to the Open Air Museum but it closes at 5pm so we felt that that would make for a fairly rushed visit around and that it would be best left until the Tues morning. Instead we visited the El Nazar Killise (one of the little old byzantine churches) and then just sat and enjoyed the view for a while.

El Nazar Killise Interior

El Nazar Killise

Based on the recommendation of the helpful Mustafa we had dinner in Dibek that evening. We'd made our reservation earlier as we were going to have Testi Kebap for dinner and, when cooked properly and not just for tourists, it needs to be baked for at least 3 hrs in advance of eating. I'm not sure that I found the vegetarian version as tasty as I expected but the overall dinner experience was fantastic... floor cushions around a low circular table and a generally relaxing experience :)

Waiting for Dinner II

Waiting for Dinner I

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Sunday - Istanbul


Up, not particularly early (9am) and down to a wonderful breakfast on the terrace. Lots of cheeses, breads, tomatoes, cucumber and freshly squeezed OJ. Yummy!! The terrace was on the Bosphorous and if I walked out to the edge of it the Mosque in Ortakoy Sq was visible. A wonderful first breakfast :)


Ortakoy Mosque

While in Istanbul breakfast was to be my favourite meal - bread and cheese, tomatoes, cucumber. That is, the only one not dominated by meat and containing some of my favourite foods... bread and cheese :)

We checked out about 11:30 and jumped in a taxi down to the tram station (~7TL or 3.50 euros). While we were waiting for the tram to leave Dave realised that he'd left his camera back at the hotel so we quickly jumped off. I reckon we were pretty lucky that he realised this at this point rather than later in the day when there'd have been a lot more retracing of steps involved! We were due to get the Ankara Express at 22:30 that night so our plan for the day was to get the ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul to the train station and to leave our bags in the luggage lockers there. The ferry crossing across was lovely - lovely to see some of the sites that we would be visiting later in the week... like the Tokapi Palace below.

Topkapi Palace Museum from a Boat

Then back to the ferry to the European side on to tram and off to the New Town. The trams in Istanbul are great; I don't think we waited more than 2 mins (literally) at any point during the whole week for a tram. But then, I guess in a city with a population of 14 million people I guess the transport has to keep running very frequently. The other thing that Istanbul has alot of is cats. Many many cats...
Regal Setting for a Cat

We wandered around there for a bit, some less than exciting lunch and at 5pm we saw a whirling Dervish ceremony in the cultural centre. We had been planning to see a ceremony performed by monks in the monastary but it's closed for renovations. It seems that whirling dervish dancing is 2 a penny in Istanbul and the idea is to look for the authentic thing. We tried but didn't succeed so whether or not what we saw was the real thing or not I don't know but even if not it was very interesting to observe it. What i wasn't expected is that the first 15 minutes or so is just instrumental with some wonderful male chanting by 2 or 3 men. One of them at least had a wonderful voice; quite hypnotic to listen to.

Dervish Ceremony I

Dervish Footwork

Later, we wandered very slowly across the Galata Bridge where there were 100s of men fishing over the edge! Seriously it was the weirdest thing... and considering how busy a shipping strait the Bosphorous is, I'm not sure that I'd want to eat fish out of it (then again that's probably where the fish for my fish sandiwch later on came from!).

Bridge Fishing

We headed in to The New Mosque (only about 400 years old :) ). Outside there were hundreds of people still milling around but the minute you walk in to the courtyard of the mosque a feeling of a quiet descends.

Peace & Quiet

And the interior mosque itselfwas of course very very beautiful! The tiling, the carpets, the light... all very beautiful.

"New Mosque" Interior I

After that we we headed down to get a ferry back across to the Asian side. When we'd wandered along there earlier in the day we'd decided that my best bet for food that evening was one of the famous fish sandwiches that seems to be more than common in Turkey. Effectively it's a mackrel stuck between in a dry bread roll with some parsley/lettuce and maybe some tomato. I mean it was grand but a little on the dry side? I mean I know I can be a little fussy when it comes to what i eat but I don't really understand how this is such a popular meal! Did get a lovely view of the train station that we'd be continuing on to though :)

Haydarpasa Station

After that we wandered up to the train station (Haydarpasa Station) which is the station where all the trains from Asia and within Turkey arrive in to. The train station across the Strait is in Europe and is where all the trains from Europe arrive from. We were booked on the Ankara Express which is all sleepers. Our compartment was surprising spacious, or at least more spacious than I expected. It even included a little fridge containing some crackers, chocolate, water, and sour cheery juice! I do like sleeping on trains... admittedly it's never as sound a sleep as you get in a stationary bed but it was still a good night :)

Istanbul - Departure and Arrival Part I


Left home at 7:50am Sat morning and it was a beautiful day outside. For the first time in what seemed like a long time I walked down to the bus stop wearing a t-shirt and not even feeling slightly chilly! It was wonderfully sunny and warm...

We were sitting beside a young Turkish guy who had spent the previous 4 weeks in Ireland visiting his new born son. He was very friendly without being intrusive and one of the things he said that surprised me is that Turkey is not a really a coffee nation. Turns out that he was right... :)

We arrived in Istanbul a little after 5pm, where to my consternation it was not warm and was raining! Luckily at least we weren't having to wander around in that rain - we got a metro from the airport and then a tram and from there we jumped in a taxi for the last leg (the alternative was bus) and finally checked in sometime after 7:30.

We spent our first night in Ortakoy in the Radisson Blu thanks to Dave's hotel points. It was a v nice hotel but not sure that I would think it's worth it if you were paying their prices. The room was v comfortable but both of us heard the thudding music from the club downstairs during the night!

Our first evening was a baked potato with, I have to admit a scary amount of salt added to it. It got added so fast I didn't know how to react! Weirdly it didn't taste overly salty. There were loads of stalls/cafes selling these baked potatoes and they all seemed to have exactly the same toppings. Really not sure how they distinguish themselves from their competitors!

No photos from the first evening but not to worry, I made up for it during the rest of the week :)