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I'm an Aussie who likes wandering all over the world but keeps coming back home to paradise and my family. If you are reading this on one of my travel blogs, I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed creating them. If you are reading the Diabetes and weight loss blog - I hope it helps in your battle with the beast. Cheers, Alan

Monday, October 09, 2006

Istanbul Wandering

Travel Dates 5th - 8th May 2006

It's funny how the best laid plans of mice and men can go awry - and then result in better outcomes.

When I first planned the trip it became clear that my best option was one of the "One World Alliance" packages, in this case "Global Explorer". Initially my plans were to fly Singapore-Dubai-Cairo-Frankfurt, to ensure all daylight short flights for Lorraine's comfort. But that depended on a flight by Swiss Air. Just before I booked the ticket, Lufthansa took over Swiss and they ceased their association with One World and became a Star Alliance airline. So, I had to find another route. Eventually, I worked out the final route via Istanbul. Serendipity - what a fortunate accident, and what a fascinating and historic city.

I spent a lot of time reading reports from TripAdvisor, Venere, and other hotel booking information sites and eventually booked at the Zeynep Sultan for €64 per night via Venere. We weren't impressed at the first room they put us in, but that was fixed the following morning. The free shuttle from the airport was good (although it wasn't free for return but it was a reasonable price), the staff were friendly and the bed comfortable in the small rooms. The hotel was in a wonderful location in an alley near to everything. In fact, if they hadn't had such good sound-proofing it would have been far too close to the muezzins at 5:30 am. Many rock groups would kill to have amplifiers that loud - I'm sure some must have their own power stations.

The first picture is the view of the Aya Sofia from the front door of the hotel. The view with the pink building on the right is the wall of the Topkapi from the hotel breakfast roof terrace.

The mosque minaret is beside the breakfast terrace - with loudspeakers suitable for a football final in a 200,000 seat stadium.

I'll post separate reports on the Aya Sofia, an incredible building with a fascinating history of it's own, the Topkapi, and the Basilica Cisterns later.

We did our usual thing - wandering, riding on trams, eating at cheap diners and occasionally excellent restaurants, and generally relaxing. At one stage we got lost in the guest worker quarter. In chatting to them in sign language and occasional English most appeared to be from the horn of Africa - Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea - all seemed friendly and cheerful. At no stage did we ever feel threatened in the back streets of Istanbul. or any of the streets, except from some of the drivers of trams and cabs.

These tea-sellers with their back-pack samovars (?) were plying their trade near the Blue Mosque. Some of the architecture - and building standards - was of the "interesting but I wouldn't want to live there" variety.

Have you ever bought a genuine Turkish/Persian carpet and wondered how it got that wonderful "aged" appearance? Have a look at this guy. We were strolling down the street past the horde of spruikers offering wonderful deals and saw this rug on the road with the owner kneeling on it . We were about to tell the truck driver to stop - but couldn't get his attention, but the owner jumped up and let the truck drive over the rug. Then, after the truck passed out came the shop owner with his safety razor and continued to shave the newness of the pile off the top of the rug, which I'd guess was probably mass-produced somewhere in China.

We enjoyed an afternoon at the Bazaar, but were a little disappointed at the range of goods after the pre-trip reading. However, we found better goods, more variety - and less scrupulous operators - on the alleys outside the "official" Bazaar buildings. Less scrupulous in that I was passed a 250000 lira note as 20 new liras change; I didn't look closely enough, to my cost. The taxi driver did though when I mistakenly gave it to him later. One new lira is a million old lira.

We took a tram over the bridge to the north to a wonderful fresh fish market; well, I thought it was wonderful, Lorraine just thought it was smelly. Istanbul's incredible population of feral cats all thought it was wonderful too. I kept thinking of old TC cartoons. One of the more pleasant moments was a drink at a cafe on the underside of the bridge, over the water (testing the ability of the Fuji F10 to take timer shots here).

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