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Son of the Loud Mouthed American: Part 2 = More Long Winded Trip Ramblings

Son of the Loud Mouthed American: Part 2 = More Long Winded Trip Ramblings

Oct 18th, 2005, 12:31 PM
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Son of the Loud Mouthed American: Part 2 = More Long Winded Trip Ramblings

Continuing a rambling, long winded trip report from 2 1/2 week road trip through Turkey. Part 2!

Next morning it was time to hit the final big three site, Topkapi Palace. Waiting next to the submachine gun toting guards at the gate to the first courtyard, we streamed into the grounds of the palace at 9:00 A.M. alongside the tour groups. A mad rush was made by all to get to the inadequately labeled ticket counter. The windows were fairly dark so you could not see behind them, so there was great difficulty figuring which lines were opened. This morning seemed to be Italian tour group time, so the ticket lines were populated by folks who could not fathom the concept of an organized line. Nonetheless, we purchased our tickets and made a quick trip to the Harem ticket line. Most guidebooks will tell you that the first harem tour is at 9:30 A.M., but while we were there, the first tour did not start until 10:00 A.M. I strongly recommend that you hit this line first thing upon arrival so that you do not spend your whole day here getting a Harem tour time. Guided tours of the Harem are the only way to go, so grin and bear it. Our tour guide was actually entertaining and informative, even though most people on the tour were not paying attention. This was a constant on the few required guided tours we took in Turkey. If you were not Turkish, you would take the English language tour (Turkish or English were the only choices). Therefore you had many people on the tour who either did not speak English or did not care about what was being said in English. After the guided tour we wandered around the rest of Topkapi and saw the Treasury. I'm not a great fan of jeweled goblets and porcelain plates, so a quick glance at the Topkapi Dagger and Spoonmaker's Diamond and we were on our way.

Around the corner from Topkapi is the sadly underappreciated Archaeological Museum. If you are a rubble buff, this museum contains so great treasures and a half dozen patrons to view them. With the exception of the Alexander sarcophagus and the Sidon tombs, the presentation is pretty sparse and the air conditioning is non-existent, but if you like ancient sculpture, this is the place to be.

After a tram ride back to the hotel (the tram is fantastic..... efficient, clean, numerous and air-conditioned), we took a taxi to the Kariye Hotel in the western district to eat lunch at the Asitane Restaurant. Touting old Ottoman recipes as their specialty, this gem of a restaurant is right next to the Kariye Museum (St. Chora Church). The food was great and served in a shady outdoor garden. Only one other table was occupied. It seems that most tourists if they visit this area at all, zip into the Kariye Museum, view the mosaics and then head back to Sultanhamet. The Church is definitely worth a visit, but the areas around the church are worth a visit as well. We took the Lonely Planet Western District walking tour. If you don't mind walking a lot, this tour takes you to the walls and then east through the Fatih district and then north to the Golden Horn. This area of Istanbul is not far away geographically, but very far away otherwise. From what I have read, this is the conservative district of Istanbul. You will see many women in full body covering as opposed to just head scarves. What you won't see are fellow tourists. You will pass many small mosques and churches. You will pass through local shopping districts. You will walk down broad avenues and wind through narrow alleyways. You will not see any fellow tourists. Who could pass up such churches as St. Mary of the Mongols and St. Stephen of the Bulgars. Worth a trip for their names alone! Eventually you will wind your way down to the Golden Horn. Hop on a ferry and head back to tourist civilization.

That night we had dinner at the Hamdi Restaurant, our favorite restaurant of the trip. Located above Eminonu Square, right next to the Spice Bazaar, this multi-floor restaurant and shop has a roof top terrace overlooking Eminonu and Beyoglu. Friendly staff, great food and many locals. Reserve a table with a view and watch the lights come on at dusk. Highly recommended!

The next day we decided to avoid any of the big sites and tourist areas and instead concentrate on a few lesser visited sites and the Beyoglu side of town. We visited the deserted Museum of Islamic and Turkish Arts and the almost deserted Grand Palace Mosaic Museum. Both sites merited a short visit but it would not be a major disappointment if they were missed. A quick walk back through the Cavalry (Arista) Bazaar.... this was a one-block mini version of the Grand Bazaar with most of the same wares. The vendors seem somewhat laid back and non-aggressive, quite different from their Grand Bazaar counterparts. A walk over to the tram station and a quick hop on the tram brought us over to Eminonu Square. Surprisingly since today is Sunday, a lot of stores are closed. We found this to be quite curious in a Moslem country. Blue Laws in Turkey!? Although the Spice Bazaar was closed, next door was the pet and garden market. We crossed under the road and walked across the Galata Bridge, passing hundreds of fisherman. The view from the bridge is amazing..... a sea of minarets, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus, et al.

The "newer" side of Istanbul is only a short walk away, but it really is another world. More cosmopolitan, more modern, more European and less exotic. Taking the "Tunel" underground cable railway north, you arrive at the base of Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping drag of the area. Here most of the stores were open even though it was Sunday, however most of the restaurants here were not open (at least for lunch). Walking up this shopping street is exactly the same as walking any other main shopping drag in any European city. Groups of younger folks all dressed as one would expect young westerners to dress. Hardly a head scarf in sight! I am pleased to say that although western clothing is all the rage here, tattoos and body piercings are not! Instead of a full blown lunch we snacked on simits (Turkish baked rings, kind of a cross between a bagel and a soft pretzel) and fresh orange juice. The further we walked the larger the crowds became. After arriving at Taksim Square, we opted to visit the Military Museum to see the performance of the Mehter band. The museum is a five minute taxi ride north of the square... that is assuming that your taxi driver knows where he's going. Again we were faced with that seemingly unique to Istanbul phenomenon of the taxi driver not knowing where he was going. Now to amplify the absurdity of this tale, the museum was on the same street on which we hailed to taxi. Just driver north for 5 minutes and you are there. My Turkish was good enough to pronounce the name of the museum and the address. The guide book which I handed him clearly showed the address. The cab driver had to leave the cab (with guide book in hand) to ask another cab driver where to go. We got there, but were amused at the experience.

For those of you who really know Turkey, I do not have to talk about the unique role of the military in modern Turkish history. The military views itself as the preserver of Ataturk's secular legacy and takes its role very seriously. The Military Museum is (no surprise!) run under the auspices of the military and is chock full of weapons and artifacts of all kinds. This museum is not for everybody as the copious number of swords, helmets, guns, etc. would really only interest a hard core military buff. But the artifacts are not the star attraction here, rather you come for the Mehter. The Mehter is the traditional Ottoman military band which would march into battle with the troops. Unlike western military bands which served the role of motivating the troops, the Mehter was used to intimidate the enemy. After you view the band and hear the music, you may find it quite intimidating yourself. The audience was comprised of mostly local families, although there was one large Japanese tour group and us two Americans. The performance takes place in a specially designed auditorium in the museum. The band performance is preceded by a 15 minute long introductory film (more like a slide show) which is in English. At the conclusion of the film, the rear walls to the auditorium open up and the band marches in. A great visual spectacle. They perform for about a half hour, then take an intermission break. We did not stay for the second half as the second half performance was preceded by the same introductory film. Besides we had tickets for the sema at the Dervish monastery. A tip for Istiklal Caddesi - you can only buy tickets for the tram at the bottom of the street... do not expect to get tickets at the top of the street and take the tram back down without buying the tickets in advance.

Now for a word about whirling dervishes: everywhere you go in Turkey (at least where the tourists go) you are going to see a purported whirling dervish performance. They are in restaurants, cafes, basketball gymnasiums, outdoor stages....... you name it, you will find it there. The spectacle of the whirling dancers is quite "entertaining", but ultimately people forget that the whirling dervish is part of a religious order and dances (not to entertain tourists) but as part of a religious ceremony. There are many places to see "dervishes", but for my money, the only place to go is the Mevlevi Monastery is Istanbul. Since the 19th century, "tourists" have been allowed to view the sema ceremony at the monastery. Of course in 2005 one has to purchase tickets to do so, but it is money well spent. After a confused taxi ride through some very narrow streets we arrived at the monastery. As Ataturk attempted to shut down the Sufi order, this monastery remained open through the seemingly pretense of being a literary museum. The interior of the monastery is very small so seating is limited. Ventilation is also extremely limited so be prepared for some high temperatures during the summer. Here at the monastery, you get to see "the real deal". This is a real religious order where the dervish participants are not participating in a show for your benefit but rather are engaging in a religious ceremony of which you are very fortunate to observe. The ceremony is quite ritualistic and I would recommend learning about the rituals and symbols before you go. This is a must see visit. The ceremony is spiritual and mystical, the memories of which will last long after you go home. The spectacle of it all is quite beautiful..... you will marvel at the ability of the dancers (of course this is coming from someone who cannot ride the tea cup ride at Disneyworld without becoming quite ill).

After the ceremony, we had dinner at Haci Abdullah. We highly recommend this impeccably clean restaurant which offers the unique opportunity of a non-smoking family section! After dinner we took a cab back to the hotel... or at least to Haghia Sophia. No directions were necessary and on this day we would rather walk a few minutes then to have to try to get another taxi driver to figure out where he was going!

Our final full day in Istanbul was reserved for shopping. We walked to the Grand Bazaar visiting several mosques and tombs along the way. Although one could take the tram to the Bazaar, taking the slower route allows visiting some of the lesser known sites. Lonely Planet has a great walking tour which hits the highlights. I guess I have certainly made known my dislike for the aggressive tactics of the carpet vendors, but let's face it...... if you go to the Grand Bazaar you are voluntarily walking into the lion's den! Let's be honest, this is a major tourist draw so expect all that you don't like about being a tourist in Turkey to confront you here. With the exception of the carpet vendors, the come-ons of the other vendors are pretty light-handed and tame. Of course window shopping and "just looking" are foreign concepts here. If you take a peek in a window, expect the full vendor press. All in all the Grand Bazaar is a great place to pick up some mundane type souvenirs and some nice jewelry. Need I add that bargaining is expected and is a must to take the extremely over-priced to the mere overpriced. Like most Americans, I really do not like to haggle and am always reminded of the haggling scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian (if you know it, forget it). We also bought some great towels and bathrobes at the highly recommended "Dervis" (sp?), perhaps the only place we shopped in that actually had price tags on their goods! Even with bargaining, expect to pay more at the Grand Bazaar than anywhere else in Turkey. For us, we bought everything we wanted souvenir-wise and knew we did not have to worry for the remainder of the trip. We had lunch at a very friendly restaurant (having a senior moment here... it starts with the letter H and is in all the guide books). The owner chatted with us a great length about Istanbul, our previous experiences vs. our present experiences. Hee was so nice that we almost prayed there was no hidden agenda. Alas as the meal ended we were touted on his ceramic shop and asked if we wanted a referral to any other vendors. Yet another sad conversational experience......in our past trip to Istanbul, people who chatted with you did not have an ulterior motive. Unfortunately the same could not be said this time. Anyway, we toted all of our bags back to the hotel and dumped them in the lap of the concierge with instructions to ship them home. A brief note here on the value of a finer hotel, specifically the concierge. At the Four Seasons the concierges provided the following: picking up tickets to the Dervish monastery sema, obtained tickets for our ferry to Yalova, shipped our packages home and arranged for the delivery of our rental car. In addition they can make reservations for you at restaurants (highly recommended as I screwed this up trying it on my own). But I digress...... back to the Grand Bazaar. If you thought the tactics of the carpet touts were aggressive on the streets, you haven't seen anything yet until you get them on their home turf. Some would even try to physically drag you into their stores.... as always the word "no" is not in their vocabulary. I was left wondering who would possibly succumb to these bizarre sales tactics? Obviously someone, or the message may have struck home. Who knows?

Anyway, after leaving all of the packages at the concierge's desk, we headed back towards the Grand Bazaar. We wandered the nearby streets near the university, walking through the book bazaar and passing many smaller non-tourist shops along the way. Our goal was the Suleymaniye Mosque. This mosque is a must-see stop. You may get burned out seeing so many mosques (we never did......but you should hear my father groan when another mosque shows up on the old home movies!). A magnificent architectural gem... don't miss it or the tombs! After visiting the mosque, I would recommend winding through the streets near the mosque to get a good non-tourist feel. You can walk towards the Spice Bazaar passing through kitchen supply and garment districts. Once you get to the garment district area, you will feel that you are in Hong Kong....... a wall-to-wall pedestrian experience. This is the real Istanbul...no tourists, nothing for tourists to buy, the real hustle and bustle of the streets. Eventually you will find yourself back in tourist territory by the Spice Bazaar. Ignore the tourists and load up on pistachio nuts, dried apricots, Turkish delight and apple tea.

Calling it a day, we headed back to the hotel. We arranged to have our rental car delivered to the hotel in order to avoid having to drive through Istanbul. We used Sixt Rental Car, a European rental agency. We rented a Toyota Avensis (which does not seem to have an American equivalent, but seems almost like an Avalon) from Sixt. We have used Sixt on several other European road trips. Their rates are extremely cheap and they offer unlimited mileage. On the down side their cars tend to have higher mileage (26,400 miles / 44,000 kilometers) and their customer service is not the greatest. The car was roomy, had ample trunk space and had nice features. The customer service rep who delivered the car did not speak English, had the wrong return date and did not know how to use the portable credit card machine. Again the concierge came in quite handy as he badgered the Sixt rep into getting everything right. The Four Seasons parked the car at no charge(a European first!) And we were ready to start the road trip portion the next day.

For our final night in Istanbul we decided to eat dinner at the Mavi Ev Hotel. We ate on their rooftop terrace restaurant. The food was OK, not bad, but not great...... but the view overlooking the Blue Mosque was worth the price! A short walk back to the hotel and we were done with our initial visit to Istanbul (we would be coming back at the end of the trip).

Coming soon: across the Sea of Marmara and beyond....
jrlaw10 is offline  
Oct 18th, 2005, 05:59 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
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jrlaw10 - I'm enjoying your report, especially as I don't know when I'll get to Turkey.

Could you post your various parts as replies to your original thread? It makes it easier to find the whole report.
Sue_xx_yy is offline  
Oct 19th, 2005, 09:58 AM
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ira is offline  
Oct 19th, 2005, 10:52 AM
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Your report is really fun to read. Maybe we can make Turkey the focus of our 2007 trip. 2006 is already fixed on central Europe.

Thanks for the wonderful detail. I'll look forward to the next installment.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Oct 20th, 2005, 01:11 PM
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I can't wait to read the next installment! Great report!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Oct 20th, 2005, 06:40 PM
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Can't wait to read more!!
Meredith is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2005, 12:49 PM
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I really appreciate all the detail you've put into your trip report and also the tips on areas that are off the beaten track. Thank you!
Cheesy is offline  
Oct 23rd, 2005, 01:30 PM
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here is the link to part 1
elaine is offline  
Nov 8th, 2005, 06:21 PM
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Sorry all, but in hurricane recovery mode here in South Florida. I will continue when time allows!
jrlaw10 is offline  
Nov 13th, 2005, 10:46 AM
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Hi jrlaw:

I am planning a weekend in Istanbul in December. I am enjoying your trip report immensely and look forward to the next installment.

regards Ger
OReilly is offline  
Nov 17th, 2005, 06:43 AM
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Ohhh -- I want to go back!! Turkey is one of my favorite places -- so many interesting sights, delicious tastes, and exotic smells! The people are wonderful -- friendly and humorous. Anyone looking for a GREAT travel experience MUST go there!!! And venture out of Istanbul -- driving around is not terrible -- the coast is gorgeous, the interior is fascinating. GO, GO, GO!

Thanks for the posts jrlaw10! Looking forward to more!
travelaw is offline  

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