A Little Turkish Time – Vagobond Travel Videos

I realize I’ve been hitting you guys with a lot of Vagobond Travel Videos lately… I hope you are enjoying them. Please smash the subscribe and like buttons – I can’t have a custom URL until I have 100 subscribers. I loved my time in Turkey – I look forward to returning someday in the near future – this one is a bit out of sequence – but don’t worry – there will be more Morocco and Turkey, and everywhere else.

A short version of Istanbul’s long history

Istanbul

(I wrote this back in 2010, but happily share it again – though President Erdogan has moved the city backwards by a lot since I wrote this – it’s a shame, he’s sold the collective property of the Turkish people to his capitalist buddies, re-Islamicized society, and gone to great lengths to undo the amazing work of Kamal Ataturk)

Istanbul, Turkey is a city of neighborhoods and timelessness. It is a place that is utterly modern and yet so steeped in historical places and persons that it defies any attempts at placing it as a city of a specific time or civilization.

The first city was founded by a guy named Byzas about 700 years before Christ. The Delphic Oracle in Greece told him to start a city in a place that was ‘opposite and blind’. They called it Byzantium and figured everyone else must have been blind not to see this spot, since on the opposite side of the Bosporus there was a city in a less perfect spot.

And so it went until 196 AD when the city was destroyed and rebuilt and named Augusta Antonia. Personally, I think Byzantium sounds better. It stayed a Roman City and in 330 AD it was renamed again, the more familiar sounding Constantinople after Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made it his capital. Later in 537, Emperor Justinian had the Aya Sophia (Hagia Sophia) built and it remained the largest Christian church for 1000 years.
In 1451, the chariot races at the Hippodrome came to stop when Sultan Mehmet II of the Ottoman’s conquered the city and turned the Ayasophia into the world’s largest mosque. He also had the Topkapi Palace built. Sutan Ahmet later built the famous Blue Mosque.Istanbul

After picking the wrong side in World War II, the Turks struggled to get their independence and Mustapha Kamal (Attaturk) moved the capital to Ankara so that it wouldn’t be vulnerable by sea. This left Constantinople as Istanbul. (That’s Istanbul not Constantinople) The city was a bit of an aging and decrepit place but in the past four decades she has undergone some massive beauty treatments and is now once again the Paris of the East.

Frankly, I like Istanbul better than Paris. Like Paris, Istanbul has been the home of writers, painters, great intellects, and radicals. She’s a city I’ll gladly pay for again and again.

Buying Property in Turkey – How to do it as a yabanci (foreigner)

(I wrote this back in 2012, but it may still be useful – so I am republishing it now)

Buying Property in TurkeyIf you are like me…when you come to Turkey you are going to want to stay here. While there are plenty of things that make life in Turkey challenging for foreigner (Yabanci prounounced yabangee) buying property isn’t one of them.

Buying property in Turkey is actually a very straight forward process. In fact, it’s actually easier than many other countries both in Europe and the Americas. First of all:

Find the property you want to buy and at this point you will need to pay the deposit on it. You can do this with cash or credit card. You can’t pay it with a personal check but a bank transfer will work. Usually, the deposit is 10-20% of the total price. When you pay this to the property owner, you get a receipt and the amount is written into the contract.

You will need your passport and 4-8 passport size photos. At this point a Turkish attorney will prepare a contract for the purchase – you are paying them and they are actually there to help you, not the seller, make sure that the attorney isn’t also representing the seller and preferably doesn’t know them. Next you go to the notary public and if you aren’t going to be in Turkey during the purchase, you give your agent the power of attorney so they can obtain the title deeds in your absence. If you are in Turkey, not necessary. Back to the attorney and you and the seller will sign the sales contract with the address,payment details, etc.
Next:

Your papers will be forwarded to the Land Registry office for all documentation relating to the purchase is then forwarded to the Land Registration office in Izmir. Here everything is checked and then the title deeds ( TAPU ) are re-issued in the new owners name and forwarded back to the local Land Registration office who, in turn contact your agent. This process usually takes 6-8 weeks. Your agent will advise you of this when it happens. At this time you will need to pay the final balance plus the 3% property tax.

Buying Property in TurkeyThe extras that you will pay on top of the purchase price are:
• A 3% of the property value tax. This is a once off payment and it is due for payment once the TAPU is received.
• The lawyer’s fee. Prices start from about $400 U.S. and will vary depending on which lawyer you choose to use.
• An approximate $200 Notaries Charge for giving us the Power of Attorney to handle the documents relating to the property in your absence (if you are out of country)
• A 3% agency fee that covers all agents commision and charges. This is usually payable at the time that the contract is made, together with the initial deposit payment on the property but may be able to be negotiated in certain circumstances.
• It is compulsory to have earthquake insurance and we recommend you take out Full insurance home and contents cover as soon as the house is registered in your name.(the cost of this varies depending on the value of the property, it’s contents for the number of months it will be occupied.) Approximately$300
• The connection of Water and Electricity into your name so the bills will come directly to your house. Does not apply to some properties.

This is an idea of costs for the purchase of a property of $100,000
Property price $100 K
Tax @ 3% $3000
Solicitor $1000
Notary’s fee $200
Agency Fee @ 3% $3000
Full insurance
(incl. earthquake cover) $300
Utility
Connections $360
TOTAL $107,860
Once you have received your TAPU there are some other charges, which need to be paid. Estimated annual costs per property to be as follows:
Electricity $250
Water / Sewage $100
Gas $50
Rubbish removal$20
Site maintenance $400
DigiTurk Satelite TV $300
Council tax $30
TOTAL $1140

It is not necessary to pay anyone to pay bills. Electric can be paid by automatic standing order once you have a bank account. Water bills are intermittent and likewise your council tax can be paid when you visit annually. And be aware that you may still need online tax software if you are a legal resident of North America.

Places I’ve Lived #22 – Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul

Estimates say that there are approximately 20-million people living in Istanbul. No one really knows for sure. I was one of them for about six-months in early 2011. I loved living in Istanbul.

As mentioned previously, my wife had left Manisa and returned to Morocco and the comfort of being around her mother and sisters when we discovered she was pregnant. I went to Izmir to look for a better teaching job but found mostly empty promises. My friend Gaye owned a hotel in Istanbul and when she heard that I was looking for work offered me a position. It was a sort of strange role as IT manager and hotel manager combined. In any event, the pay was good and the position worked for me. I rented a tiny little apartment with a view of the Bosphorus and set about trying to build a life for my wife and our coming baby.

Here’s a funny note – when I was a stock broker in Portland, Oregon – I was chatting with one of my clients about life and travel – we got philosophical and this wealthy and intelligent guy stopped me and said “You know what you need to be doing? You need to be running one of those amazing old guest houses on the shores of the Bosphorus in Istanbul” Nearly a decade later, it was exactly what I was doing.

IstanbulThings went pretty well. My website businesses were taking off and I made a lot of friends quickly. It’s easy to make friends with Turkish people. I drank a lot of black tea, enjoyed a lot of performances and gallery shows, and sometimes drank a bit too much rakia – the anise flavored Turkish liquor that goes hand in hand with delicious fish. I fell completely in love with Turkish cuisine and I took cooking classes, explored ancient parts of the city, and became an active member of the local couch surfing groups. Life was beautiful – the only problem was that my pregnant wife was on another continent. I wasn’t happy about that – Turkey had a far better health care system than Morocco and our plan had been that when I found a new place to live and a job, she would return to Turkey.  It was her first pregnancy however (and mine) and I understood that being around her family, her mother, her sisters and people who spoke her own language were important for her sense of safety and well-being. As we got closer to the time of birth – with summer in glorious bloom and Istanbul bustling with activity – my friend offered me a better and more permanent position – I was ready to accept – but I needed to have my wife as a part of the decision.

At this point, she informed me that she wanted to stay in Morocco after the baby was born. I could understand wanting to stay for a little while – but that wasn’t what she was talking about. I had to choose between being a father in a country that I loved but didn’t particularly want to live in any longer – or having a great job in a city that I was completely in love with – but not really playing a role in my baby’s early development and life. It wasn’t really a choice at all. I packed up my life, stored what wouldn’t fit into two suitcases in the basement of the hotel, and went back to Morocco.

IstanbulI rented an apartment in Sefrou and dove into the process of getting my wife a green card. I knew one thing for sure, I didn’t want my baby girl to grow up in a world where women were relegated to far less than equal. If we couldn’t live in Turkey – I would take them both back to the USA – even though I never really had any desire to return once I had left. Our daughter was born. I wanted to name her Aya Sophia but my wife asked the Moroccan authorities and they said she couldn’t be named Aya because it meant ‘Saint’ – it turns out it was some clerk who didn’t actually know but simply expressed his opinion as a law – which my wife took it as. So instead we named our beautiful little girl Sophia, meaning ‘wisdom’ in Greek. The Aya Sofia Hotel was where I had been working and the Aya Sofia Mosque was the largest Christian cathedral for 1000 years and the largest Muslim Mosque for almost as long. It had become a secular monument under Ataturk. I felt like it was a beautiful and symbolic name which held where she was born, who her parents were, and our hopes for her future. As to a middle name – I never liked my own – so I decided that we would leave that space blank and let her fill it in on her own someday. I hadn’t really expected to win the naming battle, but it turned out that because Morocco still functions as a patriarchy – it was my decision. For that, I am grateful.

Back in Morocco, I focused on my web and blogging businesses with some success while jumping through the many hoops involved in getting a green card and making sure my daughter got American citizenship from the beginning. When she was 18 months old – we finally had approval for my wife’s green card. It was time for us to emigrate to the USA.

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul StreetcarIstanbul has been variously known in history as Byzantium and Constantinople. It sits squarely on the intersection of Asia and Europe with the city having an Asian side and a European side. The Bosphorus Strait runs between. Official estimates put the population at somewhere around 15 million but unofficial estimates are much higher. Officially it is the world’s 4th largest city and the largest in Europe. It was the Roman imperial capital for nine centuries and then the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate for another five centuries. All told it served as an imperial capital for sixteen centuries! There are few cities with as much history as Istanbul.  Istanbul is one of the great cities of all of human history, the art, the architecture, the bridges, the sport, the food, the culture. There is nowhere else like Istanbul.

Places I’ve Lived #21 – Izmir, Turkey

In a way, I feel like I’m cheating when I say I lived in Izmir, Turkey. The main reason is that in the criteria I set out in the beginning of this process of documenting where I lived specified that I needed to be working and paying rent in a place to have it listed – technically, I wasn’t working while I lived in Izmir – I was looking for work and learning how to make a living from a travel blog (this one, actually).  But there is no time for that sort of waffling.

Izmir was wonderful and difficult at the same time. I moved into an apartment with two Turkish heavy metal-heads. My wife was pregnant and back in Morocco and I was suddenly living a bit of a rock star lifestyle – going to shows, hanging out with friends in Izmir, and (really) looking for work during the day. I LOVED living in Izmir. It was this bizarre couple of months when the universe gave me a chance to breathe – my wife was safe and happy with her mother, I was unemployed but had a little bit of money coming in and was surrounded by friends, and I was in one of the most exciting places on the planet. Izmir is cool.

Izmir has great food, great events, and great sport. The Gozetepe football team is one of the best in the world. I’m not going to write too much because I was only there for three months…my job hunt came up with many promises but few offers. Turkish schools in Izmir typically made this offer – “We are going to give you the best offer ever” – when I expressed interest they would say “The best offer ever comes after completing two years of the worst offer ever…really”. I didn’t accept any.

Eventually, after a lot of fun and a lot of searching – my friend Gaye offered me a job working at her hotel in Istanbul. I packed up and headed up there. After all, I had a wife and a baby on the way – I couldn’t afford to just hang around Izmir like a millionaire playboy…

Izmir, Turkey

Izmir has a population of around 3 million making it the second largest city on the Aegean besides Athens and the third largest city in Turkey. In ancient times it was known as Smyrna. Izmir has 8500 years of history in the same location and when you walk around this city, you can feel it.

Izmir is an amazing city filled with progressively minded and forward thinking people. It is the gateway to the Aegean with ferries running to many Greek and Turkish Islands.

Alexander the Great, the Selcuks, the Ottomans, the Romans – they all had their day in Izmir. And I had mine too.

 

 

Places I’ve Lived #20 – Manisa, Turkey

Throne of PelopsWe went to Manisa on our honeymoon and since I’d blogged my way out of a pretty good job in Fez, I turned it into a job interview with a school there. I’d been emailing the director and he had said to come anytime and he would show us around. So we did.

The bus ride there from Istanbul was long and beautiful. We passed mountains and streams and finally came to a city with a large mountain behind it. It felt good to me. I called the director and he gave us directions.

We got to the school and met with the director. Manisa is primarily a business city and so it doesn’t have all the cheap or luxurious options for travelers that other cities in Turkey have. Otel Emirhan was fine and offered us a/c, television, breakfast, wi-fi, hot water showers, and a decent bed in a clean room. Once we had settled in a bit, we went to a great little cafe where we met with a second director from a different school.

I  had the interviews, but we both ended up getting jobs at the school with the second director! We moved to Manisa, Turkey!

There were plenty of shops, movie theaters (that even sometimes have films in English), big green parks, a beautiful old mosque, and a lively souk filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and more. Manisa is also home to the famous “Tarzan of Manisa”

It’s  in the mountains, has plenty of hiking nearby, wild horses, it’s a 30-minute bus ride from the beach city of Izmir, and in ancient times Manisa was where Turkish Sultan’s used to undergo their Sultan Training. Furthermore, Manisa was named one of the best cities to do business in for all of Europe. So,it all seemed pretty great to us.

We went back to Morocco for two weeks and then I returned to Manisa. I was there for almost two months before my wife came to join me. The school was good. I loved my students and I got along well with all the other teachers and the directors. They helped me get a residence permit, a bank account, and to get all the things I needed. When my wife arrived, things got more complicated. Since she was Moroccan, it was more difficult to get her a residence permit. She felt like the school was cheating her. Our relationship with the directors and some of the other teachers took an adversarial turn.

She had to make a visa run to renew her visa so I booked her a flight to Morocco. Then we found out she was pregnant. She wanted to take two weeks to a month back in Morocco but was needed in classes. I was suddenly feeling like papa bear and things turned ugly when they wouldn’t agree to let her have the time off. I felt like it was important – it was Christmas and she was pregnant – she needed to be with her mom. They threatened to fire her. I gave them an ultimatum that if she couldn’t have the time off, they would have to fire me too. So they did.

She flew home and I started looking for a new job and a new place to live since I’d been renting our apartment from the school. I loved Manisa but figured I would have more luck and a better life in nearby Izmir.

Manisa, Turkey – Ancient Tantalus and Magnesia

The ancient name of Manisa was Magnesia, the name comes from the magnets which come from Sypil mountain, also known in ancient times as Tantalus. The entire mountain is, in fact, one huge magnet. Stories of magnetic gold being found here, and stories of the Olympian Gods struggling with humans also come from this amazing mountain.

Cities here date back as far as 5000 BC and some researchers have postulated that it was a highly advanced city on Sypil that was swallowed into a great lake during a large earthquake. The great lake no longer exists, except as a minor body of water, but geologic evidence shows that there was one, it did exist, and there is some evidence to show that this was actually the site of a civilization of which we know very little. What was the name of this city?
Atlantis. And of course, with stories growing and changing it is more than likely that from a relatively advanced civilization being destroyed in a large lake that the story could grow to a continent sinking into a sea. Not unlikely at all.

Atlantis in Turkey
Tantalus was named after the first King of this region. Tantalus, the son of Zeus. Keep in mind that Homer came from the nearby city of Izmir and he is the first one to write of ‘magnets’ in historical records.
It should also be mentioned that many of the sages of ancient Ionia said that the word magnet actually meant spirit. And the name Sipylos comes from greek and means ‘Gate of the Gods’.

Tantulaus in Manisa
 

3 Continents, 4 Countries, & 6 Cities in 24 Hours! #FlashbackFriday

So far, I haven’t exceeded this record that I set back in 2011. To be honest, it was a little too much, too fast. 

Skopje, MacedoniaThis was a new personal best. Skopje-Sofia-Istanbul-Casablanca-Fes-Sefrou and all in time to give flowers to my sweet wife on Valentines.

What’s your personal best? Comment below.

I was pretty proud of the hell bent for leather nature of this trip.

From Skopje I took a bus to Sofia where I said hi to Tim and Peppy and then caught an overnight train to Istanbul. That day I caught a flight from the Asian side of the Bosphorus to Casablanca, Morocco thus leaving Europe going to Asia and then to Africa.

Sofia, BulgariaFrom Casablanca, I caught the train to Fes where I then took a taxi to Sefrou. Once in Sefrou, I just caught my breath and spent a lovely ten days with my wife and her family (though, it can be exhausting to be around the family- but that’s normal with in-laws, right?)

So – Europe to Asia to Africa
Macedonia to Bulgaria to Turkey to Morocco
Skopje to Sofia to Istanbul to Casablanca to Fes to Sefrou
Not bad for a day’s travel.

Total distance: 4090 Kilometers

I’ve gone further in a day, but not covering as many countries, cities, and continents.

 

 

Istanbul
Istanbul

Night Train Istanbul to Bulgaria

Casablanca Morocco

Fez Medina Fes Morocco

Aesthetic Feasting at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

In 2010, my wife and I were married in Morocco – two months later we took our honeymoon trip to Turkey. At the end of our trip, we were again at the Ayasofia Hotel where we had begun it. 

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Checking into the Ayasofya Hotel, we found ourselves with one last day ahead of us. Hanane was exhausted but there were a few things I still wanted to see before we left Turkey.

I walked up the street past the Blue Mosque and across the Hippodrome to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts while Hanane showered and took a nap in our big plush bed. The museum holds a wealth of Turkish and Islamic art from the Ottoman and Seljuk periods along with beautiful pieces and implements from as early as the 8th Century A.D.

The museum building itself is the palace of Ibrahim Pasha which was built by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s own architects. Ibrahim Pasha was Suleyman’s Grand Vizier from 1523 to 1536. The building has elements which date back to 1500.
Ibrahim was choked to death and his wealth taken by the imperial government when after the Sultan’s death he voiced support for the wrong prince. That’s why I usually don’t pick one Prince over another.

The museum is filled with Turkish carpets, illuminated Qurans, calligraphy (at which the Ottomans excelled), carved and inlaid wood, glass, porcelain and stone treasures. I went through quicker than I would have preferred but felt that this was more of an exploratory mission.

The Turkish ethnographic exhibits were interesting though quite a bit like modern life in rural Morocco, I saw many things that are used daily in the house of my in-laws laid out as museum pieces.

I would have enjoyed lingering but a Canadian film crew was there and had set up some very hot lights for a TV shoot in that section.

A modern Turkish arts section in the front was small but had an interesting exhibit of claiigraphic embroidery which I enjoyed a lot.

While I was out I booked us seats at a Whirling Dervish performance. Originally, I had thought we might be going to Konya to see the real thing (no admission and not really for tourists) but since we hadn’t I thought it would be a shame to leave Turkey without seeing the whirling dervishes for which the country is famed.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art is open from 9 to 5 (closed Monday). Admission is 10 Lira.

Shores of the Bosphorus – Istanbul’s Beautiful and Important Waterway

Back in 2003, I worked as a stock broker. I enjoyed the interaction with customers, but didn’t really like the pushy sales aspect of it. I would sometimes have long and wandering conversations with my potential clients – one of them, a New Yorker named Joel stopped me during a pitch for Krispy Kreme donuts one day and said out of the blue “What the hell are you doing working as a stockbroker? You need to quit that job, move to Turkey and open a guest house on the shores of the Bosphorus!” I should have listened to him, but instead slogged through stock broking for a while more, wrote some books, worked as a commercial fisherman, and eventually became a tour guide in Hawaii – before finally ending up on the shores of the Bosphorus nearly a decade later…now in 2019, I look back at the time I was in Turkey (from 2010-2012) as one of the most deeply fulfilling periods in my life – largely because of my connection with the Bosphorus…I have no idea how he knew – but Joel was right. I wrote the following while I was there.

IstanbulIt’s impossible not to love Istanbul. This magnificent city of 17 million people, more than 5000 years of history, and more than a little bit of shopping, sight seeing, and culinary adventuring.

Istanbul is divided into two major parts…Europe and Asia. In fact, Istanbul (that’s Constantinople) is made up of the oriental, the occidental, and everything in between.

Those who come here and have the money, like to stay at the 5 star Ciragan Palace Kempinski Hotel which sits alongside the Bosphorus and boasts gardens, shops, and ultra fine dining.The high school next door used to be a harem. There is a helipad so you can land your helicopter. The master suite is just 15,000 Euros per night (About $22,500 at current exchange rates)Those who don’t have the money can find plenty of other options like the Four Seasons which used to be a famous jail. Or maybe you want to search Istanbul hostels.

In terms of transportation, the tram (metro) is by far the easiest and most hassle free, but in Istanbul, the taxis aren’t too expensive, they just take longer to get anywhere because of the traffic. As for buses, too crowded for me, but sometimes necessary. It’s that or driving and frankly…do you want to drive in a city of 17 million? No freaking way.

IstanbulTurks are incredibly nationalistic and you see the beautiful red flags and the images of the modern day founder of Turkey Mustapha Kemal Ataturk everywhere -as you should. Ataturk created a state that could have easily become fascist but instead, he turned it into a Republic and handed over the reins of power. A rare and amazing hero.

Still, it’s not all wonderful. Plenty of cabbies will charge unwitting foreigners Euro fares and give change in lira. There are rip offs in rug merchant shops, restaurants, and souvenir shop. Just the other day, a longtime Istanbulu immigrant friend and I sat down for lunch without asking the prices first. Complacency is not your friend. The cost was a staggering 47 lira…about three times what we normally would pay. The moral, Pay Attention or Pay Too Much.
Here’s an example: you give the cabbie 50 Lira. He drops it when you aren’t paying attention and then tells you that you only gave him 5 lira and he demands the rest of the payment. Since the notes are the same color and you are new to Turkish money, you apologise for the mistake and give him a 100% bonus. Lame, but it happens.

One of the things I love about Istanbul is that it is a friendly city to not only western tourists but also to eastern and Muslim tourists. In this city you see fully veiled Saudi women and their families eating next to distastefully clad housewives from Orange County and their families. It’s equal opportunity for East and West. Same goes for when you go to the hamams, the bazaars, or into the mosques…of course, in the mosques, hopefully everyone is covered appropriately.

IstanbulIstanbul is a city filled with bars, restaurants, shops and ancient historical sites. From museums to the nightlife in Taksim to Friday prayers to just wandering around Beyoglu and finding Ottoman Palaces that are falling down and held up by nothing but vines right next to brand new apartment buildings. Compare and contrast and no wonder so many American’s ask why the city is so rundown….it’s not rundown, it’s 5000 years old. The decrepit next to the sparkling new is something we don’t see in the segregated west. In Istanbul the poor neighborhood might have rich people and the rich neighborhood will certainly have poor people. No economic segregation going on here. It’s real. Modernity becomes part of history eventually…and in Istanbul you can see what was once modern but now is ancient.

IstanbulAnd then there is the food. Far from being just kebabs and chorba (soup) there is a wide and varied cuisine in Istanbul from pide and pizza to homemade ravioli, balik ekmek (fish sandwiches) and then there is the palace food. Palace food tends to be the over the top stuff the Ottoman Sultans enjoyed. Things like quail inside duck inside goose inside something even bigger. The Ottoman version of Turduken.
If you prefer you can find Indian, Chinese, and even Mexican food. I have to say though, the tacos aren’t as satisfying and the sushi, well…it’s expensive and not quite right. Still, it is here. And then there is the view although I find this equation to be fairly good: the better the view the worse the food up to about 40 lira. After 40 lira the food begins to taste good again. So, want a good view…make sure you don’t scrimp or the taste will ruin the view for you.

And the view is great whether you are looking at the famous Blue Mosque, the amazing wonder of the world the Aya Sofya or even the tree lined and ancient Constantinople Hippodrome. Mosques, Churches, Greek and Roman Ruins, and plenty of museums showing everything from ancient Lydian to modern Istanbulu art. The view in Istanbul is like no other.

IstanbulEven the over the top Topkapi Palace which sits like a jewel on the crown of the Sultanahmet area is now available for you to sip tea in or have your breakfast next to. It wasn’t always this way since this was the political and cultural center of the Ottoman Empire when it was the strong man of the world, rather than the sick man of Europe.

Like all of Istanbul there are more than a few fat cats, plenty of wild (though tagged) dogs, and no shortage of grassy places to enjoy a picnic. Plus you can see the staff of Moses and the sword of Mohammad among other religious relics. No one seems willing to tell me if they’ve tried throwing the staff down and making it into a snake though. if you tend towards the more worldly treasures you might enjoy seeing the Topkapi Dagger or the Spoonmakers Diamond (5th largest in the world). One local friend told me that the Prophet Abraham’s missing saucepan is also in the museum…now how in the world did that happen?

IstanbulStill, Topkapi is for Amateurs, the Pros head to Dolmabahce Palace over on the other side of the Golden Horn.

The Versailles of Istanbul is worthy of the name and whereas you don’t get to see all of Topkapi, Dolmabahce is thrown in front of you like a white slave before the potential Ottoman buyers looking to diversify their harems. Beautiful, dangerous, and well…expensive. All the yellow metal you see there is real gold.

Istanbul

Go out at night in Istanbul and you will find that the gold changes hands quickly and easily as the frantic hustle and dance of one of the world’s largest cities never stops. From the junk buyers to the carpet sellers, everyone is still working at night and those who aren’t are taking vanity to extremes as they show what modern, hip, young, rich Istanbul is all about. Watch a Turkish soap opera and you might think things are exaggerated. They aren’t.

As for food, you can spend little at the food stalls in Mehene, Nevisade Sokak and Kumkapi. Or you can spend as much as a corrupt Vizier somewhere else. And if you want to spend, there isn’t a better place to do it than in the clubs. Step into a club and the price of drinks goes 3 to 20 times higher than elsewhere but that’s all about the status of being there. You are there drinking, so obviously you have plenty. This is where you go if you want to impress the other sex and there is one thing that impresses Turkish women more than anything else…. When I was teaching, I would ask my students what was more important Love or Money…out of hundreds of Turkish students only two girls ever said love. Money is where it’s at and if you aren’t flashing it, you’re missing out on the ‘action’ in Istanbul.

Istanbul

But hopefully, you won’t miss out on experiencing real life here. The life on the streets, drinking tea, riding the ferry with commuters, playing backgammon on the streets, or just walking around the next corner to see something that is unexpectedly beautiful.

There is one more area where you will need your wallet…shopping. Istanbul is filled with shopping and while the prices can be very reasonable, you can also spend as much as you want. Prices will vary by as much as 1000% from shop to shop. Seriously. Where is the shopping in Istanbul? …everywhere. Literally.

But there is no place to shop like the Grand Bazaar (even if the prices are two to three times higher there for most things) With more than 4,000 shops spread in some 60 streets along with a post office, a bank and a mosque of its own with even  a health centre within the Grand Bazaar. And I might add, this is all covered. It’s the first indoor shopping mall and it is filled with carpets, ceramics, antiques, jewellery, gold and well…everything else.

Pay a visit to Café Bedestan. It’s worth the trouble and finding it will be your adventure. Just go in the Grand Bazaar and start asking.

Also everywhere is the ambiance, the feeling and a part of that is the smells. From the spice market to the smell of coal being used to heat samovars to the smell of cigarettes wafting out of a chai shop. It’s all a part of this incredible place.

Istanbul

And as we are talking about tobacco, it is a good idea to mention the nargile (hookah) cafes. Sheesha is usually just tobacco with some molasses and maybe a bit of apple. It’s smoked without contact to the fire and filtered through water. Nope, it’s not dope. Used to be it was opium or weed, but now…sorry hippies, just tobacco. Still, it can be fun, relaxing, and more than a few people claim it gives them a buzz.

The real buzz though is just wandering around the streets of Istanbul and seeing all the wonders that exist here…

The Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet in Istanbul, Turkey – #flashbackfriday

Blue Mosque IstanbulOn our honeymoon trip to Turkey back in 2010, my wife and I were excited to visit the famed Blue Mosque in Sultan Ahmet, the monument and tourist section of Istanbul.

The Sultan Ahmet region is named for Sultan Ahmet I who ruled from 1603 to 1617 AD. The Sultan Ahmet Mosque, known as the Blue Mosque was built near the Aya Sophia to provide a greater wonder than that of the Hagia Sophia. It was commissioned by the Sultan and designed by Mehmet Aga and what the Aya Sophia offers in terms of interior is surpassed by the exterior of the Blue Mosque.
Just a short walk from the Aya Sophia, the Blue Mosque was also crowded with tourists.

In all of Morocco, the only Mosque that non-Muslims can enter is the Hassan II mosque in Casablanca. In Turkey, anyone can go in. We entered the Blue Mosque with reverence but some Muslims from other countries get a little outraged to see Buddhists, Christians, women in shorts, and other non Muslims inside one of the world’s great mosques.

As we entered it was nearly the time for prayer and the guards were getting the non-Muslims to leave. Prayer was a little different from prayer in both Morocco and Hawaii.

Blue Mosque Istanbul

The call to prayer in Istanbul is coordinated between the many mosques so that you don’t get the same warbling effect you get between mosques in Morocco all sounding the call to prayer at slightly different moments. Instead, it is more like a symphony with the various mosques singing point and counterpoint. The call to prayer itself is different than that in Morocco and many Turkish Muslims don’t know how to read Arabic script, the language of the Koran. They often know the words, but not the meanings and thus the prayers can be less detailed than those of Arabic speaking countries.

Blue Mosque IstanbulWhen the mosque was built, it rivaled the Kabaa mosque in Mecca and the six minarets were equal in number to those of the Kabaa. In order to keep the peace, Sultan Ahmet built a seventh minaret in Mecca in order to show that he wasn’t moving the center of Islam to a new capital, though in effect, that is what he did, at least for a time.

The Blue Mosque is a geometric wonder in that the outer courtyard is exactly the same size as the interior and it’s proportions and measurements all align with the concepts of sacred geometry. It was built in the ten years between 1606 and 1616. Sultan Ahmet I died just a year after the Mosque was completed. His tomb is located in a separate building nearby.

Entry is free but restricted to Muslims during the time of prayers.

 

The Istanbul Archaeology Museum and the Basilica Cistern – Slideshow Saturday

Istanbul Archaeology MuseumThe Istanbul Archaeology Museum is located near the Topkapi Palace inside Gulhane Park in Istanbul. I first visited it when my wife and I honeymooned in Turkey in 2010. The museum has more than a million objects in its collections many of them from Byzantine, Greek, Roman, and even earlier civilizations.

This visit was not the most exciting part of our trip, especially for my wife, but she enjoyed the incredible collection of statues and the ancient sarcophagi, some of which date back as early as 400 BC.

Istanbul Archaeology Museum

As you enter the museum grounds there is a statue of a lion which comes from one of the ancient wonders of the world, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.The museum is massive. It took us nearly half a day to stroll through the main collections at a rapid pace.The sarcophagi are definitely worth seeing, though I was disappointed to read that the Alexander Sarcophagus is actually the tomb of a king named Abdalonymous.

One of my favorite finds was the snake’s head from the Serpentine Column in the Hippodrome. I thought the serpents looked rather headless. The Museum of the Ancient Orient was closed for renovations while we were there.

If you want to visit the museum, it is open Tuesday – Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission is 10 lira.

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Night Train from Istanbul to Bulgaria

Night Train Istanbul to BulgariaIn 2012 while living in Istanbul, I was fortunate to make many friends and have many adventures. This was the beginning of one of them.

If a Turkish night train sounds dangerous to you, you might want to consider getting some travel insurance  before you begin your cheap trip to the Balkans.

Leaving Istanbul is like leaving home. As I say goodbye to my friend Gaye, I can’t help but feel sad to be leaving this incredible city that delights the eyes, mind, body, and soul.

Still, the fact that the bag with all my ‘good’ clothes in it and another bag with the rest of Hanane’s and my things from Turkey both sit in Gaye’s basement means that I’m coming back.

Not to mention, I’ve got a flight to catch to Malaysia at the end of the month. And then another flight from Istanbul to North Africa when I get back. So, like friends and those we love, for Istanbul it is really only a ‘see you later.’ That helps.

Also helpful is the fact that I’m boarding an overnight train from the former Constantinople and into Sofia, Bulgaria. Not only is Bulgaria new and unknown to me, I’ve got a berth on a sleeper car. There’s something just incredibly cool about that. The cost of the ticket…about 30 euros including the sleeper.

The train itself looks old and as if it has come out of a Soviet Republic. I admit I knew nothing about Bulgaria before leaving and it was only when I mentioned on Facebook that I was going into the former USSR, that a friend told me I was wrong. Still, it was Eastern Block and hardcore communist, so I suppose that excuses my American ignorance a bit…that and the fact that I am American. Usually I do better, at least I don’t think Cuba is in Australia or Asia.
An American couple are in the cabin next to the one I share with a Bulgarian mountaineer who is just returning from Nepal. He actually lives in Seattle, he tells me Nepal was the most disgusting place he had ever visited.

The story continues below, but I thought you might want to see all the pictures I took first…the the slideshow is next with the story below it.

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Next door, the American man and woman are getting progressively more smashed and I swear I hear one of them crash down from the bunks to the deck. At the border crossing at 3 am they go to the tiny duty free stall and carry back what looks like a bottle of whiskey. When we arrived at the border the Turkish engine detached while we went through a relatively painless customs procedure. The conductor had to wake the Americans by pounding on their door for about five minutes. This was, of course, before they went to the duty free.

The two hour wait at the border was because we had to wait for the Bulgarian engine to come to us. We arrived in Sofia about 3 and a half hours late at right around 1:30 pm. Prior to that we made a stop in Plovdiv where the conductor this time spent ten minutes waking the Americans who staggered out with their clothes hanging on them the wrong way. As I had gone to sleep I heard them having progressivly more slurred conversation. Something like “Just because you fell, doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of getting up there, I mean you did it.”

I kind of loved these two. Getting shitfaced on a night train from Istanbul to Plovdiv. I didn’t want to talk with them because I was afraid it would spoil the nice spell they had charmed me with. when they staggered past to get off the train at Plovdiv the man, who looked a bit like Johnny Depp said “Hi” to me in the drunkest tones and the smell of bourbon wafted up. I took their pictures as they looked around the platform completely confused. I just didn’t want to forget them. Even if they wouldn’t remember their trip.

Arriving in Sofia, it was cold. The train station was freezing and the effect of having cyrillic alphabet all around me was that giddy feeling of culture shock that I both love and hate. I felt completely disoriented. My phone  wouldn’t work in Bulgaria, but I was very pleased to find that Bulgaria has the decency to put a wifi hotspot in the train station. Sitting in the cold station, I found my couchsurfing host’s number and then called him with Skype. You have to love technology.

He told me to go to the bus station and get a cab to his house instead of using one from the train station since the guys at the station would rip me off.

The cab was just about three euros and that took me to Tim’s door. In my pocket was the drunk American girl’s hat which I’d spotted in their cabin as i got off the train, picked up, and kept as a souvenir. It was very fluffy and very blue. I imagine it was how the two of them felt when they woke up later.

Kadikoy – A Trip to Istanbul’s Asian Side – Flashback Friday

From 2010 to 2012, I was fortunate to live in several Turkish cities. Istanbul, Izmir, and Manisa. Turkey and Turkish people won my heart over and over. There is nowhere like it on Earth or presumably anywhere else in the universe. I am grateful for the time I was able to spend in Turkey. For a time, I began to feel like a true Istanbulu, a resident of Istanbul. This was written during that time….

Istanbul

Istanbul is the only city in the world that sits in both Asia and Europe. The amazing part of that is that many visitors to the Queen of All Cities never leave the European side. In fact, a day trip to the Asian side can be interesting, delicious, and won’t cost you very dearly.

The ferry from either Eminonu or Kabatas will cost you 2 Turkish Lira each way. The trip itself across the Bosporus takes about fifteen minutes and while you are gawking at Sultanahmet from the sea on the right side or the Bosporus Bridge on the left, don’t forget to pay attention to the little tower that rises from an island in the middle.

IstanbulThe Princess Tower is a place of legends and fairy tales and dates back to the Byzantine era. While there are more than stories than one, the most famous is that of a king who wished to save his little girl when a seer told him she would die. As in most such stories, his plan backfired. In any event, keep your eyes open on the left side of the ferry.

Arriving in Kadikoy you will notice the big thing that looks like a balloon. In fact, it is a balloon. Filled with helium, the Turkbaloon takes passengers up for sight seeing during the summers.

IstanbulAfter you disembark from the ferry you will see a lot of construction work underway. This is for the tunnel under the Bosporus. In a city with 5000 years of history, every inch yields new archeological finds…and bureaucratic red tape to hinder completeion. It should be complete in a couple thousand years more.

Passing the construction head into the backstreets of Kadikoy and enjoy some shopping without the hassle of the Grand Bazaar or other touristic areas. Duck into the passageways and you will find both treasures and oddities. One passageway is filled with the odd collection of comic books, military gear, and sporting equipment. Somehow the three go together.

IstanbulDifferent passageways have different themes so you can find book areas, clothing areas, and of course there are the street vendors offering all kinds of deals on all kinds of things. In fact, Kadikoy is home to the biggest food market in all of Turkey!

Further along pull a chair up to one of the tables at Hamsi. Hamsi is oneIstanbul of the best kept secrets in Istanbul. Here you can enjoy great mezas, fresh black sea sardines (Hamsi), and a couple of pints of cold Efes beer. If that doesn’t appeal to you, right next door is the most delicious lahmacun (Turkish pizza) in the city. Some may argue about this, but when you taste either the meat or the cheese version, you will know the truth. Don’t forget to sprinkle the purple spice on it. It’s a form of poison ivy, but don’t worry, it’s not poison, it’s slightly bitter and delicious. Make sure you also sample their fresh Ayran (yogurt drink).

In fact, Kadikoy is filled with bars, restaurants, and even cinemas. This neighborhood dates back to about 5500 B.C. and today has approximately a half million residents. With all that, a trip to Kadikoy is definitely worth your time.

 

The Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia – Flashback Friday

In 2012, we took a trip back to Turkey from Morocco to see friends and visit places we hadn’t had the opportunity to visit when we worked there as teachers in 2010 and 2011. Cappadoccia was one of those places. While we were there we stayed in beautiful rock hewn palaces, took hot air balloons over the surreal landscape, explored the open air museums of Goreme and even explored an ancient underground city – yes, we climbed 85 meters down into a deep cave with our infant on our backs – my wife looks like a mommy version of Laura Croft (Tomb Raider) in some of these pics. As I look at this now, I’m awestruck with the memory and reality of that place and very underwhelmed by my old Pentax photos – it’s astounding how much better photos with an iphone are…below is the original post…..

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaYou might think that the world is all discovered, all explored, and all figured out. You might be right, but I doubt it – people have thought that for a long time, but as recently as 1963 one of the world’s most amazing discoveries came to light in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

Was it found by a team of intrepid archeologists? Nope. Was it found by a group of explorers or spelunkers? Nope. It was found by a guy who wanted to knock down a wall of his house and build a better one. He knocked the wall down – and found a room behind it. And then another room, and another – in fact, he found one of the largest underground city complexes the world has ever known. He found the Derinkuyu Underground City.

Even today, the full extent of the underground city is unknown. Archaeologists have penetrated as far as 40 meters beneath the surface but they suspect that the city goes much further down – to a depth of 85 meters. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the height of the statue of liberty and the pedestal it stands on which is 91 meters combined. So far, there have been 20 levels discovered. Visitors, like us, are allowed into the first eight levels. Less than 10% of the total that has been explored is open to the public. I can tell you first hand – that 10% is vast.

At full capacity, the city, built by the Hittites sometime around 14 centuries before the common era (that’s before Christ without Christ or B.C.E) , could house between 3000 to 10,00 people, their livestock, and their possessions. As I said, the full extent of the city is still unknown and some scholars believe that it is actually connected to other underground cities in the region by tunnels that stretch for miles!

It’s not as outlandish as it may sound as there has already been one such tunnel discovered which stretches 8 km (about 4 miles) to another underground city, Kaymakli near Nevsehir. When you consider that there are at least 200 underground cities that have been discovered thus far in the region… the possibilities become incredibly fascinating.

 

Derikuyu City Underground CappadocciaWhile it’s fun to think of thousands of people living underground like ants, most historians suggest that the cities were built for defensive purposes and were never meant for long term inhabitation of a large population. For short periods, Derinkuyu is large enough for 10,000 people (though some say it is large enough for 50,000) . On the day we were there, it felt like it was pushing pretty close to that. Tour buses arrive constantly and since the entire city isn’t open to the public, they are all crammed into the same sections. Luckily the ventilation systems designed by the ancients are incredibly effective although there was actually a bit of panic when groups coming down to the 8th level wouldn’t make way for groups who wanted to get back up to the top. The galleries began filling with people and at one point a woman actually began to scream. Finally, the guides managed to make the way clear and there was an exodus for the exit eight levels above.

One thing we didn’t have explained to us was where all those people used the toilet – we had to go back up to ground level for that, which, when you think about it, was a relief. Pun fully intended.

To get to the Derinkuyu Underground City, you will need to go to the above ground city of Derinkuyu which is about 40 km from Goreme. While there are about 600 doors to get in the underground city, as a visitor you will need to wait in line and buy a ticket. Your best bet is to hire a tour from Goreme or Uchisar.

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