Istanbul: A city totally different from any other in the country. Even if it’s not the capital of Turkey, the atmosphere, the reputation and the visitation get ahead of Ankara. Most of the Turkish people are coming to Istanbul in order to find a decent job and live there. The permanent population exceeds the amount of 20 million people. It is the most popular city of domestic tourism in Turkey. Furthermore, it is one of the first choices for the honeymooners!!!
You can easily realise that Istanbul is the favourite place of Turkish “elite”. The presence of the best and most expensive cars speaks for it. You get the impression that they want to be the “show window” of Turkey to the western world. And the target is partly succeeded. For someone who has not visited the inland of Turkey, it is impossible to realise the difference in culture, behaviour and lifestyle. The moment we reached the port we could easily see the contrast. On one side the impressive mosques and the palace of Top Kapi and the imposing sky-scrapers on the other. A mixture of eastern and western way of leaving.
Eventually, Istanbul is the most expensive city of the country. Accommodation, food and transportation are overrated. The most important places of interest, such as Ayasofya, Topkapi, Kapali Carsi, Blue Mosque, are located at Sultanahmet, the most famous part of the city for the foreigners. There are plenty of small and big hotels. But as I said, most of them –especially the low budget ones- are overrated. A huge problem you have to deal with is the parking areas. They just don’t exist…
At this point, I’d rather mention our meeting with the Turkish bikers of EMOK (Enduro Motosiklet Kulubu).The most active motorcycle club of Turkey, located in Istanbul.
The first contact took place three years ago, when Aris and Ada were traveling in Turkey. At some point they faced a problem with their motorcycle and had the luck to meet the people of EMOK. Their assistance and hospitality were remarkable.
Since then, we keep in touch through the internet. Of course, we thought that our visit in Istanbul must be a chance to meet them too.
After a short tel. com. with Hakan Erman (member of EMOK), the meeting was set for Thursday at 19.00 in front of Ayasofya. Destination the head office of the club, located about 20 km away at the north side of the city. The place is simple and functional. Around 20 people welcome us and treat us the best possible way. They were really polite and friendly. Orhan, Mensur, Kubilay were some of our new friends –unfortunately I don’t remember everybody’s name- we discussed about our trip and exchange experiences.
Coincidently, the same day we visited them their new EMOK hats were delivered. Showing once more their friendship and kindness they gave us two!! They also gave us stickers of the club and road maps of Turkey.
The time was passing very quickly, the gathering was interesting… We stayed their till the end of the meeting. Hakan and Sahin (and his girlfriend) and another guy with a Yamaha bike accompanied us to Sultanahmet. The traffic this time was light, so we had the chance to enjoy the city under the lights. We sat at a cafe near Ayasofya. They took the opportunity to stay with us, as for them the visitation to this area is rear. For us it was the best way to finish our evening. When we said goodbye, we gave a promise to each other… to meet again in Greece, in Turkey or somewhere else… who knows???
We wish all the best to them and we thank them once more for everything!
The interesting places to visit are many. We focused only to those close to Sultanahmet…the most important! Soon we realized that you have to spend more than a week and perhaps more than one visits to Istanbul, in order to have a "taste" of the city…
AYASOFYA (The Church of Hagia Sophia): Probably Istanbul’s most famous landmark, worldwide. For centuries it stood at the heart of two of the world’s great religions: To Christians it was Hagia Sophia, to Muslims it became Ayasofya Camii. Nowadays, its one of the two most important Museums in Turkey (thanks to Kemal Ataturk). The entrance fee is 20YTL//person (!) and increases every year! I could mention a lot about the great architecture and the magnificent mosaics. The history is long. Anyhow, even if you have never read something about it, you will surely be impressed by the majesty of this architectural “miracle”. They say that this monument can only be compare with the Vatican, which was built 1000 years later!
What remained from the frescoes, the mosaic figures of Christian saints and emperors of Byzantine, are proving the value and the greatness.
SULTAN AHMET CAMII (Blue Mosque): It is located exactly opposite of the Church of Hagia Sophia. The aim was to build a mosque bigger, more majestic and more beautiful than the Church of Hagia Sophia. People who knows better says that the mission was not accomplished! Anyway, exteriorly the mosque is impressive! At sunset, when the sky is clear, the view is unique. Also in the evening, when it’s lighted… The park, between Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, is a beautiful place for walking and offers a relaxing time.
TOPKAPI PALACE: Many people say that it is the “gem” of Istanbul. The palace complex is surrounded by high walls and is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a peninsula overlooking the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, with the Bosporus in plain sight from many points of the palace. The site is hilly and one of the highest points close to the sea. It contains large collections of Ottoman treasures and jewellery and safety measures are “draconian”. The palace has hundreds of rooms and chambers, so time and patience are needed. There are 4 courtyards, for the three of which you have to pay an overrated entrance fee (35YTL/person). The accessible parts of the palace are often changing due to maintenance works, so any kind of guide could be “useless”.
Generally speaking, I could mention the following: The 1st Courtyard is open to the public, like it used to be during the time of the Sultan. For the 2nd Courtyard, which used to be a gathering place for courtiers, you need the entrance fee (the same one you use for 3rd and 4th courtyard). The 3rd Courtyard is the heart of the palace, where the Sultan spent his days outside the harem. The 4th Courtyard was more of an innermost private sanctuary of the Sultan and his family. An extra fee is needed in order to visit the Harem. The Harem was home to the Sultan’s mother, his wives, the children and the servants. The outer palace gardens and kiosks are really impressive. Unfortunately the legions of visitors, especially at the 3rd Courtyard, do not let you see much… Photos and videos are not allowed! At some point I was so nervous stressed that I had to leave the place without seeing all the exhibits…
The Palace also contains collections of porcelain, robes, weapons, shields, armor and manuscripts. Everything is very impressive, but you must have time to enjoy…
UZUNCARSI – KAPALICARSI (The Covered Market): Istanbul’s covered market is the jewel of the city. The market district actually extends from Beyazit Square all the way downhill to the Golden Horn at Eminonu by the Egyptian Market. It’s a very popular spot for all Greek tourists. It has thousand of shops, settled, clean and ready to be “explored”. You can find everything, although I think that the prices are not so low and most of the visitors are coming here just to bargain. I am sure that you can buy cheaper out of the market. The locals know that and you don’t see a lot of them. A Turkish friend said to me: “ Kapali Carsi has lost its authenticity and will soon be a shopping mall just for tourists!”. Having been there, I can only agree with him…
MISIR CARSISI (The Spice Bazaar): The situation in the spice bazaar is totally different. The presence of the locals indicates the good selling prices and at the same time preserves all the characteristics of an oriental bazaar. The inviting aromas of cinnamon, cumin, saffron, mint, thyme and every other conceivable herb and spice fill the air, even before you enter the market. Even slogans like: «Turkish Viagra – 6 times in a night» keeps the character of this genuine market. We also found shops with Greek signs...
Outside of Misir Carsisi are the market of flowers and the market of animals. There you can find anything you wish! Next to them is Yeni Camii. Although the word means “New Mosque” it is more than 400 years old! A little further you can see Galata Bridge, offering a spectacular view and being the departure point for the cruises in the Sea of Marmara.
Food is a very special and important part of our visit in Istanbul. At places like Sultanahmet it is very common to find low quality food in high prices. In any case the Turkish cuisine and pastry is delicious and very close to the Greek one. Even the most demanding person can be impressed!
A very common habit in Istanbul is nargile. Nowadays it is very popular among the young people also thanks to the tourism that brought nargile back to the coffee shops. Unfortunately the quality and the preparation is not the propriet anymore, thanks to tourism!
Around 5.30 pm we got started in order to cover the last 250 km in Turkey.
From Sultanahmet it’s quite easy to find your way out of the city, without get lost. But no matter which day or time of the day you choose, it’s hard to avoid the traffic jam. It took us about an hour to cover the first 40km out of the city of Istanbul!
We followed the signs for the airport (Hava Alani) by the coastal road. There we followed the circle line reaching the interchange: to Airport (left), Ankara/Edirne (green sign-straight). About 500m further, we followed the sign for Tekirdag. From there we continued on the national road, leaving Istanbul behind without using the highway. On the left side we had chance to enjoy the Sea of Marmara. The colors of the sunset were amazing!
In the meantime, we saw the first signs for Ipsala-Hudut, these were our last kilometers of our road out of Greece.
We reached the Turkish-Greek borders around 10 o’clock in the evening. The process was short. Showing our passports and registration numbers, seals and “Gule Gule” (=have a nice trip). We had mixed emotions… I was happy because we fulfilled our trip and we returned healthy and full of images, experiences, new friends. On the other hand I was sad as this beautiful “adventure” came to its end… I was trying to keep all this moments and probably define my next destination! I wanted to leave behind all the sadness caused by this end…
The time was 10.30pm when we arrived at Ferres. Ploumisti’s cousin, Nikos, was expecting us. He wanted to listen to all the stories from our trip. We went for dinner to Peplo, a nearby village. The time past by pleasantly, talking and eating Ntina’s delicious meatballs. The time was already 4 o’clock in the morning…!
There are so many things I want to say about this fascinating trip. A trip that will always be kept in our heart and mind. A trip that influenced our personalities.. A trip in “friendship”!!!
* * *
We would like to thank:
- Nikos Tsouloukis(Greece) for his warm hospitality at Feres,
- Serdar& his wife Sukran(Turkey) for their warm hospitality at Salihli,
- Dirk Menten(Turkey) the belgian archeologist for the guide he gave us in the archeoligigal sight of Sagalassos,
- Suleiman Ozturk(Turkey) and his family, for the wonderful feast at his house in Mustafapasa for the wedding of his nice
- Alexis(Yasser) and his family (Syria) for their great hospitality and their help in Aleppo,
- Assef Khaddourand his family (Syria), for their warm hospitality Al Hamidye,
- Nimri Sabri(Amman - Jordan) for his useful information in Jordan,
- Towati& Sammi(Jordan) for their company during the endless wait at Aqaba's port...
- Hossam(Jordan), the owner of Oricana Hotel in Dahab,
- Mohammad(Syria), the owner of Casa mia in Palmyra,
- Misha, Lida, Daria, Jambel(Syria), the students we met while camping for their company at Qalat Jaber,
- Serol Agazat(Istanbul - Turkey), for his help in Soultanhmet,
- Oytun Pinar(Izmir - Turkey) for his useful information and several tips on how things work in Turkey,
- Hakan Erman(Istanbul - Turkey) and the rest members of ΕΜΟΚfor their invitation and their souvenirs,
- Kostas& Despina, Savvas Nimri, William, Kouveliotou Elenifor their information while preparing the trip,
- Christinafor the editorship of the greek version of the texts,
- Ada, Nansi, Effie, Elias, Sakis, Apostolisκαι Ragasfor translating the geek texts in english,
- Thodoris Nikolaoufor his article in the greek newspaper "ΤΑ ΝΕΑ"
also everyone that help in anyway, supported and encouraged us to do a wish reality.
Thank you all from the bottom of our hurts....
Manolis - Ploumisti