Istanbul 26 Apr – 02 May
When we visited Greece in 2005, somehow we missed visiting Turkey. Bad planning, I suppose. While making travel plans one should keep in mind that air fare forms a major chunk of your over all expenditure. It is better to combine a few neighboring countries to derive the best value for money.
Our travel group has remained more or less intact and we decided to do Turkey this year. Dore and Lalita, Sunder and Saroja, Kats and Naveen, Nair and Sudhi, self and Jai journeyed together.
In 2013, Turkey was ranked as the 6th most popular destination in the world. Its ancient civilization, rich history and mosaic of cultures makes Turkey a truly remarkable tourist destination.
The geographical location of Turkey has always been the most important factor in determining its history, culture, traditions and way of life. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the Northwest; Greece to the West; Georgia to the Northeast; Armenia, Iran and the Azerbaijan; and Iraq and Syria to the south. The Mediterranean Sea is to the South; the Aegean Sea to the West; and the Black Sea to the North. The straits of Bosphorus separate Europe and Asia. Turkey’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes it a country of significant Geostrategic importance. India is actually more than 4 times the size of Turkey. Over the centuries, Turkey has been a melting pot of various religions and cultures and this has left an indelible mark on its people and their way of life.
Turks trace their origin to Mongolia and interestingly Korean and Japanese are accepted as distant relatives of the Turkish language.
Turkey has a robust economy and this was very evident, as we travelled around the country. Apart from its beautiful scenery and delicious Mediterranean cuisine, Turkey has been viewed as a model of secularism and democracy in the Middle East. Western nations often point to Turkey to demonstrate that a secular government is possible in a country with a majority Muslim population. In addition, Turkey’s economy has soared in the last ten years and it has become a permanent member of the G-20.Turkey is dependent on oil from Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan ; only 10% is produced within the country. As of February 2015, Turkey has become the world's biggest refugee hosting country with 1.7 million Syrian refugees and it has spent more than US$6 billion on direct assistance to refugees. Syrians move to Turkey for better job opportunities. One of the most serious problems is the issue of Syrian refugees who are often found engaged in begging.
A Turkish Airlines flight from Milan to Istanbul made an emergency landing at Ataturk Airport on 25th April, resulting in a very long delay at Mumbai airport for us. We arrived in Istanbul at 2.30 PM local time – totally drained and tired. Our guide for the next 8 days Mr Arshzumardan (modified to Mr Arjun, for purposes of brevity and ease of pronunciation) – welcomed us and whisked us off to visit various places.
Istanbul is a very trendy city, well laid out with shops, malls, cafes, road side restaurants and more. To some extent, it resembles the old Bombay, albeit much cleaner and better organized. Many high rise buildings dot the sky line. One can see a large number of minarets staking their claim in the sky. The city roads are in excellent condition and the traffic is extremely orderly. Buses, three-car trams, metro, taxis and cars complete the commutation scene.
In 1923, Turkey changed over from the Arabic to the Roman script. Their public school system is free up to University level.These government run institutions are good and the people are happy with it. In Turkey, health care is free up to 18 years of age. In 2014 Turkey registered 35 million population. India has 382 persons per square kilometer as against Turkey's 97. Very few people can be seen on the roads and even lesser in the country side. 99% of the population are Muslims and they live in total harmony with other faiths. Turkey, over a period of time, has developed into an extremely tolerant and accommodating society. Their religion has no conflict with alcohol, belly dancing, women smoking, western attire, public display of affection and so on.
People look happy, contented and at peace with themselves and their surroundings. One does not notice undue anxiety or disquiet writ on their faces. They do not appear to be in any hurry.
Another outstanding feature about Turkey is their food – fresh and rich in taste. Their salads are exceptional in every way. Proximity to the Mediterranean Sea makes their fruits and vegetables all the more delectable. Mr Arjun took us to a local restaurant and we ate a very satisfying Turkish meal.’ We had 'Testi Kebab’ a dish made out of Lamb, selected vegetables and spices which are cooked in a clay pot (‘Testi’ means jug, in Turkish) over fire. The seal of the pot is broken at your table, right before eating, and it is certainly a unique experience. I have never eaten such succulent meat. Next on the menu was 'Cutmer' a paratha-like bread stuffed with spinach and cheese, followed by a sweet dish ‘Antep Katmer ‘ a pastry kind of preparation stuffed with pistachio powder, sugar, cream and semolina. Its melts in your mouth when eaten fresh out of the oven – a memorable experience. All our lunches were simple and very tasty, with lots of meat, salad, a variety of bread and a delicious array of Turkish desserts.
The service industry staff can be bit uncouth at times – may be due to the pressure of work.
Incidentally Tulips made their way from Istanbul to Europe—specifically Holland. There are Tulips all over the city and in fascinating colours, ranging from the recognizable red to a near-black purple. tulips are grown round practically every tree on the road. Every now and then, we spotted roundabouts and small areas patterned by Turkish gardeners into lovely designs. We were spot on for the April May Tulip festival.
The overall impression one gets of Turkey is one of contentment, charm and calm. The markets are full and vibrant, bursting with garden fresh produce.
The weather was good and the temperature varied from 11 deg to 17 deg C.
The tourism industry has an integrated approach and is extremely well organized. Dorak is efficient and the tour was well organized.
In Istanbul we stayed at the “Imperial Business Hotel Bomonti”. Centrally located, it provides a satisfactory stay.
Figure 1 - The gang
Our internal travel was in a 40 seater AC coach.The 10 of us stretched out to our heart's content.It could not have been any better. Same vehicle - and guide throughout our 8 days stay.
Glimpses of Istanbul – 26 Apr
The first place of visit was the Hagia Sophia, a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal Basilica, later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. Construction of the Church began in 337D and additions, alterations and renovation continued for the next two hundred years. With the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque. In 1935 it was opened to the public as a Museum.
Figure 2 – A distant view of Hagia Sofia - unforgettable
Figure 3 - Byzantine mosaics of Hagia Sophia uncovered in 1934
Christ and Leo VI the Wise, mosaic, Hagia Sophia, late 9th or early 10th century
Figure 4 – Jai, Sudhi and Naveen looking fresh in spite of a very long journey.
Figure 5 – A carpet of tulips
Figure 6 – Another distant view
Figure 7 - The Obelisk of Theodosius in the Istanbul Hippodrome
Figure 8 - German Fountain
It was constructed to commemorate the second anniversary of German Emperor Wilhelm II's visit to Istanbul in 1898
Figure 9 – A Bit of rest
In the evening we went on the Bosphorus cruise. The cruise yacht sails around the strait for three hours, whilst we are entertained by local artists performing traditional dances and a round of belly dancing. The programme includes a sumptuous dinner with lots of local wine and beer. On the whole, the cruise was a good experience and value for money. Many of the buildings are lit up along with the famous Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Bosphorus bridges, making the cruise truly fascinating.
Figure 10 – Enjoying the dinner
Figure 11 - Rest of the gang - Where are Nair and Kats ?? I don't know !!
Figure 12 – View from the deck
Figure 13 – Belly dancer- very pleased with me !! Is it my belly ??
Glimpses of Istanbul 27 Apr
Our first visit in the morning was to the 400 year old ‘Sultan Ahmed Mosque’ a historic mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. This beautiful 16 century mosque has floral tileson its walls and frescos on its high ceilings. It has 4 huge pillars in the main hall which are drolly called 'elephant feet'.The view both inside and out is so impressive that one goes overboard while taking photographs.
Figure 14 – Once in a life time view – Blue Mosque
Figure 15 – Closer view
Figure 16 – Inside the Blue Mosque
Figure 17 – Intricate art work in the dome
Figure 18 – Mosaic work inside the mosque
Figure 19 – On the streets of Istanbul
Figure 20 – Proof of visit
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. Today the Grand Bazaar is a thriving complex, employing 26,000 people.This bazaar, full of jewellery, handicrafts, carpets and porcelain, is a haven for shopaholics. Extremely tempting, but fairly expensive.
Figure 21 - Nuruosmaniye Gate of the Grand Bazaar
Figure 22 – Inside the market – modern brands compete side by side with traditional shops
Figure 23 – The colours of Turkey
The Topkapı Palace is a large palace in Istanbul, that was the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years of their 624-year reign.The Topkapı Palace was constructed between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The palace complex consists of four main courtyards and many smaller buildings.
Figure 24 – The main Imperial Gate
Figure 25 - Church of Hagia Eirene in the First Courtyard
Figure 26 - The Gate of Salutation, entrance to the Second courtyard of Topkapı Palace.
Figure 27 – Tower of justice
Figure 28 - The Gate of Felicity is the entrance into the Inner Court, also known as the Third Courtyard, marking the border to the Outer Court. The Third Courtyard comprises the private and residential areas of the palace.
Figure 29 – Yet another lovely bed of tulips
Figure 30 – Lovely Tulips from India
Figure 31 – A very old hollowed tree adding beauty to the inner court yard
Figure 32 – City view from Topkapi from the palace
Figure 33 – The Bosphorus sea view from the palace
Thereafter we went for a lovely traditional lunch and thoroughly
enjoyed”Testi Kebab” and “Antep Katmer”.
Figure 34 - A girl preparing Turkish flat bread stuffed with cheese and spinach called 'Cutmer'
Figure 35 – Testi kebab in the earthen ware - enough meat for four