Friday, February 17, 2012

Turkiye 2012, Part 1: Several hours Solo

Cruising the Bosphorus
Turkey- one of the three Mediterranean paradises, along with Greece and Italy. Most people would go during their Summer holidays for the bright beaches, glittering cities, scantily clad Pantheon (not the building), et cetera... however, I for one, had leaned my lesson. You'd have to be at best, stupendously forgetful, or at worst- blithering mad to venture into that region during Summer, as I learned years ago on my trip to Rome in August, where my blood painted the streets red- though strangely the nosebleeds stopped in Barcelona. The temperature was somewhere around 38 degrees Celsius- stay home.
Eminonu ferry station
I touched down in Istanbul around 6am on the 21st of February, my flight from Kuala Lumpur taking off on the same day at 00:30 hours- a grand total of five and a half hours, a pretty quick hop for such a great distance- some 8000km, until you take into account latitude. Or is it longitude? Whatever. The flight was around 10 hours long, with Istanbul six hours behind Kuala Lumpur.
"Who's the celeb now?"
I had plenty of time to kill. I had a free ride to the hotel- with a guy waiting at the arrivals hall holding a card with my name of it. It felt rather glamorous, to be honest. At least it would have been, if the card had my name on it- it had my dad's, though his flight (and the rest of the group) was scheduled to arrive hours later. If it had my name on it, I'd have posted a photo of the scene instead of one of a cat staring down from an Istanbulian cemetery.
Withered trees outside Nuruosmaniye mosque
 I made the mistake of heading for the driver's seat- they drive American style here, on the right. I think this would be my first time in a right-side driving country, though I can't remember which side the people of Italy and Spain drive on. Faulty memory. That trip was only, what, four years ago? I needn't have bothered with sitting in the front anyway- the driver wasn't the chatty type.
One of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar
The guy manning the reception desk at the hotel was nice, despite the early hour. Directed me downstairs for breakfast- included for every night spent there, but I'm not too sure the very first day counts (before checking in, too). Grabbed a coffee and some light bites before heading out to explore the city.
Mostly Turkish books.
I plotted a path vaguely heading towards the Grand Bazaar. It's worth noting that at this point I didn't have a single Turkish Lira on me- all I had was a thin pack of Euros and a bundle of worthless Ringgit. Most money changers- called 'Change Office' here had Sing dollars, but no luck with my cash. In any case I walked around town for a few hours as a virtual bankrupt- until the Change Offices opened and I got to exchange my Aqueducts for Ataturks (the images on the banknotes, if that helps).
I wouldn't mind swiping my student ID here everyday.
After wandering through the Grand Bazaar I found myself facing the Istanbul University- I didn't go in, but that's one grand gateway. Who cares about Oxbridge and their silly rowing competition? So what about Tokyo U and it's anime-manga fueled reputation for uniting star-crossed lovers? With a gateway like this, the inside is bound to be lovely... Ah well. I suppose I am being a wee bit unfair...
Bread left to the cold.
Puffy bread left out on a table in the cold just for advertising. At least it doesn't attract flies. Waste of good bread, though that thought fades a little when you consider that bread is free and replenishable in every meal, to the point that you can fill yourself up on just plain bread.
It's older than you. Don't bother counting.
The entrance to Yerebatan Sarnici, the Basilica Cistern. It's easy to miss the entrance- it's located in a small single story building- you might even mistake it for a public toilet if not for the sign, if not for the nice lighting, fancy stonework, and the 15TL entrance fee.
It's Moria! Nothing compared to G-CANS, but still.
Here's what it looks like on the inside. Congratulations, you just paid 15TL to enter what is essentially an underground reservoir. It's rather gloomy (for obvious reasons) and somewhat damp, with a raised platform for visitors to walk around. There's not much to do besides take pictures for free, or pay to have your picture taken in traditional garb for 5 Euros- cosplay in Istanbul, who'd have guessed.
Oh Medusa, you poor thing.
The Cistern's other highlight, one of two Medusa head base pillars. There are a few theories as to why it's placed sideways (the other one is upside down), the more interesting one saying that they were placed like that to neutralize Medusa's stare. The other, and more likely one, is that they were placed that way to hold up the pillars better. On the other hand the builders might simply have just dropped the heads and were too lazy to flip them over.
No thank you. Whatever you are.
 More wandering around after exiting the Cistern. I came across this 'Cafe-Inn' with a rotting, broken door- I'm not sure if it was open for business, but looking like it did, I wouldn't want to dine or stay there anyway. Then again, appearances can be deceiving- for all I know, the inside could have been a high class brothel fancied by government bigwigs.
Pretty colours.
Shops like this one are a common sight, selling desserts like Baklava and Turkish Delights. Even if you don't like sweets, they're still a delight to look at... hence the name delight? I don't think the Turks themselves are all that crazy over it- they can have it any time they like, so they probably wouldn't bother. It's more of a tourist thing- makes for good souvenirs too. If you don't mind the weight, that is.
Almost like the Standing Stones in Skyrim...
Somehow, I managed to end up in a cemetery of sorts. I think it's called the Sultan's Graveyard. Or Sultan's Mausoleum. Uh. Anyway, it's more of a small garden with several mini tombs, with many of them having Sultan engraved on them, and one slightly larger squarish building in the center. Thankfully not all of them had long names- wait, does that mean that not all of them were Sultans? Sultan's Architect, Sultan's Back Scrubber, perhaps?
Want a statue of yourself up there for gulls to poop on?
This, I think, would be the Column of Constantine. I can't be sure, seeing as there's a few of these things in town, but it's my best guess. According to Wiki, Constantine had a statue of himself placed at the top, but ridiculously strong winds knocked it off. Later on someone added a cross and some wreaths- the wreaths were taken by Crusaders, and the cross carted away by the Ottomans. As a result, it's rather bare at the moment- though I think Jeremy Clarkson would be happy to have a statue of Piers Morgan on it.
You might want to zip up, lady. I'm not complaining, though.
Looks like the pirate craze has hit Istanbul too. Wonder why the lady pirate's not zipping up her coat, though... and why the other pirate standing next to her is gazing contentedly upon a naked mannequin.
Just what do you do for a living, Aydin Raf?
Speaking of naked mannequins, this shop had quite a few- either they're in the business of selling mannequins, or they're a boutique which ran out of stock, in which case they're fantastic businesspeople, or just plain dumb.
Grannies on display?
Old ladies parked in red booths doing... I haven't the faintest idea. Tarot readers? Bird-feed sellers? Discards from Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum (which I'd love to go to)?
Path to Topkapi.
The path leading up to the Topkapi Palace Museums. I didn't go in, opting to wait for the rest of the group to arrive. It was raining intermittently the whole day anyway, to the point where it got rather irritating for my umbrella-less self, and after a repeated cycle of exploring town and heading back to the hotel to dry my sweater and beanie, decided to retire permanently to the hotel room.

They arrived around 7- late, and we headed for our complimentary dinner at the hotel's restaurant, minus one uncle who'd managed to get himself airsick. I should probably cover the dinner in this post, but I'm just plain lazy, so- I'll justify it as being the cut off point of my solo period in Istanbul to. Now for some shut-eye...

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