Budapest via Berlin to Istanbul!
08.12.2012 - 18.12.2012 10 °C
Hey everybody sorry for this post taking so long to publish again slow internet! Jannelle and I hope that all of our family and friends had a wonderful Christmas and enjoyed your holidays! Only some people celebrate Christmas here. You can buy all the decorations and red Santa suits for yourself and your children but you don't really see them around. All the shops stay open and it feels like any other day. It was 16C degrees outside on the 25th, with no snow and no family around it made us miss you all very much
Turkey has so much history that I would need to write a book just to scratch the surface. They have claim to everything from inventing logic and western civilization through the Greeks, to the final resting place of the Virgin Mary. The moniker East meets West in Turkey is true but doesn't do this place justice. The people are a story all in themselves, friendly is a good word to start with but warm might be more accurate. We've been welcomed to Turkey so many times. Anybody who has been to the Middle East can vouch for how friendly the people can be. They want to meet you and get to know your story, and you theirs. If you would buy something in their shop they would greatly welcome that as well. Selling stuff seems more like a game to them then a job. If you buy something they win but if you don't then you win, empty handed mind you. Nothing beats getting ripped of in a Bazaar! Finding out what something actually costs is the best kept secret in Istanbul. You talk them down half the price and you think your doing good till you turn the corner and see the same item and that guys asking price is what you paid the last guy!
I want to describe the prayers that come from the Mosques over the loud speaker four or five times a day. First off this gives you a feeling of being somewhere foreign, which is what your really looking for when your traveling. Secondly it's beautiful and full of life. Most times you are within earshot of at least two Mosques and they seems to compete with each other on who can hold a note or syllable longer. What I really like about it though is how it fills the streets with thoughts of God. I picture them saying something like "All earthly beings please take a moment and give thanks." Maybe its "Hey get your ass in here and be thankful!" Regardless what they say, it reminds you that life is short and that it never hurts to be grateful of all the blessings in your life. Honestly I think the churches at home should do this, bells can't compete with wishing well to your fellow man so loudly that it usually wakes us up.
Well I'm getting ahead of myself, first off we needed a flight from Budapest to Istanbul. This lead us to Berlin, Germany. It cost less to fly North to Berlin and then South to Istanbul then it would have cost just to go straight there. Apparently there are a lot of Turks living in Berlin and thats why you can catch a discounted flight from there South. We also thought we might be able to sneak one more stamp into our passports before leaving Europe. We are keeping a "list" of the countries we've been to and so far Turkey is number 12. We might go to a Greek island before we leave making Greece number 13!
Berlin was almost flattened during WWII, with whole sections of the city being completely destroyed. After the war, Berlin was divided four ways by the allies. Half went to the U.S.S.R. while the other half was divided into thirds. A third to France, another third to the U.K. and the last third to the U.S.A. This leads to some very interesting politics and later the Cold War after those Communists couldn't be trusted. Germany was also split into half as well but most of us pre 1989'ers know that. West Germans began returning to normal life with the U.K. and U.S. leading. While the East Germans were returning to a much harder and poorer life controlled by Mother Russia. People were border jumping to escape East Germany thru Berlin which lead to "The Wall." We heard stories that some families were ripped apart from the Soviets setting up a blockade literally overnight.
We arrived in Berlin and took a train from the airport to the metro and then to the hostel. Berlin has a great rail and metro train system with some huge underground hubs were you can find gift shops and fast food joints. Getting around was a breeze and only London has a more extensive underground system. Well at least from the places we've been. One of the first things we seen that I recognized was the giant T.V. tower or Fernsehturm. Opened on October 3rd 1969.
We met up that night with a Saskatchewan boy we know through a friend back home at this restaurant called The Bird. We were treated to a giant steak dinner with all the trimming's including drinks for the whole night for free! Thanks DB for all your hospitality and I look for to paying you back this coming summer!
We slept in the next morning seeing as we didn't get to bed till around 5 a.m. When we finally pulled ourselves together we went for a train ride to the last section of The Berlin Wall still standing. There is some amazing graffiti on the wall to see.
The next day we went to a museum on Museum Island featuring The Pergamon exhibit which turned out to be a warm-up to Turkey. Pergamon is a ancient city in Turkey and some ruins were excavated and brought to Berlin to be put on display.
It was really impressive how big the exhibit was. They constructed parts of the museum around the ruins specifically.
Our time in Berlin was short, three days in total. We barely got under Berlin's skin but it was snowing so leaving wasn't too hard.
Soooo Istanbul is a city with thirteen million people in its borders, making it one of the largest proper cities in the world. There are much larger cities in the world but they usually count greater metropolitan areas to their totals. Istanbul was once Constantinople and Constantinople was once the capital of the Roman Empire. Christianity has a lot of its history within this city and within Turkey, probably more so then Italy. For instance the Hagia Sophia was a Catholic church in 537 A.D. to 1204 A.D. before becoming an Imperial Mosque till 1931. Constantinople was established in 330 A.D. between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea. This gave it a strategic point on which commerce flourished and continues so even today. It was conquered in 1453 by the Muslims and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. They changed the name to Istanbul around this time and Constantinople refers to the city under Christian rule.
We flew in at 7:00 and it was dark out which gave us and excellent view of the size of this ancient place. Hill upon hill of short buildings with yellow dimly lit streets in the front. It a mass of old concrete with no order and from the night sky it looked like sophisticated ant hills poorly lit. We boarded a bus from the airport and were taken into the city center called Taksim. We jumped on a funicular (go ahead google it) and went under the strait which popped us up on the "Old City" side or also know as Sultanahmet. Home of the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the infamous Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. We stayed in a little dive close to the water, it had a great view of the bay from the roof top terrace. The harbor is very busy and giant tankers and ferries run non stop east to west and back again all day.
These are pictures of our dive and of our view.
We went to the Blue Mosque and its beautiful and big but nowhere near the size of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. The interior was plain and didn't contain works of arts or anything else really since they pray on there hands and knees. It does have floor to ceiling tile's that are amazingly intricate.
This is the Hagia Sophia which is just across the street from the Blue Mosque.
The Grand Bazaar is the oldest and largest covered market in the world. There are over 3000 shops inside and more than 250,000 people visit it daily. Its confusing and busy with people yelling and guys hauling around trays of tea for rug shops. Its custom that they over-whelm you with tea and hospitality before they wring your pockets dry haha. Some of the rugs or carpets are so beautiful and well-made that they easily fetch thousands of dollars. There is gold, rugs, scarfs and towels, clothes, Turkish delight (which is fantastic! unlike at home -barf) tiles and lamps and so, so, so much more everywhere in the Grand Bazaar.
The Spice Bazaar....
Now the covered part of the Grand Bazaar just gives way to more shops in the open air, so where one ends and the other begins isn't noticably. The shops and shopping just countiunes for blocks pretty much connecting the two bazzar's. It's almost a 10 minute walk down some hills from the Grand to the Spice.
There are Bazaar's everywhere but they are small and usually consist of just one street. This one is behind the Blue Mosque and has a shop that a Canadian named Jennifer, from Edmonton owns.
Thats a sheesha wand in my hand and one of the servers beside me, he serenaded me for about two minutes before Jannelle and I left his cafe haha.
Sheesha is flavoured molasses that is lit with coal on top and filtered with water on the bottom. Apple is the best flavour gerenally and you can smoke the same bowl for hours as long as they keep bringing you more coals, which they do. I love it and its not harsh at all and basically tastes like your smoking a fruit. Jannelle enjoys it too but not as much as me I can't wait to have a night at the Warren's with sheesha piggy Stacey haha. Don't worry I'll grab one more box before we leave Stace!
Jannelle and I go for long walks usually opting to walk somewhere rather then taking the bus. We spend most of the day on our feet and walking 7kms is a slow day for us now. Its a great way to see the city and way cheaper too. We just went for 15km walk two days ago and did it in under 2 1/2 hours. Here are some pictures of a walk along the bay in Istanbul.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of hundreds of cisterns buried beneath Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is a couple hundred feet from the Haiga Sophia.
I can hold 80,000 cubic meters of water and measures 450 feet by 212 feet. The roof is supported by 336 marble coulums, each 30 feet tall and the water comes from aquaducts supplied by a river some 19 kms away. It was pretty amazing to see.
There are two column bases that have Medusa face carved in them, one is sideways and the other is upside down. There is no record of where exactly they came from, nor why they were placed the way they are. During the last restoration over 50,000 tons of mud were removed in 1986!
Jannelle was poking around the internet one day and came across the Turkuazoo aquarium site. It's the fifth largest aqarium in the world and has the longest under water tunnel of its kind in Europe. The 80 meter long tunnel goes under the shark tank which contains 2.5 million gallons of water.
This was so cool and we spent about an hour under there.
So this wraps up the first part of a two part post. We made our way south to a small city called Selcuk about 10 kms off the coast of the Aegean Sea, and have been laying low here for the last two weeks. We will be posting the next part very shortly, hopefully before we head to Malaysia next week. Happy New Years to all our famliy and friends!