When life gives you lemons, go ride Lemonade!

Istanbul

Istanbul is a very large city. And a very old city. The geography of the area forces travelers to converge on this area to move from Europe to Asia or back. The Bosphorus, that body of water that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Sea is the logical place to cross. Otherwise a traveler has to go north through Russia to get around the Black Sea or south through the Sahara Desert in north Africa and then still has to cross the Mediterranean. Early travelers, like Marco Polo, and caravans of the Silk Road all crossed here. The Silk Road was actually a network of caravan routes over which spices, silk and other items came to Europe. The network came together at Istanbul. But it was not Istanbul then, it was Constantinople. And it was Christian. Before that there were others that were the dominant people here like the Greeks, Phoenicians, Genoese, Venetians, etc. This city is divided by the Bosphorus into the European side and the Asian side. The only city that sits on two continents.

We arrived in a madhouse of Sunday afternoon traffic. (Check out the YouTube video at Bobkat3080.) We survived and made it to our Hotel. The Holiday Inn is managed by a member of the Gold Wing Club of Turkey but better than that, it has parking and is on a direct light-rail route to the major places we want to see.

The city center is old with lots of 4-6 story buildings from the 17th and 18th Centuries. In between are scattered remnants of even older structures. Pieces of a building wall, a viaduct or city fortress wall. At first the city looks dirty but that is wrong. It just needs repair. The ground floor of most buildings are small shops and cafes with the merchants often seen out in front washing or sweeping the tiled pavement.

The traffic is a madhouse. There are hundreds of taxis, even more of private cars, far more of small motorbikes/scooters as well as delivery trucks and buses. Then you have guys with heavily loaded hand trucks trying to get through. The drivers are very aware of their vehicle size and capability. In the main roads the lane markings are barely a suggestion and speed limits are not much more. If a driver thinks they can get ahead by moving over and can get their fender in front of another vehicle they will do it. The other vehicle, to avoid an accident, will be forced to give way. This happens constantly with every driver out there. It is the common practice. Then there are the motorbikes that are cutting in and out of lanes and between cars and trucks, when they are not going down the sidewalk or bus lane.They completely ignore all the “rules of the road”. On the little lanes running haphazardly up and down the hills people double and triple park. Other vehicles have to make their way through as best they can. The pedestrians are often in the road because there is no or very narrow sidewalks on these lanes. Some lanes have been taken over as outside eating areas for the string of cafes along the sides. But this doesn’t stop the motorbikes. They zoom between the tables at will. Many of these motorbikes are delivery bikes with a box behind the rider for the packages. With the traffic congestion on the roads this is an efficient and fast way to send something cross town, or get a delivery of food to your shop or apartment. If  this happened in a major US city the road rage would be off the charts. The guns would be out and it would be a war zone.

We always plan to leave our bike parked for the entire time in a major city. We always pick a place to stay with convenient public transportation to the tourist sites.

 

Number one on our list is the Hagia Sophia Museum. It has been rededicated as a mosque but still allows visitors. It was built as a Christian Church in 537 AD in what was then Constantinople. It is just a spectacular as the pictures have shown. How they built this huge domed space with only animal based power is amazing. In 1453 the Ottoman Empire conquered the city and this building became a mosque. In 1935 it became a museum but then in 2020 it was rededicated as a mosque. Whatever, it is amazing!

Nearby is also the Blue Mosque, named for its blue tiles and officially the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It also is open to tourists except during services. The city has lots of large mosques whose minarets poke up in any landscape picture.

 

 

 

In this same area is the Topkapi Palace. This where the sultan lived. This huge compound with thousands of servants, slaves, wives, concubines, advisors, hangers-on, wanna-be’s and others was just to make one man happy.

 

 

 

The opulence and splendor that this age lavished on its rulers was huge. We saw it in Europe too with the palaces in France, Spain, England and other countries. The churches also consumed huge amounts of money to lavish on their leaders. It’s no wonder that some peoples rose up in revolt over the disparity of their lifestyles and the lifestyle of their leaders.

 

 

This suit of armor is one example. The gold used to decorate it is intricate. The links of chain mail are tiny. The work of a master is very much on display. His sword and is just as fine with inlaid gold, jewels and silver. And all of this is for show. This is not battle armor or weapons, it is only to impress others of how important he is.

 

 

 

 

As Monty Python said “It is Good to be King!”.

 

 

 

 

We had walked our legs to exhaustion. But that didn’t slow us down. The next day we crossed the Golden Horn. A bay that sticks north from the Bosphorus, still on the European side of it. This is where the Galata Tower and the Taksim Square are.

The Tower was originally built in the early 500’s as a lighthouse. Over the years since it has been damaged and rebuilt several times. The IV Crusade destroyed in in 1204 but the Genoese rebuilt it soon after. It was heightened in the mid 1400’s and used as a prison. It was used by an astrologer in the late 1500’s and a man tried to fly, somewhat successfully, in 1638 with home-built wings. He survived and is claimed to be the very first person to actually fly. It was a fire watchtower in the late 1700’s but was itself damaged by a fire in 1831. The cone of the tower fell over in a storm in 1875. It’s current form was finished in the 1960’s. It has had a rough life, but the view from the top is great.

 

 

The picture below is of the Bosphorus across the center, the Golden Horn to the lower right and the Sultanahmet is the land in the right center. Right to left is the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia Mosque and Topkapi Palace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nearby is Taksim Square and it’s pedestrian streets. This is the shopping, drinking, and eating area of Istanbul. The square is also where the rallies and protests are held.

Notice 2 women walking away in black at the bottom, in the full covering outfits. Only their eyes showed. Next to them, facing us, are two in western clothes. We saw this all over. The mix of fashion was very interesting. And it was not confined to any one age group. Although the older women were more likely to be covered up.

 

We decided to have lunch in an Irish Pub in Turkey. We drank German beer (Weihenstephen Weissbeer from the oldest brewery in the world). They had it on tap. Kathy had Mexican tacos and I had British fish & chips. How’s that for international relations? It was good and we then continued to wander.

 

 

 

Another commonality was the way goods were hauled through the small lanes to various merchants. The city is built on hills and all but the main roads are narrow bricked lanes up and down these hills. These guys were working hard to make their wages.

In the Spice Market and Bazaar were guys with a much lighter load. Tea was delivered from the tea shop to the various merchants in their booths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spice Market and the Bazaar were made up of hundreds of small booths each with a merchant anxious to sell you something. Many had free samples to try and entice you. If you stopped to look at something the merchant was right there extolling the fine points of the item.

 

 

 

The Spice Market was built in the early 1600’s as a single unit and had been upgraded carefully. The Bazaar was a mish-mash of various one-story buildings with long hallways between the shops and wiring that was a nightmare. Look overhead in the right hand picture.

 

 

 

The early residents did not have access to our modern pressurized water systems. They used underground cisterns to collect rainwater for their daily use. These large rooms were covered and had columns to hold the roof up. (The steel bands are a modern safety feature.) This one is open for tourists and has walkways over the foot or so of water in it. Even here, underground where nobody would see it the columns are decorated at the top and bottom.

 

While there we got to see a light show perform ance on the colum ns and walls.

 

 

 

On another day, we are here for 5 days, we went to the Mosaic Museum. This is the excavation of a portion of the floor of a palace built in the mid-500’s. It is 10 feet (3 m.) below ground level. The room is about 100 feet (30 m.) long by 30 feet (9 m.) wide. (My estimate.)

Early excavations and preservation efforts damaged many of the mosaics and in 1980 the Turkish government with the Austrian government worked to restore and save the mosaics.

 

 

 

 

Some mosaics have been put on the walls to display. In this one my hand is about an inch (2 cm.) from the surface of the mosaic. This gives one a scale to judge the size of the mosaic pieces. When you consider the size of the entire floor, which was 218 feet by 182 feet (66.5 m. x 55.5 m.) according to the sign, the number of surface chips must be in the billions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only a small part of it is available for viewing. But is is truly a great work of art.

 

 

 

 

 

One more to show the detail of the work. Look at the 3-D effect of the curly ribbon along the bottom. The guys that built this were true artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we wandered we came across this Tomb and Cemetery of Mahmud II. Although the most recent grave was 2020 by far most of the dates were between 1300 and 1308. It made me wonder if there had been a major war at that time. Each tomb had two round pillars set on top with Arabic inscriptions. I suppose this is their version of a headstone. (The 2020 grave had a flat, western style, headstone.)

 

English is very common here in the tourist areas. Signs about a display will be in Turkish and English. Most are very good translations but sometimes thing get confusing.

This sign is outside our hotel elevator and the elevator has two sets of footprints to suggest the proper positioning of the riders. One facing the door and the other the back wall. The translation leaves a lot to be desired.

 

While we are talking about the English language, I have noticed a large increase in the number of people wearing t-shirts with printing on them since we were last in Europe 13 years ago. These shirts bear logos, sayings, comments, opinions, and statements with 99.9% (my estimate) written in English. It was the same in Greece and Croatia. But very,very few of the wearers look like Americans. Most all are obviously not.

Our final event is a dinner show cruise on the Bosphorus. There are several boats lined up along the shore, stern first. We are on the Orient Bosphorus. It was picked from all the ones because they had a brochure in our hotel check-in package.

 

We bought the deluxe package and got a private table at the edge of the stage.

 

 

 

 

 

The other tables were 6 or 8 persons each. When the staff asked for your nationality the placed your country’s flag on your table. The various nationalities ranged from Argentina, Venezuela and Central America to the US to most of Europe, several African countries and the middle east.

The only bad part was that one of the loudspeakers for the music and show was right over our heads. The price was 80 Euros/person. That food on the table is just the appetizers for us. The main course food was alright, nothing special, as expected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views out the windows were fun. I don’t know how many boats were doing the dinner/floorshow cruise. We saw several in the dark. Between the cruise boats, the ferry boats, the ships and private boats there was a lot of water traffic out that night.

 

 

 

The floor shows were the best part. There was a Dervish.

Several sets of costumed dancers performing classic dances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, of course, belly dancers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last day was spent doing up this web page and sending a box home with souvenirs we’ve gotten along the way. Traveling by motorcycle means one has to lighten the load periodically.

We have two days to Cappadocia and the ancient underground towns.