Map of Istanbul.
In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city which straddles the Bosporus waterway between Europe from Asia, the buildings are as various as gingerbread houses, Baroque palaces, and the two of the most famous mosques in ever built. Hagia Sophia (holy wisdom), which was finished in 360 and is now a place for Islamic worship, was the world’s largest cathedral for over 1,000 years. It’s also a model for the legendary 17th-century Blue Mosque.
Known as Byzantium and Constantinople before, Istanbul today is not what it was in the early 70's when we visited .It was a wild place then .Think of the movie "Midnight Express"...that explains what Istanbul was like when we arrived there.It is the only city in the world with roots in Asia as well as Europe-divided by the Bosphorus River.
Istanbul and the Bosphuros River with the two Mosques in the background.
The flight from Athens to Istanbul on Hava Yollari was a frightening experience.
The plane was filthy with papers all over the floor and the seats were dirty.I had holes in my wrist as Elsa's nails dug into me during the flight.It was a rough ride!
Arriving in Istanbul some more chaos awaited us.They were working on the airport and it was bedlam.South Africans could get a visa on the airport, so we met three girls from Benoni that was also waiting for visas.They were rather frightened so they were pleased we were around. The five of us decided to stick together.They were staying at the famous Pera Palas Hotel and we all shared a taxi there.We could not afford the Pera Palas but decided to find a hotel close by.
Pera Palas Hotel
The Pera Palas Hote was built in 1892 for the purpose of hosting the passengers of the Orient Express.
It holds the title of the oldest European hotel of Turkey.Along with politicians, artists and writers, kings, queens and heads of state all have also strolled along the halls of Pera Palace Hotel.
King Edward V111 ,Queen Elizabeth 11, Emperor Franz Joseph as well as Sarah Bernard, Alfred Hitchcock and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to name a few.
We found a third rate hotel close to the Pera Palas .It was a big mistake to visit Istanbul on limited funds...We stayed in Istanbul three nights and moved every day to a new hotel
The area around the Pera Palas Hotel was full of night clubs as well as more reasonable hotels.
The clubs have belly dancers and they use a "metal" castanets that they clank to the rhythm of the music while they dance.Needless to say this went on all night and we did not sleep a wink the first night!
Belly dancer with metal "castanets"
The second- and third night- we had to move out ,as the hotels were so dirty.Even after we asked to see the rooms we discovered that we could not deal with the filth.It was a nightmare -one felt like standing in the middle of the room and not touching anything. Needless to say we spent a lot time with our friends at the Pera Palas hotel.
Istanbul Bazaar from the air.
No visit to Istanbul is complete without going shopping at the Bazaar.It is a very large market place and one can buy the most beautiful Turkish carpets and other stuff. The vendors speak every language under the sun and even when we spoke Afrikaans to each other they understood us, as they knew Dutch and Flemish.Neil bought some beautiful alabaster cups there.We were on such a tight budget that we could not spend much but there were some beautiful things to be had at very good prices .With Elsa being tall and blond she once again attracted a lot of attention from the Turkish men and she had her bottom pinched in the bazaar more than once.
The Topkapi Palace- on a hill next to the river - was the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign.The palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments and is a major tourist attraction today, containing the most holy relics of the Muslim world such as the Prophet Mohammed's cloak and sword.
The collection of emeralds are magnificent- and the biggest I have ever seen,
The harem and interior of the palace was beautiful and gave one a good idea of the luxurious life style the Sultans had....
As we came out of the palace I was not looking where I was going and as I turned around I walked right into a bear.......yes- a dancing bear.It was quite a frightening experience as it was the last thing I expected in a city! It was a large bear -more like the one on the second photo.I am six feet three inches tall and he towered over me- as he was on his hind legs.
We also walked down a street with old wooden houses in Istanbul. Wooden houses were very popular and typical.Unfortunately there are only about 250 left in the city today.
There are two famous Mosques in Istanbul .The oldest of the two is the Hagia Sophia.
It is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum.
From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople , except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral . The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized . It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.
Hagia Sophia Mosque
The blue Mosque was built two hundred years later 1609-1616 Like many other mosques, it also comprises a tomb of the founder, a madrasah (school) and a hospice. While still used as a mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque has also become a popular tourist attraction.
Me and Elsa in Istanbul.
We had to take our shoes off when we entered the Blue Mosque.The floors were covered with very large Persian rugs for the men to pray on .There were a lot of pigeons flying around inside and we kept stepped in their dropping that were all over the carpets.
Muslims wash their feet before they enter a mosque ,but we needed a foot bath when we came out!
Elsa read about a trip up the Bosphuros River all the way to the Black Sea.
The ferry crosses the river and stops in Europe and then Asia zig zagging all the way up the river..
It sounded like fun as it would take a morning.
There were some magnificent homes all along the river closer to Istanbul .
Once we boarded we realized this was a local, and we were going to spend most of the day on the ferry.It was not such a great experience.The boat was used by the normal population and the facilities on the ferry was horrible- dirty and smelly.
On the same trip was an American couple .They could not stop scratching as they picked up some bed bugs and was not having fun at all!
When we got to the Black Sea we could see some grey Russian War Ships .Being in the early 70's it was not a very comforting sight.
When we got back to the port in Istanbul we had a good fish meal at a restaurant on the river.
The day after I big splurge at the fish restaurant we discovered that we had no more money!
Elsa and I use to give money to Neil and he would pay for everything .The day before we gave him the last of our money and we thought that would cover the rest of the stay in Istanbul.This tour to Turkey was a stretch, as we planned only to visit Greece. We barely had a enough for the taxi fare to the airport the next day so we decided to go to one of the street restaurants to get something cheap to eat.
We decide on some Donner Kebab.While we were waiting for him to prepare the food we watched in horror as a mouse got onto the table climbed into the plate with sliced tomatoes and started nibbling away.When we alarmed the guy about all this- he just smiled and shooed the mouse away.That was it- we left him screaming when we decided to pass on his food. We ended up buying some fresh fruit and had that for dinner.
The next day we got to the airport a few hours before our flight had to leave for Athens .There we would catch our connecting flight to London and Amsterdam .The Istanbul Airport was still chaotic and even worse than when we arrived. There were no signs and one would stand on line for half hour and then be told this is a Sydney flight and that the Athens flight was 50 lines further down.
People were screaming and crying to get to their flights on time.After we booked in Neil and I was separated from Elsa as we had to go through a security check.We moved through and went to the bus waiting on the tarmac to take us to the Athens flight.We waited and waited but no sign of Elsa.Eventually I get into the bus but Neil is standing with one leg on the bus and one on the ground refusing to get in until we see Elsa.Eventually she arrived and told us that the lady that was doing the security check had a run in her stocking and borrowed some nail polish from Elsa to fix the run in her stocking..........When that plane took off were so relieved to see the end of that trip.
A few days later back in London Neil discovered the roll of money we gave him in Istanbul.
He changed his pants and forgot to take the money out of the pocket.....All is well that ends well.....
Istanbul has changed since the 70's and both Neil and Elsa have returned to visit again.
They both enjoyed their experiences there.