Saturday, June 29, 2013

Istanbul -- Day 3

So the combo was broken.  Such was bound to happen.

Day three was a pretty full day.  Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, a large cistern (which I'm sure had a specific name but I do not remember it), the Hippodrome, and the Grand Bazaar.

First, the Hagia Sophia.  Well, actually, first was the park between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, but that is not particularly important other than the views of both buildings it provided.  I feel obliged to point this out so that the ordering of the pictures below will make some sort of sense.

The inside of the Hagia Sophia was, as expected, amazing.  Something that has cropped up often here in old buildings is the highly detailed mosaics.  So detailed that the first few we saw we thought to be paintings.  Unfortunately, there was restoration going on in the main dome, and thus half of the dome was filled with ugly scaffolding.

Spotted from across the building

After the Hagia Sophia, we had a quick lunch and then went to see a cistern.  The inside of one, specifically.  It was damp.  And dark.  It wasn't easy to take pictures down there because of my lack of a tripod, but I got one anyways.

After the cistern, it was off to the Blue Mosque.  As usual, we were required to dress appropriately...though luckily my shorts were long enough to cover my knees, so I didn't need to do anything.


After viewing the mosque, we made our way to the site of the hippodrome, or racetrack.  Now, however, it is a large square-esque area with several monuments, such as this obelisk from Egypt.  Tall though it was, it actually was only the top third of the original obelisk.

The Grand Bazaar was our last stop of the day; a gigantic maze of hundreds of tiny shops all aggressively selling basically the same thing.  We wandered through there for a while, kept losing each other, and slowly bought a few things (bargaining included).  I did not get pictures, however...I didn't want to show any specific interest in any store lest I be swarmed by shopkeepers.

I will try to catch up with the remaining days at some point in the near future...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Istanbul -- Day 2

Day two of our time in Istanbul began much earlier than day one.  This time we needed to be at Taksim Square by 8h30 to be picked up for our tour.  Which we miraculously managed to do.  First stop; a mosque.  I'll be the first to admit I don't remember what was so special about this mosque.  I just vaguely remember something about the blue tiles, but I think that was more of an Ottoman thing...or something like that.  Pictures do a better job explaining the mosque though.  One of the great things was that the mosque was completely empty for part of the time we were there.  And since I love not having people in my pictures, this was fantastic for me.

We are currently working on bringing them back to the proper faith...

After spending time at the mosque, we were supposed to visit the spice market, but time was pressing so we boarded a boat for a water tour of the Bosphorus Straights.  On the way we passed another large mosque.

Somewhere between the mosque and the Golden Horn (that being a harbour)

Those small ornate boats are actually sandwich shops.  Fish sandwich shops.

After the tour, we did go back to the spice market, in which we were bombarded with aggressive sales tactics.  Just smile and...well, actually, waving would be a bad idea probably.  Unfortunately, the light was not conducive to picture taking and I was afraid that taking a picture of the stuff would instantly get me surrounded by salespeople.  Once done with the market (which was great) we went for lunch on a terrace restaurant overlooking the Hagia Sophia.

aaand after lunch it was a long drive across to the Asian side of Istanbul to the highest point for an amazing view of the city.  Words are pointless.

Our last stop was at a summer palace for the sultan.  Unfortunately, pictures were not permitted on the inside, so here is a shot of the outside.  And of a path.

The inside was extremely ornate, as might be expected, and felt remarkably similar to most other European 17th-18th century palaces.  One of the interesting features was the design style of the large rooms; they were all made perfectly symmetrical.  Or at least, very nearly.  Same furniture arranged in the same way on either side, with the centre being some symmetrical centrepiece or something (one room had a pool with a fountain...all symmetrical).

This was the last stop on our tour of the city, so we were then brought back to Taksim Square, where we saw the new style of protesting; standing in the square and reading.

So of course my dad went and joined them.

For those not familiar with my cap and blue shorts.

And then we went home.  I tried getting some candid shots of locals along the way, but that felt way too awkward nor did they really come out well.

This wasn't the end of the day, but is unfortunately the end of my pictures.  After returning home we went out again to the same street as yesterday; my dad and I got shaved by a silk thread (which was really not exciting at all, nor particularly effective), got ice cream from a trollish turkish ice cream vendor (they all are trolls), and a few things from some shops.  Dinner was at a small little restaurant by our apartment; really good food.  Tiny local restaurants are typically the best.

And thus was Day 2.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Istanbul -- Day 1

So I'm in Istanbul.  Yup.

The flights over were, as is not usual for us, eventful, thanks to an elaborate surprise.

This summer, I'm interning at a software company in Bermuda.  Because I was doing a project with P2C, my summer was already six weeks shorter, so when I applied for the internship my parents and I agreed that asking about an extra two weeks off during said internship would be shooting myself in the foot.  However, after being accepted and while finalizing things, the company asked if I wanted to take any vacation time.  I decided to take the opportunity, and my mom decided that, as my dad was disappointed that my brother Jordan and I weren't coming, surprising him with this would be a great Father's Day gift.  The initial plan was that we'd give him a card on Father's Day telling him that I was coming, but that was far too tame.  The whole thing quickly spiralled into an elaborate ruse to get all the way to London (the first stop on our journey to Istanbul) without him knowing that I was coming along.  After several revisions and ideas, the final plan was as described below.

First, my luggage.  That was packed up and secretly picked up by my grandparents while we were out of the house (having just gotten home from Montreal it was easy to hide my packing).  Then, on Sunday when we left, I drove them to the airport.  I brought my camera along, the excuse being that I was going to go to Cooper's Island to get some shots in the light of the setting sun as it's near the airport, which is not near our house.  I dropped them off at the terminal, said my farewells (the clincher being when my dad hugged me goodbye and said "I wish you were coming with us"), and departed to get my pictures.

My grandparents were waiting about two minutes away from the airport with my luggage.  I rendezvoused with them and waited for my mom to text me to confirm that they were through security and in the British Airways executive lounge (my dad flies a lot...).  This was my cue to return, check in, get through security, and go to a predetermined corner in the departures lounge that is not visible from anywhere my dad would be going.  After this, it would be relatively simple to board well after my dad, and, as he was sitting in the front of the plane, I'd just slip through on the opposite aisle to the back of the plane (we were careful to get him a window seat up front).

But then things started to go wrong.  While in the airport, my dad started to push back on the idea of him sitting up front with Charlotte...he loves to give away his first class tickets to us and just sit in the back.  If he was in the back, we did have a back-up plan, but we'd have preferred not to use it.  Fortunately this was resolved.  Then, the gate counter was changed to a spot we had not plain view of where my hidden corner was.  As he got to the counter I could see him clearly...I was cowering in my corner hoping that he wouldn't look my way.  My family, with him, did manage to keep him looking at them (specifically away from me), and after a few tense, heart-pounding minutes, the danger had passed.  The "last" step in the surprise was to get through business class and to my seat without him seeing.  I hoisted my camera bag on my shoulder and after causing a brief delay with the flight attendant (thus clearing the aisle ahead of me) I was able to briskly walk through the cabin and get to my seat safe and sound.  At this point we were successful; we just wanted to get me on the plane without him knowing.  Being able to pick and chose when to reveal myself was just icing on the cake.

When we got to London, all I was supposed to do was walk out, catch up with them before immigration, tap him on the shoulder, and ask if he had my passport.  I was way behind the rest of the family on the plane, so that wasn't going to be a problem.  Until I walked out of the tunnel, rounded the corner and saw my family gathered by the restrooms.  Way too early for the surprise.  Luckily, there was an airport cart and I was able to duck behind it while I waited for them to start moving (and get weird looks from the guy sitting in said cart).  Finally they started walking, and I started to move to catch up with them, carefully dodging the glances my dad gave back towards my family who was slightly tailing him.  As we moved around another corner I was able to catch up, reach forward, and tap his shoulder.  The look on his face was priceless!  He was standing in the middle of my laughing family, completely confused and shocked.  I tried to film it but alas, the iPhone slipped down in my shirt pocket and nothing was visible, but one can hear my dad's confusion.  "Holy smokes!  What is going on??  Good grief!  You scared the life out of me!"  We spent a while afterwards explaining to him how this all came about.

The only sad thing about this story is that I think it will be a while before I ever get a chance to pull off a ruse as elaborate as this.

On to the first day in Istanbul.  Most of the day was spent trying to figure out transit arrangements and acquiring transit cards...the latter of which never actually happened due to credit card issues.

A thrilling day in Istanbul

After much time spent on this, we eventually decided to modify our plans for the day and spend our time walking down a touristic street with many local attractions and other such...stuff.  As it is late and most of this is self-explanatory through the images...I'll let them speak for themselves.

Taksim Square
Monument in the square
Eastern Orthodox church
Making tradition Turkish food, similar to crepes
Us in the same restaurant as the above image.
A Roman Catholic church

And thus was day 1.  We saw the protests starting up as we were heading home, but that's normal enough.