A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul – Beyoğlu

overcast 9 °C
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My mission is to explore the Beyoğlu area, which is across the Golden Horn from Sultanahmet. Its major drawcard is İstiklâl Avenue, which runs for a mile up to Taksim Square, a fairly notorious area of Istanbul because of the tendency of protests against government actions to convene here and resulting riots. The Republic Monument is here, and İstiklâl means Independence, so it is an area of great significance to the locals. I am not heading here because of this, but because İstiklâl Avenue has gained the nickname of shopping street. There are also plenty of cafes and bars.

I decide to walk, which is a bit of a mistake - not because it is 4 km, but because of my tendency to get distracted. I let google maps dictate my path, past this mosque built in 1744 - the call to prayer has just sounded, and people - mainly men - emerge from various buildings and enter via a side entrance.
I really want to have a look around the University of Istanbul but after watching for a bit, it becomes obvious there is pretty tight security at the entrance. A quick search makes it clear that random visits just don't happen - although it is possible to get on an organised tout. I can only get a photo of the entrance and move on.
I don't get very far, as there seems to be a book village across the square from the University entrance: I must check it out. Although most of the books turn out to be University texts and all are in Turkish, I enjoy my wee wander.

Everyone who knows anything about Istanbul knows about the Blue Mosque - I take photos of this thinking this is it. I thought it would be blue, and am persuaded there are bits of blue, but it is actually called the blue mosque because of its interior - thousands of blue tiles. Looking at photos of the actual blue mosque, I am left unsure what this is.

From here, things get wierd, as google maps has a shortcut for me. I walk through an area which has several houses looking like they have been hit by bombs, others which have burnt down and others which are being demolished: it is not a cheerful walk. Eventually, I reach the Golden Horn and walk across the bridge for the metro which, unusually, has a station half way across. Maybe they had some sort of dispute as to which side the station should be on, and compromised so that it is equally useless to both sides?

Once across the other side, my maps app takes me on another merry walk, though about a billion shops selling electrical supplies, nuts and bolts and small electrical tools. Want any of them in Istanbul? I'm your man. Upon emerging from this electrical storm, I am taken with the neoclassical lines of the buildings.

I'm not sure if it is the hills or there is something lost in translation, but I'm a bit lost. I know I am at the very beginning of İstiklâl Avenue, but I want to visit the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. After numerous false starts I find it: after such a lengthy walk, it is time for a coffee and there's quite a nice coffee shop in the entrance. Curiously, the only exhibit I really like is that of the black and white photos of Yıldız Moran - the first academically trained female photographer in Turkey. This one is so cute!, but they seem to be identity cards so there is a political message as well.

Here are four more, including one of Mt Ararat

I reckon these are showing human nature, but it is this work by British sculptor Anthony Cragg that is shown under that label:

Not really my thing, but I do quite like this

Alright, it is now nearly dark: surely time for a drink and to find some food on İstiklâl Avenue? I get the drink, sitting opposite the Russian Embassy
but food is more elusive - many fast food joints but nothing appealing. Apparently, it is in the passages off the main drag where the real good stuff is to be found. The only places that really grab my attention are the two shops - next door to each other - selling fountain pens and inks

I do walk all the way to Taksim Square, which is a bit of an anti-climax as there's nothing there and actually walk all the way back to my hotel before I find a place I want to eat at - I do see several restaurants, but with no people in them, I think I can do better. About half way back, I discover that the bloke at the airport did not do a good job of installing my Turkcell SIM card: I have a phone with dual SIMS and have until now been using up data on my Australian SIM: it runs out. This is not a good thing to find out, as my phone is telling me how to get home. I figure that I am walking alongside a tram line - maybe it is the same one that runs perilously close to pedestrians as it goes past my hotel?

Posted by NZBarry 11:12 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul – Sultanahmet

sunny 10 °C
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Everyone, I think, knows of the Orient Express: if not the train itself, then Agatha Christie’s evocation of it or Lumet’s film version of it (starring Albert Finney as Poirot and a number of big name actors as the murder suspects) or perhaps the recent remake by Branagh. Although there are variants, the Orient Express featured by Christie ran between Istanbul and either Paris or Calais from 1918 until 1977. The Istanbul station referred to faces the Golden Horn and, as it happens, is just around the corner from my hotel, also called the Orient Express.

Sadly, the station is in a poor state and is barely used for trains any more. There is a heavily policed car park which makes taking photos a little awkward, but I do my best.

Inside, there is a museum, which I expect to feature Orient Express memorabilia but is really general Turkish Rail bric-a-brac - it is so crappy I don’t even bother unsheathing my camera. I like the ceiling and wall decorations in this room.

There is a thriving wee market and a handsome looking restaurant, which is deserted when I venture in so I do not linger.

This is old town Istanbul, the part that was formerly known as Constantinople, and is now called Sultanahmet – I think because the headquarters of the Sultans who ruled the Ottoman empire are in this area. I like it a lot: it is less crowded than other parts of Istanbul, has a great range of places to eat, including some quite serious coffee shops, and nice streetscapes with decent shopping. I am taken by a couple of shops selling fountain pens and another selling shirts, but resist all temptation!

I am tempted to have lunch at this place, a Locantasi (which is a kind of buffet), but the huge queue puts me off, plus the food looks like it is cold.
The only bigger queue I see is of people waiting to buy a ticket in the 70 million lira lottery. Lunch turns out to be in an old school place - formica tables, a couple of old gents in drinking tea, an old fellow running the kitchen and his wife the till - where I order what would be called a lamb shish back home, but this is much tastier. Somehow I make much less mess eating this than when I eat at the Trojan.

My first coffee is actually a Turkish coffee, a gift from my hotel.

The only two hassles I encounter here are the carpet sellers and the trams. It takes me a wee while to catch on the first time I am accosted by a fellow in the street – he’s all about being friendly, come have a cup of tea, oh it is just up here, in my carpet shop, uniquely I have someone making carpet, come watch her... I soon learn to not admit it is my first day in town: saying it is my third day leads one guy to ask how many carpet shops I have been taken to. I like his gracious acceptance that I am not a starter. The trams are also a hassle because of the speed at which they move, with no barrier between pedestrian and tram. I don’t see anyone go under a tram but it must happen.

I wander up towards the Grand Bazaar, but am distracted by what I see on the way
but run into very crowded streets

The Bazaar itself proves to be something of a reprieve from the crowds, despite being the most visited place in the world a few years ago. It has been around for nearly 600 years: as I wander around, I try to imagine how it would have been. I like the quieter nooks that I find, and try the food at what I guess is a very small Locantasi.

I don't spend all that long here - everything becomes a bit samey and there is not much that I am likely to buy. In particular, I am not going to buy (or wear) shirts like this (although I do like the lights, the chances of getting them home whole are not great):

And then for a complete break from the pressures of the city, there is Gulhane Park, which was originally the Sultans' garden

Posted by NZBarry 10:45 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Transit to Turkey

sunny 22 °C
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After a hectic time clearing my section after years of neglect and then getting ready to change offices at work, it is finally time to start my holidays. My flight is out of Wellington but I prefer to avoid the obvious, so have found an interesting way to get there. First, a shuttle to the airport to pick up a free relocation rental car to drive to Christchurch. large_c8a18fe0-017a-11e9-b92b-279d7104a4b7.jpg
Apart from being late, this is lacking in moment – I have made this drive many times. Because I have an early start, I stay in Addington for the night, in the former jail. It is very peaceful, with only a handful of people about. It is when I try to take a photo of my digs that I discover the first thing left behind: the memory card for my camera, so the phone has to suffice.

Two years ago, I was booked on the train to take me from Christchurch to Picton, as a precursor to a spell in Australia. Days before I departed, the Seddon earthquake struck, rendering both road and rail unusable. Although the road was open for my trip last summer, it is only this week that the passenger rail service has been able to resume. That made the train the obvious choice.

The railway line hits the coast somewhat earlier than the road, and is virtually in the water.
I don’t think that the earthquake has made many changes here: most are north of Kaikoura.

I had no idea that the Kaikoura Train Station is no longer in use: instead we make a stop at the Whale Watch office, where I can pick up a card for the camera. The coast is rather beautiful – here is where the road has been re-aligned post quake.

The white rocks are those which were pushed up so that they are now permanently out of the water.
large_IMG_9852.JPGlarge_IMG_9862.JPG 9852

Business is returning to the roadside.

I am surprised at the smoothness of the ride: I can hear the bogies moving about beneath me, but the train has good suspension so I am not affected. The seats are comfy, the cabins are quite well appointed for what I believe are quite old carriages.

For years, I have passed through Picton, been a bit bored with the place, but last summer I spent a few hours here and came to realise how pretty the waterfront is.

I made friends with a couple of ducks, until a young girl came and annoyed them. The same girl played a mean trick on her sister – persuaded her to go hide (in a game of hide and seek) and then ran off to join her parents.

Sadly, many of the cafes closed at 2:30 so I had to make do with some excellent fish and chips: it is going to be many weeks before I can repeat the experience, so it is an appropriate lunch.

Finally, it is time. I dithered over ferry timings and companies, then had a brainwave – what will it cost to fly? Not much more than a ferry, it turned out. Then I dithered some more: do I fly on the day of my flight out of Wellington, or play it safe and fly the day before? The plane is rather small, an 11 seater Cessna caravan.

Things are pretty informal on Sounds Air: we leave as soon as all the passengers are present, 15 minutes early for a 20 minute flight, and remove our own bags from the plane at the other end. One reason for flying was to get a different look at Queen Charlotte Sound – it mean a fairly steep ascent out of Picton airport, which had me on the edge of my seat, but the views made it worth it.

Once in Wellington, I discover a second thing left behind. I had carefully packed all of my socks and unmentionables in a stuff sack: it remains on my kitchen table. Luckily the supermarket across from the YHA can remedy the missing sock problem, but not the other. Thankfully, I have two nephews in town – after brunch they take me off to the Warehouse, where there is a surfeit of unmentionables and I can again travel in a civilised fashion.

The flights are as unremarkable as modern economy flights are: Melbourne for about 30 minutes, then Singapore for a couple of hours. This gives plenty of time for a gin and tonic but when I learn they are $30, I abstain. Tiger and roast duck are adequate substitutes. Food on the plane is actually pretty good – a fish curry is the standout dish. The planes are 777-200’s – I think Singapore Air have upgraded from when I last flew out of Wellington, as the screens and movie offerings are far superior. I binge watch Barry, a comedy about a depressed hitman who finds life in acting (when he is despatched to despatch a fellow in an acting class). One moral seems to be once a hitman always a hitman, as he finds it very difficult to break free. I also watch most of Vanity Fair – up to the end of the war and Becky Sharp’s attempts to re-establish herself at home. It is a long time since I read the book, so I can’t tell how faithful it is, but it is very enjoyable.

I am pleased my flight is into the old Ataturk airport, because it still has good transport links to the city, although I can see why a new one is needed: passengers from many flights, including mine, are bussed to the terminal. But I am processed through the formalities very quickly, n less than 30 minutes. At immigration, I am lined up in front of a young officer: she processes maybe six people before me, and never says a word or show any expression. When it is my turn, she manages to look even more bored: I laugh and she finds a small half smile for me. I count that a success. I grab a Turkcell SIM (at a fairly shocking price, twice what I had expected) but before I leave, I notice a Caffe Nero. When I was in the UK and couldn't find a specialist coffee shop, this was the next best alternative. This version is almost completely different - both in terms of the coffee preparation and the things to eat. It's not good. Time to hit Istanbul.

Posted by NZBarry 13:55 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Colombo - Galle Face Green

sunny 32 °C

The Galle Face Hotel is probably Colombo's most famous hotel. It was originally just a house built by the Dutch, but four Brits opened it as a hotel in 1864 - the year the railway line behind it opened for business, and 20 years before Raffles opened in Singapore. By the end of the 19th century it was apparently the best hotel East of Suez. There's a long tradition of broadcasting the New Year's Eve dance here over the radio. Arthur C Clarke wrote some of his last novel here. With this sort of heritage, I seriously wanted to stay and, at $US125 a night, it is surprisingly affordable, Plus, staying there would make it the second hotel I'd shared (in a sense) with Mark Twain. Sadly, when I was looking to book, they had a five night minimum stay - longer than my visit to Colombo. Ah well, at least I could go have a drink in its bar I thought.

From the Colombo Fort area, it is a short walk down the coast, along an area known as Galle Face Green: basically an area of lawn the street side of the sea wall. It has long been an area for perambulation, and has cute wee green shops, colourful balls, canoodling couples and so on. It was actually established by the Dutch so they had somewhere from where they could fire cannonballs at the Portuguese.

The hotel extends right to the beach and, in fact, cuts off access along the beach to those not staying at it except at lowish tide. It is indeed a pretty grand looking place. The first photo is theirs; the second is one I took as I approached.

My first port of call was Trader's Bar - the inside area is wood panelled but was empty, so I went out onto the verandah and had a gin-based cocktail they had devised. From there, I could see another bar by the pool and what looked like a restaurant.

Sure enough, it was a restaurant, serving a buffet lunch at a price I was willing to pay. The problem with a plate piled high with random food is that it is not very photogenic, so I have none to share. Most of the food was good but some had been sitting a bit longer than optimal.

Post lunch, I planned on a walk down a bit to Kollupitiya, where I'd read there's a bit of a buzz and a market to check out. I was stopped by a well-dressed gent asking for a light who struck up a conversation,saying he was posted to the US Embassy, although originally from Malaysia. Yes, I know: nothing good has ever come from random people accosting me in the street. When he found out where I was going he was all "You MUST visit the Gangaramaya Temple" - something I knew from talking to someone in the hostel. I wasn't all that alarmed when he summoned a tuktuk to take us there, he did pay my entrance and gave me a rushed tour of the place (meaning I am now unable to explain anything I saw - when I go at my own pace, I take notes). Its a pretty big deal for Sri Lankan Buddhists, although it was only established in the 19th century.

In accordance with tradition, there's a bodhi tree - although obviously not possible, my guide claimed it to be the one under which the Buddha was born: even I know that the bodhi is where he gained enlightenment, and it wasn't this one!

When I took that last picture, I was reminded of all my students lined up as I lecture! About this time, my mate's stories started to unravel - his phone calls were explained as being from his "company" (i.e. not the US Embassy) and when he said the next stop was a gem store, I worked out what he was up to and went along. In my very first trip out of New Zealand, I got caught up in one of these gem scams, so knew not to actually buy anything. No harm done. Yeah right. This adventure had a sting in the tail: we took the tuktuk to Beira Lake. Here, my "mate" abandoned me, seeming surprised that I might think he'd pay for the tuktuk since the whole thing was his idea. Ah well, I thought, I'd been let off cheaply if all I had to pay for was the tuktuk - until I heard what I was being charged - 6400 rupees, or around $64!

Posted by NZBarry 23:29 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)


sunny 32 °C

I spent my first night in Sri Lanka in a hotel near the airport, near an air force base which had a string of tin sentry boxes up on stilts along the road. As I came out of the hotel in the morning, the obviously armed soldier opposite caught my eye and gave me a smile and a wave, which I found kind of comforting. My hotel shuttle took me to the airport, where I caught a bus to Colombo: the first bit along the new expressway went well as there was hardly any traffic - the toll took about half the takings the driver had obtained from us passengers. Once off the expressway, we were in a mess of traffic on narrow streets, and had to make our way right to the other edge of the city. I had plenty of time to examine the buildings and shops we passed - none really made me think "I must come back for a walk". This is Main Street, Colombo, as seen from the front seat of the bus.

Once off the bus, it finally occurred to me that I had worked out how to get to my hostel from the railway station, but I was at the bus station and had no idea where it was. All I could see was a busy road with a market running down each side.The only directions I could get were pretty vague, so I had to just hope for the best, and luckily the railway station did indeed soon come into sight. This did not mean that my hostel was easy to find - essentially, at one point I went a block further than I should have, so it put all of my carefully written instructions out of wack. No-one had a clue what I meant when I asked about the Star Anise hostel, and it wasn't until I'd stopped for an ice cream and retraced my steps that I finally found it - actually very easy when you know how! It was a great place to stay - very new, very clean (and constantly kept clean by the staff) and right in the centre of what I called the colonial district (actually called Colombo Fort, although the fort is long gone) - the old Dutch hospital was a couple of blocks away and many of the buildings were British banks. The President's Palace was just down the street.
Presidential Palace

Presidential Palace


The old Dutch hospital has been converted to a collection of posh restaurants, bars and boutique shopping. My first dinner was here - a couple of the local beers (Lion) and some sort of spicy chicken dish. I was having a last drink when the couple at the next table invited me to join them. They were Brits, caught out by the changes at the airport so needing to fill in time until their very delayed plane left. She was from Halifax, in Yorkshire, they both worked in journalism and had lots to say about their trip around Sri Lanka so it was a great way to spend my first proper night in Sri Lanka.

In my previous post, there are some photos of the fancy Dilmah tea shop. There's another tea place near where I stayed which was stubbornly closed all weekend, then I was off in another part of Colombo, so I ended up only getting to the Pagoda Tea Rooms once. Its very old school - quite formal waiters bringing tea, with rather nice cakes and cookies. This is the kind of place I look forward to finding, given all the tea there is in Sri Lanka.

Walking down the street which runs past the Presidential Palace towards the sea, I came across the rather good looking Kingsbury Hotel. Opposite it is a building I just could not identify - it has some signs, but they're all written in Sinhalese. I've now been able to identify it as the Presidential Secretariat Office, which had been the Parliament building. The Presidential Secretary is essentially the Secretary of State - the senior civil servant, and is the modern version of the former secretary to the Governor-General.

Posted by NZBarry 19:25 Archived in Sri Lanka Comments (0)

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