Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bodrum Days - Yalikavak Market

hard bargaining!
We arrived on Tuesday evening. We had a busy few days in İstanbul but now it is time to relax. Wednesday got the basic shopping done but left the fruit and veg until Thursday. We went to the market in Yalikavak.The ladies were awed. Mum had left her money at home. I had told her to bring it but she didn't plan on any shopping......until she got to the market. two new tops later she was in debt to the tune of 35tl. Bee was looking for a "sirt cantasi" a backpack but all she could find was rucksacks. I knew what she was looking for, a small leather bag she could carry on her back. I set off about the stalls and eventually found what she was looking for. The stall had just one left and it cost 30tl.  I bargained him down a massive 5tl with my spiel about how Bee was retired, pensions are reduced and the economic crisis in Ireland was terrible:-)) I had to try and get her to keep her surprise at the cost under control because the exclamation of "Is that all it costs" was not helping me bargain. After Bee purchased Mum too said she would like a bag like this. A pattern for things to come. Bee bought the last of something, Mum also wanted it.
Later we did the fruit and veg shopping, I had threatened my mother on the poor guy selling oranges. If they
deal done!
were not sweet as advertised Mum would come back after him and the ensuing bloodbath would not be pretty. Never under estimate a sweet-looking white haired old lady of she has to eat bitter oranges. The ladies were surprised with the amount of shopping but fresh veg was on the menu for the next week. Homemade ratatouille with lamb chops. Not a squeeze or spoonful of tomato puree anywhere. All done from scratch. In addition our trip to the market, resulted in freshly squeezed orange juice, homemade lemonade and homemade strawberry jam. Try making fresh jam at home when strawberries cost €9 for a kilo. Her I bought three kilos for 12tl - less than six euros.

 After the market it was  time for coffee and a snack. We went across to the Belidiye  coffee house on the seafront. I introduced the ladies to Gozleme -  a Turkish style pancake made from lavas bread and filled with many different filling but spinach and cheese one of the more common ones. Later a stroll along the seafront and then back home.

Arrival in Bodrum.

We had a smooth flight and I wasn’t suffering any after-effects from this morning. Our bags came through without any bother and now all we had to do was pick up our rental car Normally we rented from the same company all the time. However, a friend  uses a different company and had recommended them highly. So we decided to try them. Their quotation was about 90 euros cheaper so we decided to try them.  When we came outside the arrival building there was no-one there to meet us. Being sick in the morning I had forgotten to put the company’s telephone number into my phone. I thought maybe they were waiting for us at the international terminal, but I had no way of contacting them. I rang Metin, our caretaker and friend, to see if he could access my email to get contact details for us.
In the meantime Sean was talking to a guy who used to bring our rental car to the airport. He has now gone into business for himself. He was earning 750 lira a month from the other company, but the work was only 6 months of the year. He now has a wife and baby to support so he has gone into business himself with his brother. He offered us a car, for a cheaper price. While worrying that the our man would turn up we decided to take up his offer. His cars were at the international terminal. He brought Sean over to get the car. The next thing a van pulled up. It was the man who had the car we booked. He was waiting for us at the wrong terminal. I wasn’t impressed because I had told him that we would be at the domestic terminal
Sean then pulled up with Tufan. Tufan said there was no problem so we went with the original booking. But we will certainly give him business in the future. We were brought to the nearest petrol station where we waited for our car. It turned out to be a diesel Renault Megane. It was to be ours until Friday and then we would get the car we had booked. They were busy. I wished they had told us.
We packed the car up and we were on our way. An hour later than planned we were home!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Istanbul Day 4 Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque.

Monday night, having come back from the restaurant, I checked my messages.  Sean fell asleep as I began chatting to a friend. Necmettin works for Civil Defence in Istanbul and my coming online was timely. He was working on his English and needed help with translation. It was a bit easier than the last time he required my help. That time was how to construct  nuclear shelter, a little too challenging for my vocabulary.
This time it was a joke. A Hazardous Materials Data Sheet. 
Of course the hazardous material was a woman. Eventually between the two of us we managed the translation. I then said I had better sign out as I was bringing my Mum to see the Aya Sofya in the morning. He then remembered I was in Istanbul and he wanted to meet us. He asked for the hotel name and our room number. I explained we were leaving tomorrow evening. Then the internet went. The next thing I knew was the room phone rang. Oh my God, Sean is not a good sleeper and once his sleep is broken he finds it had to get back to sleep. I quickly spoke to Necmettin and gave him my mobile number. He would contact me tomorrow. I then had to explain myself to Sean. Another of my Turkish men, ringing me in the middle of the night. I quickly turned out the light and lay waiting to hear Sean begin to snore. If he didn’t go back to sleep I would feel awful. Thank God before long I heard his breathing change and I too went to sleep.
Waking early, I got up and decided to roam the backstreets, to take photos. I set out at seven. The streets were quiet and beautiful. There was such a contrast in the buildings. Some of the old Konaks have been beautifully restored, many turned into small hotels, and some stand side by side with dilapidated falling down buildings.
It is the other side to Sultanahmet and gave great scope to my fascination with doors. I returned to the hotel at eight in time for breakfast. Sean was up, perhaps hoping that my absence meant I had run off, the late night phone call arranging an assignation. Unfortunately there I was. I had my photos to prove my innocence!
I had a slight pain in my stomach but nothing to cause concern. We went up for breakfast and made our plans for the day. We would check out, leave our bags in the hotel and go to see Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque.
I went to check out, pay the bill etc. 10% discount for cash. I enquired would there be an extra charge. My Mum had four extra guests staying over for two nights. There was a puzzled look from the receptionist.
Do you remember they took a couch out of Mum’s suite to fit in the extra bed? They couldn’t get the couch out the door, so they put it out on the covered part of the balcony. In no time at all, there were 4 new guests installed on the couch. A cat and her three kittens! My Mum spent a lot of time worrying what the staff would do with them when we left.
We were assured there would be no extra charge for her overnight guests, they were an “extra” from the hotel to us.

By now I wasn’t feeling great, but thought I would be ok. We went straight to Aya Sofya and joined the long queue. The last time I had been here, a guide approached us and offered a guided tour. He needed  six people, to pay 10 lira each in addition to the entry fee of course. The best part was that we would skip the queue. Sure enough, five minutes later he appeared and the deal was done. As there was four of us he needed to find two more “victims” to make it worth his while.

We had almost reached the top of the queue, when he arrived with another couple. He is an excellent tour guide making his spiel both interesting and amusing. He noticed another couple hanging on to his words and told them they were welcome to join us but at a cost. They were elderly Americans, who decided that if you met Irish people you had to have a drink with them.

 The Aya Sofia, was originally a church, then with the coming of the Ottomans, was turned into a mosque. The frescoes were plastered over as images are not allowed on the walls in the Muslim religion. This lead to the preservation of the mosaics. With the coming of Ataturk he decided to change the mosque to a museum, so as not to cause offence to either the Christian or Moslem religions.

On the walls are large  calligraphies made of wood and camel skin. The names of Mohammad, Allah the first four Caliphs and the two grandchildren of Mohammed are inscribed on them. These remain on the walls as they were too large to get out the doors. Restoration has uncovered some of the original mosaics.

The building inspires awe. Originally chuches were built to face Jerusalem, mosques to face Mecca. Luckily in Aya Sofya the directions were not too difficult to change as there was only a difference of 9 degrees.

The tour over we gave the Americans the slip and brought Mum and Breda upstairs to see the mosaics. I was still feeling uncomfortabele and decided to go find a toilet. Asking directions I located them to find a long queue waiting. There was a mens and ladies and in between there was a wheelchair toilet. There was a attendant who was calling elderly ladies out of the queue to use the toilet. I was now feeling much worse. I didn’t think I could wait much longer.

I approached the lady and told her I was unwell. She told me I could use the toilet after the next lady. I told her I was about to be sick. She bypassed the queue for the main toilets and got me to a cubicle just in time. It was the first time I really appreciated speaking Turkish. If I hadn’t been able to explain myself I would have ended up getting sick into the bin I had spotted in the men’s toilet, in front of everyone.
The attendant was so nice to me. She came back to see if I was alright and took care of me. I found Sean and explained. I asked him to bring Mum and Breda to see the rest of the sights while I returned to the hotel to see if they had a spare room, so I could lie down until it was time for our transfer to the airport.
I was lucky because while they didn’t have an empty room that night they had a late check in so I could use the room until five. I took some Motilium, got a bottle of water and lay down. I  slept for a while and felt a bit better on walking.
Sean arrived back, they had been to the Yerebatan Cistern, had lunch and then seen the Blue Mosque.  They were now going to wait in the hotel until it is time for the airport.

Shortly afterwards Necmettin rang. He would meet us in the airport to say hello. I only hoped I would be okay travelling.

Feeling much better, we arrived in the airport. We checked in and then went to get a coffee to wait for my friend. I stuck to the water. Necmettin phoned and we wandered around trying to find each other. At last we met. It is so nice to meet someone that I have been speaking to for over a year. I introduced him to my family. He was delighted to meet them, his Mum is twenty years younger than mine but he reckoned my Mum looked younger than his. Unfortunately time was short and we had to leave. We sent our regards  to his wife and son. He appears to be a lovely, gentle polite man and I was glad of the opportunity to meet him.
And so on to Bodrum

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Istanbul Day 4 - early morning walkabout.

These are not the best photos I've taken but the give a sense of the back streets of Sultanahmet

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Istanbul Day 3 - Topkapı Palace

True to the forecast, we woke up to the spills of rain. Yesterday had been a long day so we had decided to have a late breakfast and then head off to Topkapı Palace. We had also planned to go to the Grand Bazaar. Last night I asked at the desk how long it would take to walk there from the Hotel. I was told normally 15-20 minutes, he would walk it in ten minutes but I would need two hours, at which point he collapsed laughing. I told him appearances were deceiving. I had grown up with five brothers and I could take him on anytime:-)

After breakfast we ordered a taxi to take us to Topkapı. We were told they were busy because of the rain and we would have to wait. The taxi arrived and we jumped in. I told him where we wanted to go and he threw his hands up, it was very close. At times it is handy to have Mum with us. I told him it was wet and my Mum was old. It was one fare he was not pleased with. He grumpily brought us to our tip for him!
We got out and were immediately besieged by umbrella sellers. They were making a killing at 10 lira a go. However, we were prepared. I had bought umbrellas bearing the pink ribbon (supporting Breast Cancer Charities) at home. They folded up small enough to fit in any bag.

There was a long queue for tickets. I sent Sean to the queue and I went in search of batteries for Mum's camera. I then joined them in rain. Some jostled for place as they were getting wet but in general the crowd was good natured. I got talking to a German couple. They were in Istanbul to tango. They had a house in the West of Ireland and came regularly to fish. It's a small world.

Then we passed through the entrance. Many of the tourist attractions in Istanbul have security scanners, through which you must put your bag. We decided that Sean would queue for the tickets to view the harem while we had a look at some of the audience chambers. The last time we visited, there were guided tours of the harem. Now, you must rely on an audio-guide or on the information posters, written in Turkish and English.

Life in the harem was not as I had imagined it. The harem was the family quarters of the Sultan. The women who served him were taught to read and write, to play music, palace protocol and ettiquette. After nine years service they were given their leave papers, some diamond jewellery, gold and a trousseau. Their lives were closely watched or a husband found for them. They were known for their good breeding and discretion. The walls carried suitable Qur'anic inscriptions, instructing  in the proper conducting of family life.

 The grounds and gardens of Topkapı are beautiful but unfortunately because of the rain we did not see them at their best. I prefer Topkapı to the Dolmabahçe Palace. Dolmabahçe is impressive but it is like many European palaces whereas Topkapı immediately takes me back to a completely different era. The İznik tiles are amazing. If you are going to visit the Palace, make sure you pay the extra money to see the Harem

The Treasury rooms were very crowded but gave a very interesting insight into how life might have been. The display of kaftans was amazing, colour, texture, style and size.  Some of those Sultans were very big men, while others quite small and slight.

 The thrones were also interesting, not a traditional upright bench as we would imagine but ones on which the Sultans would have sat crosslegged.

By now, the afternoon was advancing, and the ladies were tired.The crowds and standing waiting to see some of the exhibits was wearing. We decided to call it a day and headed for the nearest available cup of coffee By now İ was almost professional at asking for Nescafe sade süt ayrı- black coffee with milk served separately. Once again İ'm amazed by the reaction to my Turkish. Quite a conversation ensued about links between İreland and Turkey.

We head for our hotel. İ  leave the others to find their own way back. İ need to buy batteries. The batteries went in my flash. The charger is in Bodrum. İ also need to change some money. I get these jobs done, walk back to the hotel to find İ.m there before them. Oops, Sean's sense of direction again? Well at least İ have some fun with the guy on the desk, Don't  think it will take two hours to walk to the Grand Bazaar. But that is another days work!.
Time to go upstairs and relax for an hour before heading out. We have booked a meal to the Albura Kathisma. I saw it recommended on the Thorntree forum and checked it out on Tripadvisor. The rain had stopped so we decided to walk. We arrived at the restaurant and were seated. The tables were close together and there were people sitting at each side of ours.......challenging for someone who as born awkward and curvaceous to squeeze through without knocking down our neighbours dinner. The menu was wide ranging but we decide to stick to the old Ottoman recipes. We were not disappointed. The staff were friendly. Mehmet our waiter was anxious that we wrote a good review for Tripadvisor, giving  us his name as he  wants to be famous!!

The restaurant is built on top of a Byzantine cellar dating form somewhere between the 6th to 11th centuries. Diners are free to go and explore. The remains were only found 12 years ago and they removed 600 lorry loads of earth during the excavation. Of course, following my usual line of luck, the lights went out while we were down there and we made our way out by the light of Sean's mobile phone.

A wonderful evening and of course we again passed the Blue Mosque all lit up on our way home.

 Please note. Some of these photos were taken on  a previous visit, hence the sunshine.