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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 07 Apr 2009

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

MapDay 7 April 7, 2009
What an amazing first day in Turkey. It started with breakfast on the top floor of our hotel (World Park Hotel, in central Istanbul), with an amazing view over a sprawling city. The habour was right in front of us, and we watched ferries come and go as we had breakfast. Again we noticed a marked police presence on the main road down by the Bosphorus River, hinting at more Obama movements today.
Mike then took us on a quick tour of Istanbul, about 10 kilometers on foot, over 5 hours. First stop was the Spice Bazaar down by the Bosphorus, but on the way, the police grew in numbers. Busloads of them, in fact. Helicopters directly overhead. A police marksman in a minaret above us. Then the main road was cleared of cars, the street cars stopped operating, and police cars and motorbikes zoomed past. Then … the man himself. Barack was sitting on our side of the big black limo, and waved at the crowd as he drove past. Everybody stopped and watched him go by. We find out later that he was heading for the Blue Mosque, perhaps the most holiest of Muslim buildings in Turkey.
The Spice Bazaar was crazy – with every kind of edible spice on sale. Also there was an animal market - rabbits, chickens, peacocks, dogs, and the strangest was a bottle full of swimming leeches!! The spices are so colourful, and one guy tried to sell Anne a little jar of aphrodisiac for her husband. She declined.
Up the hill and through narrow streets we found the Grand Bazaar – a huge covered market many hundreds of years old, with 4000 shops selling absolutely everything. The shopkeepers hassle as you walk past, but if you humour them, it’s actually fun. You could spend hours, even days, here.
We then went underground to explore the Basilica Cistern – built in 532 AD to provide water to the palace and important buildings. It was actually re-discovered in 1545 when people found they could get buckets of water from underneath their floors. You can now walk through this underground room of stone, with hundreds of columns holding up the roof and about one foot of water on the floor. It’s an extraordinary feat of Roman stone engineering.
Walking back to our hotel, we pass through a park with garden beds of flowers, quite beautiful. The dominate flower is the tulip – of every colour.