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Michael’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 30 Apr 2006

Location: Istabbul, Turkey

MapEntry 28 - Istanbul (end of tour - 26th April)

So, after our couple days of tour, down at Gallipoli, and finally a bit of sleep, we headed to the Istanbul city tour at 9am. Now, I ain't no slouch when it comes to directions, but I don't expect to have to guide a bus driver around town to the major tourist sites. Why we even needed a bus is beyond me, when the hotel was a 5 minute walk from the tram line, adn the tourist sites are just 3 stops up the line and ON the line.

After doing two laps of the same road, (literrally, drive up, pull a u-turn then 400m down the road, pull another u-turn) I fired up at the bus driver and tour guide asking if they knew where we were going. The tour guide said that he knew, and the bus driver was lost, so I told the tour guide to tell the driver where to go. I walked to the back of the bus and took my seat back, and after another u-turn, the tour guide asked me to come to the front of the bus and give directions.

I told them to follow the tram line for about 4 stops and we'd get there, given it was just round the corner from where I'd stayed pre Anzac day. Three minutes in, our mate was ready to turn and head in the opposite direction but I convinced him to travel on. Eventually we got there. But that wasn't the only mess up of the morning, as Steve (one of the newbies on tour) was told he wasn't supposed to be on tour, despite having already paid for it. That one got sorted a bit quicker than the directions though.

Finally we get to Topkapi Palace, the worlds biggest palace (ahh, no wonder it was so hard to find?) at about 1015am, no bad considering we were supposed to leave the hotel, which is less than 20 minutes away by tram and foot, at 9am. We get handed our 'tickets' and all go marching on in to find that what we were given by our tour guide wasn't a ticket and we stood around for another 10 minutes waiting to get our real tickets. When it was all said and done, we were left with 50 minutes to explore the biggest palace in the world.

Within 10 minutes of walking around the palace, EVERYONE had peeled off the 'tour' that hadn't provided one piece of information. Aykut, the tour guide, turned to me and said "we seem to have lost everyone, meet at the front in 40 minutes". Yeah, no kidding.

The palace was actually quite awesome. They had converted much of it into a museum, and a heap of the rooms were dedicated to showing the treasures from the Ottoman empire, the most impressive of which was an 86 carat diamond. HUGE. The amount of gold, silver and prescious stones that were there was simply incredible, and makes you wonder what the sort items that were once in the pharoas tombs in the walley of the kings before they were raided. By the end of the 50 minutes, I literally found myself running around, just to see as much as I could, and the gardens didn't even get a look in, nor did the Sultans private room for the harems that I didn't even have time to locate, let alone look in.

From there we marched on to Aya Sofia, which was originally built to be the grandest church in the world, as it was in the last strong hold of the Roman empire, known as Constantinople. The church was changed to a mosque at the fall of the roman empire, and given that images aren't allowed in mosques, the mosaics were plastered over, and many of them have been uncovered today - all information I found AFTER the tour. The high domed ceilings were quite impressive, and extravogantly painted as well.

After lunch, which we spent at Maccas (no more salamis rolls) and I sampled the McTurko, we headed back to the Blue Mosque via the hippodrome. No, this wasn't timed well at all, as we approached and were 5 minutes away, we heard the call to prayer, signalling that tourists basically have to stay out for 45 minutes. As it was the case, we had the most protracted tour around the hippodrome, getting very minimal information from our guide. Today is simply has a fist full of monuments in a line, but back in the day there were charriot races and the like in the area - again information gathered after the tour was over.

Finally we got inside the blue mosque, so named for the blue tiles that have been used inside the mosque. It was quite a nice place, but most of it was cordoned off for people to pray, and not be interupted by the gaggle of tourists flying through. It is a unique building in that it is the only mosque in the world to have 6 minaretes, not the usual 4. A minarete is the spire that is usually located on each corner of the mosque and usually seems to serve no more purpose than to hold the speakers for the call to prayer these days.

We headed to the Grand Bazzaar and wanderd around there, literally getting lost in the 900+ stores in the area. Keeping my eyes open for a bargain, I left empty handed, except for a mouthfull of smoke from the Sheesha that Steve, Sandra, Josh, Shernell, Kristy and myself had. But, given we were there for an hour and a half, we probably didn't see 20+ of the stores.

From there we walked up the road and had the most homo-erotic experience of my life - a Turkish Bath. You strip down to nothing but a towel, and have a shower. Then you wander around, and find the sauna. Guys all around that are wearing nothing but towels, are sitting on this huge heated marble slab, and just waiting. Waiting for what? A huge, hairy, old Turkish man, also wearing nothing but a towel, to walk over to ya and start slapping you round. He puts ya on your back, and starts rubbing ya, and then pulls out ths bag full of soap. Next thing I am covered head to toe in soap suds and this guy is 'cleaning me' and giving me the most violent rub down ever, wearing an exfoliating glove. Next thing he tells you to roll over, and repeats the process on you back, while I'm lying on my gut. To signal the end of that part he slaps ya on your ass.

Next he takes you over to another section, while your just trying your hardest to keep a bit of dignity and clutching at your towel to stop it falling right off. He sits ya down, starts soaping your head and face and then rinses you by throwing buckets of water over you. Quite an interesting experience, but I dare say I left cleaner than I have been in years, definitely since I left Melbourne at the very least.

We headed back to the hotel, after I told the tour guide how to get back there by tram, rather than waiting for our bus which would be over an hour wait (dunno what he was doing??).

That night we headed out to a tradition Turkish dinner. Again, another failure in the tour. Whilst on the whole, most people had a great night, it was cos we made our own fun. The $80 a head meal consisted of little more than what would cost $5 per person to prepare... if that. The entertainment was pretty cool though, with the best belly dancing I have seen yet. Kinda makes up for the pretty average ones seen in Dubai and Egypt so far. The drinks were crazy over priced, and people got stung for drinks they believed were part of the two free drinks that was part of the $80. The highlight of the night had to be the Aussies getting behind our girl Kristy in the international belly dancing contest up on stage. Poor Gai, the Kiwi lass, had no support from other Kiwis, so us Aussies gave her some friendly support.

From there we headed back to the hotel and bought a few drinks and drank them in the lobby. Given I only had my 2 freebies in the restraunt, I was one of the few 'not drunk' ones along with Shernell, and the two of us seemed most skeptical of what was about to occur.

Our tour guide arranged two taxis for us to go out, but didn't know where to go. Whilst heading to Sultanahmet, to the back packer district crossed my mind, I figured our tour guide would have it all in hand. Nope. He asked the taxi for ideas and the taxi just said, jump in, I'll take you all out. Ten minutes we pile out of the cab, and into a club, that looked sleezy to say the least. The minute we were in there, it was obviously a strip club (well to some not so drunk types). Some of the drunker types decided to jump on the stage, not realising where they were and just started dancing. After sitting down for 5 minutes, we were informed that we were required to buy 2 drinks... no cover charge, but a 2 drink minimum.... how much for a beer? $20. We high-tailed it out of there, and in the process realisied that it wasn't just a strip joint, but also a brothel... Kicked a goal with that one.

We left the club and wandered around looking for the rest of the club district, really just wanting a place to sit down and have a couple drinks. No luck anywhere. After almost an hour of walking, we come across this place that we are told will be good. After climbing four flights of stairs, we get to the top and find just one other person in there. f--k THAT was a general consensus and Shernell, Kristy and I headed for Kebabs. The others followed us 5 minutes later. Shernell and Kristy cabbed it back to the hotel and we gave one last chance to another club. Get to the front, adn asked to pay a $10 cover charge to get into a club that looked like an empty grunge club... at that stage I turned and ran for a cab, and we all called it a night.

Back at the hotel there was talk of more drinks in the lobby, but given it was 230am, we were told that we had to use sign language. I headed to bed, and passed S & K's room to check they got back okay. Next thing, everyone has followed me into the room, and the drinking crew continued to drink in the girls' hotel room. Sorry girls, didn't mean to move the party to your room. At about 4am, the party some how migrated to my room (after I had left to go to bed, and actually climbed in) when Julie rocked up and Steve some how woke back up (probably quicked out of the girls room). We argued about the value for money of the tour and it was then that I found out that Aykut had only found he was leding the tour the day before it started after another guide pulled the pin cos there were only 7 people. So it was his first tour in English, obviously first Anzac, and his first tour in Istanbul for more than 7 years. And no-one was gonna give him a tip, cos we were all jacked about the tour, and his confidence was shot so bad by now, he'll probably never want to do another English tour. So in summary, it was Ekol travels fault, not our man Aykut, who despite his touring inadequecies, was a nice guy. So at about 5am, and with a head full of guilt, the night was called, and a very sober Mikey finally got some sleep.

But not much, for whatever reason, 3 hours was all I could manage and sat awake from 8 till 9 when I decided to try and have a shower. Still no sleep and by 930, Shernell and Kristy had gotten bored and decided it was time to wake everyone up - "I'm bored, let's play". After sitting thru breakfast and copping death stares from everyone else in the hotel, we checked out and headed for Sultanahmet for some back packer accomodation, and to try and sort out what to do till I fly out of Athens on May 5.

To be continued.....