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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Turkey - 29 September, 2002



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Istanbul (Hyatt Regency Hotel) N4102.449' E02859.345' 83 meters .
-  Topkapi Palace . . . .
-  Hagia Sofia . . . .
-  Cistern . . . .
Finish Istanbul (Hyatt Regency Hotel) N4102.449' E02859.345' 83 meters


Total Leg 3:

4,807 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

9,978 km


Weather: Partly cloudy, occasional sun, and warm/hot.  Cool in the evening.



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A big day of sightseeing for us.  We have lots to see and do in this town and want to get right into it.  We have breakfast in our room and than catch a taxi down to the old city center, where most of the sights are located in this historic city.  Our first destination is the Topkapi Palace, where we meet up with Paolo.


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It will take us the whole morning to see the palace.  But our first shock of the day comes with the entrance fees - they are exorbitant.  It costs $10 per person to just get into the palace grounds - there will be additional charges once inside.  They must have just raised the prices.  Everything we had read said that the fee was much lower.  This became a bit of a bone of contention as we saw more sights in Istanbul with the same outrageous fees.  We heard many other tourists complain.


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Anyway, we had come all this way and went in to check it out.  It covers quite a large area and it took some time to cover it all.  But in general, we were not too impressed.  The outside was pretty plain, but the insides were, in general, more ornate.  


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We went to see the harem (the private quarters) and here we had to pay another $10 each to go in.  In addition, we were told that there are no longer guided tours in English and that you have to buy an audiotape (another $3 each) if you want to know what is going on.  When we were met by the guide (you have to take a guided tour of the harem), he noted that none of us were Turkish, but that he could not speak in English (even though his English was perfect).  He did offer to answer our questions, so when we entered a new room, we asked him what was this room.  Worked out pretty well and he kindly put up with it.


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The harem was quite impressive, but we still felt that many of the sights that we saw in Central Asia were much more impressive.  We checked out all three courtyards.  The inner most one had the most interesting work - particular the tile work.  We also decided to see the Treasury Exhibit.  Another $10 to enter here.  Our budget for Istanbul was fast dwindling.  But this was cool.  The objects on display in this modern exhibit were awesome.  The gold, silver, diamonds and other precious stones put together in so many ways as jewelry, table settings, furniture, weapons and other objects just left you breathless.


We finished off in the inner courtyard and looked over the Golden Horn and the Bosporus to the Asian part of Turkey.  There was a small pavilion where the ruler could check out what was happening in his empire.  We had seen enough and decided to make our way out of the sprawling complex and have some lunch.  We walked the few blocks to the main street and grabbed a kebab.


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Then it was off to the Hagia Sophis (or Aya Sophia).  Maybe a bit of history would be useful here.  Istanbul was known as Byzantium at its birth in about 600 BC.  It became known as Constantinople after Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire here in AD 330.  Emperor Justinian built this huge church, with construction taking five years from 532 to 537. It was to be the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for more than a thousand years.


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Its construction was very advanced for its time - thanks to the grand plans of Justinian.  He wanted the greatest church at that time to be built in his city.  It has a huge center dome that is supported by four massive columns that do not really appear to be columns.


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On Tuesday, 29 May, 1453, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered the vanquished city and rode up to the Hagia Sophia.  He was so amazed by its beauty that he decided rather than destroy it, to convert the cathedral into his imperial mosque.  We were also very impressed and luckily this nearly overcame the bad taste left in our mouths from the high entrance fee of another $10 per person (plus another $10 if you wanted to visit the gallery - in addition, they wanted to charge us for the use of the toilets (at least Topkapi did not stoop to that level)).


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Up in the gallery the only really interesting thing (that you could not see from below) was the mosaic of one of the empresses with her husband.  The face of the husband was changed with each new one she married!!!


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From the Hagia Sophia we headed over to the Cistern.  This turned out to be one of the nicer spots we saw in Istanbul (and the entrance fee was reasonable).  It is a huge underground water storage facility built during the Byzumtium days as a backup in case of a siege.  It is a gigantic underground space with the roofs supported by countless columns.  The senses are impressed by the lighting, the sound of dripping water and the dampness in the air.  There is an elevated platform that you walk on that takes you to some of the back corners.


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In one of the back corners is one of the more interesting sights.  Two of the columns are supported by big blocks of marble with the Medusa's head carved into it.  One of the heads is upside down.  No one is quite sure where they came from, other than that they are very old.  We finished off our visit having a coffee at the underground cafe in one corner of the cistern.  The highlight was the live music that was played - the acoustics were amazing.


It was almost five PM and we decided that this was enough sightseeing for the day.  We caught a taxi back to our hotel on the other side of the Golden Horn, where we relaxed a bit and washed up.  Then it was back to the old city and the hotel (the Istanbul Hostel) where the group is staying.  We are having our final group meal at the upstairs restaurant.


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It was good to see everyone again and to get together for one last time before we all went our separate ways.  It was a simple, but filling dinner.  We had a good time recalling the ups and downs of the trip (mostly ups, of course).


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