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Eclectic Istanbul

Turkey - Istanbul

sunny 27 °C
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After a few short trips this year, this trip was to be our big holiday for the year. A mix of exploration, adventure, relaxation, sun and reunions. However the stomach ulcer and toothache that had plagued me all summer had another sting in their tail. Having worse pain than ever before just weeks before the holiday was due to start, I again visited the doctors and changed to a strict diet - hoping to be healed enough by the time the trip came around, but sadly it was not to be.

Despite everything having been organised, booked and sorted for the trip, just two days before we were due to leave we made the sad decision to cancel the first half of the holiday. We would no longer be visiting the Caucasus, hopefully being able to resurrect that part of the trip in the near future. Instead we would now fly directly to Istanbul, where we would be attending the wedding of two of my friends from my Erasmus experience in Germany back in 2012, and subsequently continuing the second half of the planned trip. I therefore cancelled all the bookings and rescheduled our trip, which would now begin a week later.

In hindsight this was the right decision to make, as sad as it felt at the time, and I still ended up having a sick day during this time which reiterated that I just wasn't able to have an adventure holiday right now. Having had an extra week to rest, recover and do the right things, by the time it came around to our rescheduled holiday I was much more ready for the trip.

Despite waking up still feeling a bit ill I was determined to just get on holiday and have a break from everything, so we headed down to Heathrow for our flight. And with it being a normal airline instead of our usual budget airlines we got the luxury of in-flight entertainment and food. After a four hour flight, we came in to land at Istanbul Airport just as the evening arrived. Although after all these hours, it was only now that my stomach pains had started easing - being on the go all day had probably not helped it to settle.

Istanbul Airport was new and had replaced the one that I had used on my last visit, but it was not yet fully connected to the city and so we still had to take a bus to get the hotel. By now it was getting pretty late and as we didn't want to wait an extra half hour, we rushed around trying to buy our transport cards and top them up as quickly as possible to make the next bus. Luckily we made it, and finally we were headed into the city.

Around an hour or so later we made it, and after a short walk with our suitcases up and down the subway passes we arrived at the hotel for our first night, which was also where most of the other wedding guests were to stay. Whilst checking in we bumped into my friend Daniel from Malta, and his partner José, who were also attending the wedding and would be exploring the city with us for the next few days.

After a well earned rest, the following morning we went down for breakfast, being joined by Daniel and José. Not long later, after heading back to the room to get ready for the day we left the hotel and headed into the city. With today being our only full day to explore, we decided to tackle the oldest part - the Historic Peninsular, south of the Golden Horn. Starting with the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest in the world. It was as to be expected, full of shops teaming with items for sale, as well as people everywhere. It was also something new for me, as I hadn't got to see this on my previous visits.

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Inside the Grand Bazaar

After a little wander around, we headed out of the complex walking past the Column of Constantine towards the real heart of the city - the Sultanahmet district. With it being Friday we knew the Blue Mosque wouldn't be open in the morning, and so after checking it's opening times we headed over towards the Hagia Sofia, viewing it from the park between the sights.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

After purchasing tickets for the Hagia Sofia, we headed around the museum, which was undergoing a bit of renovation, unfortunately lessening some of the impressive impact that would normally be encountered.

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Inside the Hagia Sofia

After exploring the lower and upper levels, we headed back out into the square, and with half an hour to wait, we decided to visit the Basilica Cistern. As we waited in the queue, we had some catch up conversations with Daniel, although it wasn't long before we entered the cistern.

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Unfortunately inside had been drained so we weren't treated to any reflections but it was still an impressive sight. By now, the Blue Mosque was almost open so we headed over and made our way in.

Entering the Blue Mosque

Entering the Blue Mosque

Unfortunately like the Hagia Sofia it was undergoing restoration, and so the enormity and beauty of the mosque wasn't able to be seen, but it was still a nice visit.

Entering the Topkapı Palace

Entering the Topkapı Palace

Still early afternoon we had time to also visit the Topkapı Palace, and so headed over to the northern end of the peninsular. Buying our tickets, we entered not long after and took a walk around the complex. After taking views over the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, we entered some of the museum areas. However after a long day and still not being 100% we started to feel quite tired, and so left to grab food and head back to the hotel for a rest.

Views over the Bosphorus

Views over the Bosphorus

With Camilla and Onur checking into the hotel tonight, on the way back to the hotel I thought about how funny it would be if we saw them at reception as we walked in. By coincidence, as we reached the entrance there they were coming out of a taxi! Knowing that there wouldn't be a lot of opportunities to spend much time with them on this busy weekend, we said a quick hello and had a short catch up as they waited for their room to be ready.

With more of their other guests arriving, including some Swedes who I had met a few times previously, we headed back to the room to find that our keys no longer worked. After heading back down to reception via the ridiculously slow lifts, and the entire population of Turkey who have no idea how one works, we eventually managed to get a chilled few hours.

As most of the wedding guests were now at the hotel, during the evening a pre-wedding get together had been arranged at a local pub. We met Daniel and José in reception and headed down the road together. Finding the table, it wasn't long before we were joined by other wedding guests as well as the happy couple themselves. It was an enjoyable evening catching up with them but as ever it was over too soon!

The following day was the day of the wedding, although this wasn't starting until this evening. Therefore after breakfast we headed out once again with Daniel and José, this time for the Beyoğlu district on the north side of the Golden Horn. After taking the funicular down the hill, we arrived at the ferry port and took a boat over to the other side of the Bosphorus.

Ferry Across the Bosphorus

Ferry Across the Bosphorus

After a twenty minute trip, seeing the sights of the heart of Istanbul on the European side, we arrived in Asia. Although with time already catching up with us, and not much to see on this side, we walked back round the ferry port and boarded the same boat back to Europe. Asia had been stunning but 5 minutes was enough for now.

Upon arriving back in Europe, we started heading back to the hotel, saying goodbye to Daniel and José and walking up the hill past the Galata Tower.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

This area was full of little tourist shops so we bought some postcards before walking back to the metro stop seeing the historic trams that run down the avenue towards Taksim Square. We then headed back to the hotel for a rest and afternoon nap to prepare us for the late wedding night to come.

Beyoğlu Trams

Beyoğlu Trams

After a good rest we then got ourselves ready for the wedding and headed down into reception to wait for the shuttle bus, where we caught up with some the wedding guests we were already getting to know quite well.

Not long later we boarded the bus and headed out of the city and into the woods to a lovely setting amongst the trees, which was where the wedding was being held. Upon arrival we were welcomed by the close family of the couple, and mingled with the other guests.

Wedding Venue

Wedding Venue

After waiting around for a while - the event was clearly being held in Turkish time, the happy couple emerged and walked towards the aisle hand in hand. After a very short ceremony in Turkish and English, which essentially consisted of them saying their names and the "I Dos", they were married, and we were led to the tables for a five course dinner.

Just Married!

Just Married!

We were sat together with the other Erasmus people, including our Turkish friend Merve, who I hadn't seen in 7 years, as well as a Turk who now lives in Germany who I didn't recognise, but had remembered me from the speech I gave on the last party night in Bremen back in July 2012. (I did later find a photo in which we had been photographed together, but that's hardly surprising considering the amount of people I met during that year!)

Dinner chats

Dinner chats

We had a fun time reminiscing on our shared experiences, and talking about the people we remembered, and sharing updates on how everyone was. As we had conversations, it was as if nothing had changed since the moment we had left. It was a really fun evening and showed yet again just how much of a unique experience Study Abroad is, as these were people we had spent up to just four months with and yet they were friends for life.

After eating dinner the married couple went round each table individually to say hello. Onur had studied in Bremen for the whole year, as I had, whilst Camilla had joined during the summer semester. Camilla was living in the same house as me, and one of their first meetings had been at a party I had thrown at our house the start of term, which Onur would himself move into a few months later. During the summer semester I was able to witness their relationship develop and so it was a real pleasure to be able to be here for thir wedding.

Photo with the happy couple

Photo with the happy couple

After some more chats on our table it was time for the traditional speeches and first dance, as well as a game of Mr & Mrs, which I now assume is a Scandinavian tradition, after seeing the same thing at a Danish Wedding.

After some Turkish music and dancing it hit midnight, and the older guests were heading home, whilst the younger guests were headed to the "After Party". This was a real change of scene, with more modern, western music.

After Party

After Party

The party was a lovely experience getting to spend some fun and slightly drunk times with friends, but as ever it was over too soon and before we knew it it had hit 3am. As we waited for the shuttle bus we chatted to the guests and happy couple for the last time recounting stories and reminiscing about our times together. We eventually got back to the hotel at about 4am, and said goodbye to everyone before getting a well earned sleep.

The following day was always planned as a write-off, and after waking in time for breakfast and seeing just a few of the wedding guests who had managed to wake from the night before, we headed back to bed for another few hours.

Waking at around lunchtime we spent the day lazing in the hotel, heading down to the swimming pool before heading out for some food at the local shopping centre. After three days of seeing everyone all the time it felt a bit strange not seeing anyone at all - but it was also refreshing just to relax.

The following morning after breakfast we checked out of the hotel and headed to Taksim Square, taking a look around our last sight in Istanbul.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Not long later we caught our bus to the other airport of the city, crossing the Bosphorus to the Asian side, from where we would catch a flight and continue our trip by exploring Anatolia.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 13:26 Archived in Turkey Tagged architecture mosque wedding culture history city friends party drunk islam souq sickness erasmus turkey2019 Comments (2)

Hassle Free Qatar

The Indian Experience - Doha

sunny 25 °C
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After looking at options when booking my trip to India, it appeared the best route was to fly Qatar Airways via Doha. Never missing an opportunity for a bit of extra exploration of a new country, I decided it would be worthwhile also exploring the Qatari capital, and after a bit of research I found that staying an extra night in Doha would not be too difficult, and enough to get a feel for the city and country.

Having previously visited Dubai I had a lot of expectations of what it would be like (not all of them so great), but I was actually pleasantly surprised. I found that Qatar was a much friendlier, cheaper place to visit. Although not quite as developed as Dubai (no metro yet, for instance), it's much smaller size meant it wasn't such a problem as it was easily walkable.

After an eight hour flight from Heathrow, and witnessing the smell of curry breakfast (something to look forward for the next week!) and views of snowy Anatolia, I eventually arrived in Doha at sunset - and after getting diverted directly into departures, and having to go the wrong way back through security, I eventually made it through immigration, where all my Israeli stamps were nicely stamped over, and into arrivals, where I was picked up by my hotel.

Souq Waqif

Souq Waqif

After checking in at the hotel, I then had the rest of the evening to explore the capital, and made my way first through Souq Waqif, which I would return to later, towards the Museum of Islamic Art.

Inside the Museum of Islamic Art

Inside the Museum of Islamic Art

The museum was only opened seven years ago, and is beautifully built in Islamic style, as well as having free entry. Although the collection inside has pieces of art from across the Islamic region, without focussing very much on Qatar itself, it is still a must see attraction for its architectural beauty as well as its location overlooking the Corniche and with views of the skyscrapers across the bay in the newer areas of the city.

The Corniche and the MIA

The Corniche and the MIA

Heading back out along the Corniche I made by way to the Clock Tower and the Emiri Diwan Parliament building before heading back into the Souq. Having visited the souqs in Dubai, as well as Tangier before I felt ready to be hassled just by looking at anything. However I was pleasantly surprised. Instead I was able to browse even in non-busy shops at my own pleasure. And with fixed prices that were not already heavily inflated I didn't even need to bother with the hassle of bartering! A truly pleasant experience.

Deep inside the Souq

Deep inside the Souq

After exploring the winding back streets of the souq, and taking some pictures in the night time light I made my way to the final place, the sword arch monument, just south of my hotel.

Sword Monument

Sword Monument

Although construction in Qatar never stops, with building works next to my hotel in the centre of the city never ceasing to end, it didn't prevent me from getting a good nights sleep, and the following morning I awoke for breakfast in my hotel, before making my way to the bus station, where the pleasant Qataris once again surprised me, and eventually the airport for my onward flight to Kathmandu in Nepal.

Bazaar inside the Airport

Bazaar inside the Airport

The recently built Hamad Airport was also a pleasant experience. Plenty of shops, including a WHSmith, as well as plenty of seating and free WiFi. Something to look forward when I returned to transfer in a week's time.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Qatar Tagged art market airport islam souq indianexperience Comments (0)

Political Cyprus

Cyprus - Nicosia & Famagusta

semi-overcast 20 °C
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Although the first day going to Kourion was busy, it was the second day that was the real exploration day of the holiday.

Setting my alarm for 6:20am (despite it being a holiday) I got up and ready, and then went up for breakfast as soon as it opened. Eating as fast as I can, coming back down to grab my bits, I then legged it through the McDonalds next door to the bus stop to grab the 8am bus to Nicosia. Luckily I had enough time to spare, as after arriving at the bus stop I found that for the second day running, the stop had moved around the corner. Nevertheless I made it, and just over an hour later I had arrived in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia.

Nicosia is the last divided capital city in the world. The southern side being the Greek Cypriot side, whilst the north side is the Turkish Cypriot side. Closed until 2008, it is now possible to cross in the city centre and visit both halves.

Where North meets South

Where North meets South

I started by city exploration by walking along the edge of the UN controlled buffer zone between the two sides, walking along the only part where both sides meet - the Roccas Bastion, where I noticed I was being watched from the north side, and I then walked along the boundary line seeing the entrance to the UN headquarters, as well as a watchtower, reminiscent of pictures I had seen of Cold War Berlin.

UN Buffer Zone

UN Buffer Zone


Ledras Street

Ledras Street

Heading back towards the centre, I walked along the city walls on the south side, before heading through the winding streets towards Ledras Street - the city's main shopping and pedestrianised street. Heading up the Shacolas Tower I was instantly given views over the whole city and beyond, particularly at the northern side, and in the Kyrenian mountains the large Northern Cypriot flag carved into it. This flag is 450x200 metres in size, and despite being located 12km away, is clearly visible from the capital.

The TRNC flag

The TRNC flag


Views of the North

Views of the North

After taking a view over into the north side, it was now time for me to enter it, and walking back down the very westernised Ledras street, with it's posh shops and very European feel, it was not long before I made it to the border crossing. Handing in my passport to be checked I then walked the short distance through the UN buffer zone and reached the north side. Almost immediately the difference between them becomes clear. Not only do the languages and currencies change, but the whole feel of the area. This was not just a different land (my 60th, incidentally), but a different world. The streets are windy, shops bursting with products, and secular Islamic culture beaming from every angle.

Northern side

Northern side


Inside the converted mosque

Inside the converted mosque

Taking a walk around the, in my opinion, far more interesting side, I took a look inside the mosque, the bazaar, and the caravansarai.

Büyük Han

Büyük Han

Having explored the centre of the city, I continued north, walking towards the Kyrenia gate and the Whirling Dervish museum before making my way to the bus station.

Whirling Dervish Museum

Whirling Dervish Museum

After working out how, I purchased my ticket for Famagusta, and once again hit culture shock getting on the bus. Whilst in the south the intercity buses are spacious coaches, in the north they are minivans, that when the seats are full, pull down expandable seats appear in the middle that block in everyone behind! Thankfully I was staying until the end so didn't have to ask for people to get up!

An hour later, and after driving past a huge mosque in construction, I arrived in Famagusta, on the eastern coast, just north of the UN buffer zone at Dhekelia. The city was historically one of the most important in the region, with it's port being the closest to the Middle East. Arriving just outside the city walls, I walked past the huge dilapidated city walls through the Land Gate, and into the city centre, walking past historical ruins before arriving at one of the most peculiar sights in the world - a former Gothic Cathedral, with its top blown off, and a minaret added to the side converted now into a mosque!

Former cathedral

Former cathedral

Walking towards the city walls again, I climbed up the stairs to get a view of the port on the other side, before walking back towards the Canbulat Gate, and the memorial to the civil war.

Varosha

Varosha

Famagusta was in the 60s one of the world's top resorts, with the majority of people staying in the tourist resort of Varosha. Located just to the south of the city centre, and mostly populated by Greek Cypriots, when the island became split, the northern side, who now controlled Varosha closed it off from the world, creating a ghost resort falling apart and stuck in 1974. One of the most peculiar things about this resort, is the fact that a handful of hotels and restaurants on the boundary of the resort remain open, but to get to them means travelling along a single coastal road from the city centre, that on both sides contain military buildings where photos are not allowed. Therefore these hotels just north of Varosha are effectively closed off from the rest of Famagusta with just the beach and sea for company. Not my ideal holiday destination, but certainly an interesting experience. Walking back towards the city centre along the cracked roads it was easy to see how this would have been a lovely resort many years ago, but due to a lack of investment has since become dilapidated and shabby.

Varosha

Varosha

Having now seen all I had wanted in the north, it was time to make my return to Nicosia, and eventually Larnaca. Having arrived back in good time in the capital I quickly hurried through the city centre to catch my bus, leaving from a very eastern world straight into western in a matter of a minute or so. An experience previously only witnessed in Sarajevo.

Despite spending over four hours on buses, travelling 140 miles, and getting back to Larnaca almost 10 hours after leaving, it was a brilliant, if tiring day. So much history and culture to see that is highly recommended.

Luckily my final full day was going to be my 'relaxed' day, and I could at last have a lie in!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Cyprus Tagged mosque beach religion history island cathedral border war islam Comments (0)

The Old City

Holy Land - Jerusalem

sunny 22 °C
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Waking up nice and early in Jerusalem, I grabbed breakfast from downstairs and then headed off for the Haram el-Sharif/Temple Mount, racing through the Old City and past the Western/Wailing Wall, making the queue by 8:10.

Tower of David

Tower of David

The complex is only open for three and a half hours a day, from 7:30 until 10:00, and then 12:30-1:30. With major security checks I had read that the queue was particularly long, and already by the time I was there, the queue was pretty long. Not knowing whether I would even be allowed entry (last I had heard, only men over 50 were allowed up), I waited and eventually after an hour and a half I was up there.

First thing I noticed - screaming Palestinian girls...followed by touts telling me that, whilst I was non-Muslim, and therefore not allowed access to the Mosques, they could guide me to a window they knew where I could have a peak inside. I declined. The complex felt very Arabic, and much like Morocco. Whilst it had been a long wait, it was definitely worth it, and despite not being allowed in, the Dome of the Rock was very impressive. For this is the supposed site where God created Adam, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and where Mohammed was transported to from Mecca. A good start to my travels.

Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock

I then headed back down into the Old City and headed up the Via Dolorosa, tracing Jesus's last steps after he was handed his cross until he was crucified. Whilst in some ways you feel like you are tracing back the steps of a man 2,000 years ago, seeing every step marked out with large plaques designating each spot (VII - Jesus falls for the second time) and the commercialisation of the route (7th station souvenirs, and guided tours) it kind of takes away from the genuine history, and makes it feel almost like a theme park.

Via Dolorosa

Via Dolorosa

Following the route I eventually ended up in the Christian Quarter, outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - the church that spans the site of both the Crucifixion and the Tomb of Christ. Again this would be a site that whilst widely known, looks nothing like it would have been at the time the events it celebrates took place. Instead of finding a hill on the outskirts of the city where Christ was crucified, and a tomb located some distance from that - a 5 minute walk from the centre of the old city takes you right into the church that has both enclosed within it.

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Going left once you enter the church, inside the Rotunda is the very place that Christ was laid to rest on Good Friday and subsequently arose two days later. Waiting for over half an hour, you are allowed thirty seconds or so to touch a slab covering the rock on which Jesus was supposedly laid to rest. Leaving this, and talking a walk around the corner and up some stairs, lasting no longer than 120 seconds, you arrive at the site he was supposedly crucified on, again waiting in a queue of around 20 minutes for 30 seconds or so of 'experience'.

Site of the Crucifixion

Site of the Crucifixion

After exploring the rest of the church, I headed out to the Jewish quarter to visit the Western Wall in more detail. Heading again through a security check, I donned a kippah and touched the wall. Before writing a message, shoving it through the cracks, and then sitting back down and observing the most sacred place in Judaism from a distance.

Western Wall

Western Wall

Hall of the Last Supper

Hall of the Last Supper

My last activity for the Old City was to head south, walk along part of the wall, and head to Mount Zion. Here is the location of the Hall of the Last Supper. Now turned into a Gothic Hall, and crammed with tourists, this room marks the spot that Jesus held the last supper, before being betrayed by Judas and arrested.

Kosher McDonalds

Kosher McDonalds

After this long day, and eating a Kosher McDonalds, I headed back of to my hostel, and took an early night before the next day, which I had planned to visit Bethlehem.

The time was now 6:30pm and I was in bed trying to sleep. Like. A. Pro.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Israel Tagged religion history jesus islam christianity judaism holyland Comments (0)

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