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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)

Casually gatecrashing a wedding

Central Asia - Samarkand

overcast 22 °C


After a relatively quick drive of just 5 hours from Bukhara, where we debated what is and what is not a country for a "visited countries" list, we arrived in the historic Silk Road city of Samarkand - one of the real highlights of the tour.

Family photo

Family photo

After checking in at the hotel we headed to a fancy restaurant for a meal in our tour guide's home city. Upon arrival we found that a local wedding reception was taking place downstairs and so from the balcony next to our table (and with a vodka shot each) we enjoyed watching the local customs.

Local wedding

Local wedding

After Ian threw down some notes to the wedding below, a member of the wedding party then came upstairs to invite us down! Next thing we knew we were in the wedding party itself, even dressed in our sweaty tourist day-wear. With our evening becoming longer by the time dessert was served up, we were ready to go - but as it was extremely tasty I wasn't going to let this go to waste and helped myself to six puddings! We then made our way back to the hotel, stopping off at the night-lit Registan square.

Inside the Ulugh Beg Observatory

Inside the Ulugh Beg Observatory

Our full day tour of Samarkand started after breakfast at the Ulugh Beg Observatory, before heading outside the city to a silk paper factory and back to the Afrasiyab Museum. On our return into the city we headed to Timur's mausoleum, the Gur-e-Amir, before lunch. After another 4 course meal, we finally visited the grand attraction, the Registan - a large public square surrounded by three madrassahs.

Registan

Registan

Taking in the views we walked around the complex before being let free for some hours in the afternoon to explore Samarkand by ourselves.

Inside the Tilya-Kori Madrasah

Inside the Tilya-Kori Madrasah

I headed to the supermarket opposite to grab some snacks for the next few days - which despite not being much added up to 24,000 som. Paying in 1000 som notes I then found that in order to count cash, the Uzbeks use casino style note counters! I then headed to the tourist street to buy myself a souvenir before going back to the hotel for a rest and to make use of the free WiFi.

Local Show

Local Show

We were treated to a theatrical show showing us the history of Uzbekistan through traditional costume, performed by locals - which as usual meant mostly ethnic Uzbeks, as well as the odd Russian chav. We then made our way to dinner where yet another local party was going on.

Gur-e Amir

Gur-e Amir

With one more look at the Gur-e Amir complex, this time by night, we then made our way to the train station for our overnight train to Termez.

By this point I had grown quite close to several members on the tour, and James and Christine had quickly become my travel mum and dad. As we boarded the four berth train carriage we coincidentally ended up in the same cabin! To add to the hilarity, we then called over Daniel, who I had first met on arrival at Ashgabat, and was my travel brother, to join us in our family cabin!

After being given our bed sheets for the night we then all settled down for our train ride to the Afghan border.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged mosque wedding culture meal centralasia silkroad Comments (0)

"John, it's your wife again!"

Central Asia - Bukhara

sunny 27 °C
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After a long 8 hour drive from Khiva eventually we arrived in the centre of Bukhara in the evening. Quickly dropping our bits off at the hotel, we headed to the restaurant for a meal consisting of the usual suspects - soup, kebab meat and bread, and a cheer of "Oldik" (a toast and not a scream for something else) before enjoying a quick night time tour of the city.

The following morning after a comfy night's sleep and some breakfast we headed into the city - starting with the Abdulaziz Khan Madrassah and Toki Zargaron Mosque - which has now been converted into a retail complex. Buying a token Silk Road T-Shirt, we then headed to the city's iconic attraction - the Po-i-Kalyan complex, with it's brick minaret and green domed mosques.

Po-i-Kalyan

Po-i-Kalyan


Inside the Po-i-Kalyan complex

Inside the Po-i-Kalyan complex

As it was early in the morning, the complex was relatively empty, and so we could take in the Central Asian Islamic architecture at it's full glory before heading through the market towards the Ark - the Bukhara fort.

The Ark

The Ark

Walking past a woman using a pram to carry her life savings, we explored the fort before heading back down towards the Bolo Hauz Mosque.

Inside the Bolo Hauz Mosque

Inside the Bolo Hauz Mosque

We then continued towards a park, where we were accosted by some local beggars. Although there were relatively few in Central Asia, in touristy areas like this they were quite determined, and one of tour group, John did give away 1000som to one lady who then followed him in pursuit of more. Claiming that she was "quite cheap" we then headed to the Ismail Samani mosque before jumping on the coach to swing us around to the other side of the city centre for a daytime walk around the pond before lunch.

Ismail Samani Mausoleum

Ismail Samani Mausoleum

As we get off the coach the same beggars were just walking down the street and so Ian shouted to John that his wife was back. As he saw her he waved hello, and she recognised him and loudly exclaimed back a big "Heyyyy!!" with matching wave.

Lyab-i Hauz

Lyab-i Hauz

Trying once again to shake off the beggars we took a look around the tree filled Lyab-i-Hauz square and adjacent complex before lunch, and then boarded our coach towards Samarkand!

Inside the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah

Inside the Nadir Divan-Begi Madrasah

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged mosque city centralasia silkroad Comments (0)

Cute Khiva

Central Asia - Khiva

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Waking up after a night's sleep in an actual bed for the first time in four days was a really refreshing experience. After grabbing breakfast, the group (including our last companion who had not been granted a visa for Turkmenistan, and therefore joined us in Khiva) headed off for a walking tour of the Itchan Kala - the Old City.

South Gate

South Gate

Although relatively small, it was brimming with activity and therefore it was a nice place to soak up the Silk Road. We began by starting at the Western Gate before heading to the Kalta Minor - the short fat blue minaret outside the old madrassah.

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

After taking a look inside the old madrassah, which has now been converted into a hotel, we headed into the Friday Mosque, with it's wooden pillars and greenhouse feel, before continuing into one of the Emir's palaces.

Juma Mosque

Juma Mosque

Viewing one of the mosques we were then given free time to explore the city at our own pace, and so I went with a group of others to the Islam Khoja Minaret for views over the city. As this is Uzbekistan however, climbing the minaret wasn't the easiest - steep spiral steps with a lack of light, and so after grabbing my torch I climbed to the top to find stunning views over the Itchan Kala and beyond, as well as a rather steep drop to the staircase itself (no barriers here!) - which became a challenge when a dozen German tourists also ascended the tower.

Itchan Kala

Itchan Kala

Heading back down I went off for a walk with Abdo and Jim to the market, before heading back to the restaurant for lunch. With fresh handmade bread from the stove in the courtyard, we were treated to a four course meal, consisting of salad, kebab meat, soup and dumplings.

Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

After a last walk through the city, we headed back to our hotel at the South Gate, before boarding the coach for the long drive through Uzbekistan to our next destination - Bukhara.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged mosque history centralasia silkroad Comments (0)

A night at the Door to Hell

Central Asia - Ashgabat & Darvaza

sunny 32 °C
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Waking up in the mountains we made our way back by minibus to Ashgabat.

We first stopped off at the Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque, located in Gypjak, just outside the capital. This impressive mosque has capacity for 10,000 people - the largest in Central Asia, and is located in the birthplace of Turkmenbashy.

Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Not only is it visibly impressive being filled with gold, but also represents both the Qur'an as well as Turkmenbashy's own book, the Ruhnama in equal measure.

Turkmenbashy's mausoleum

Turkmenbashy's mausoleum

Again, the mosque is built symbolically based on the date of independence as well as having to it's west, the mausoleum of the former president as well as his family, many of whom who died in the Ashgabat earthquake in 1948 that killed 10% of the country's population.

After this we headed to the UNESCO Heritage site of Nisa, the Parthian capital, where there are views of the Mosque and Ashgabat, before heading back to Ashgabat itself to sightsee the rest of the city.

Wedding Palace

Wedding Palace

We began by circling the teardrop shaped Yyldyz Hotel, located on a hill over the city, before heading towards the Wedding Palace, a building that embraces the Rub el Hizb (eight pointed star) that is represented all over the country. Not only is it shaped accordingly, but also has a globe with an exaggerated Turkmenistan map located inside a cube shaped Rub el Hizb.

Downtown Ashgabat

Downtown Ashgabat

Enjoying views over the city of other monuments we then drove past the Ashgabat Stadium and into the city centre. Again, much of the city was empty and styled as if it was Las Vegas, full of white marble and luscious wide green Avenues.

Desert Travels

Desert Travels

Getting back to the hotel we relaxed for an hour before our 4x4s arrived that would take us to the Darvaza Gas Crater this afternoon. After a long drive through the desert along worsening roads, eventually we arrived at the 'Door to Hell' shortly before sunset.

The Door to Hell

The Door to Hell

The Door to Hell is an incredible experience. An industrial accident gone wrong, it has been constantly alight since the Soviets attempted to burn the remaining gas off in 1971.

The heat given off by the crater is intense and the sheer size of it, in the middle of the barren desert is overpowering. Whilst the context is amazing in the day, it is at night when the only light is the crater itself that the site lives up to the hype.

The Door to Hell by night

The Door to Hell by night

Spending a while taking selfies and enjoying the heat in the quickly cooling desert I then headed back to the camp for dinner and a night in a tent, closing the second day of the trip, and the last full day in the wacky Turkmenistan.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged architecture mosque monument city fire gas crater centralasia Comments (0)

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