This is a long one…
Picking up where we left off…the Grand Bazaar was everything I read about, and more.
A total of 60 streets and 4,000 shops combine to create one of the world’s largest covered shopping centers in the world. There are separate sections for gold, leather, etc. and more rugs than you can haul back home or, heck, even count.
The day after my Grand Bazaar adventure was my last day in Turkey before heading to Athens and included A LOT of walking. I hatched this great idea, you see, that taking in the sights and sounds of Istanbul by foot was the way to go.
That is, if you know where you’re going.
I thought it would be easy to reach Taksim Square, a hub of Istanbul activity, by wandering back across the Galata Bridge and just following the path of the public transportation system I chose not to use. Easier said than done when there’s a line split and you go the wrong way but don’t realize it for three or so stops.
Back on track I got excited about Taksim Square – home to a prized possession of the Turkish people, an Ottoman fountain that graces the square and is adored by all.
Why is it so loved? Perhaps because it dates to the Ottoman Empire and has intrinsic historical value? No. It’s because it was built in 2012 and was placed there as a prop for the filming of Skyfall. The mayor liked it so much he kept it.
Except, it’s not in Taksim Square. It’s in Eminonu Square. And where is that? Right next to my hotel.
It only took me 4 kilometers of walking, part of that in the wrong direction, and a visit to Starbucks to double check my facts online to learn that.
Speaking of which, from now on at all Starbucks locations I want to be known as Mehmet. That’s what they called me in Istanbul and therefore that’s the way it shall be.
In reading about Taksim Square it said that the Burger King there is a huge hit with the locals. Of course, I had to fact check that too.
It’s a hit alright. The place had a steady stream of folks coming in for the King Chicken Deluxe and other offerings.
Their only downfall is a rather loose definition of the term fast food.
Rather than stepping to the side so another order can be taken, patrons just stand there and wait. And wait. And wait. And then…King Chicken! It’s like a party every time. Minus confetti.
Since my brilliant ideas were rockin’ the world I decided to walk the 4 kilometers BACK to where the fountain actually is located.
Thankfully, the way back is all downhill.
En route I realized that not even a construction zone will get in the way of ATM access there.
Back at Eminonu Square I searched for the fountain. I read it was right in the center of the square in front of a mosque. Well, this is the closest thing I found and am still not sure it’s what I was looking for.
I continued wandering…and wandered right into one of the spots on my list that day – the Spice Bazaar.
Like the Grand Bazaar it is fully covered…and…it smells great!
All sorts of fresh spices, nuts and dried fruits were for sale…including PURE Iranian saffron.
I stopped by one booth to see what was what and was approached by an employee. After saying hello he asked, “You like Mickey Mouse?”
I look over and he was staring at my watch.
“Yes I do!”
He laughed and smiled. We are now BFFs. I’ll introduce you to him when he visits. Think we are getting a group time share in Florida. Near Mickey Mouse, naturally.
It was about time to head to the airport so I took a short breather at the Red River Pub (named after the John Wayne/Montgomery Clift movie), then jumped on the shuttle to Ataturk.
The place was a zoo of airline ticket counters and passengers.
You have to go through security upon entering the building then proceed to a check-in counter. That’s assuming it’s open. I was so early for my flight that I couldn’t even check in for 2 hours.
Once I did it was a breeze through Pasaport Kontrol and security, again.
Oh…if you’re one of those people who gets annoyed by the health warnings on cigarettes in the states…
Now, while I had many choices in air travel from Istanbul to Athens it seemed only fitting to fly aboard Olympic Air.
Where they may slightly lack (prop plane)
they make up for in service. The flight attendants were very helpful in strapping my bag into the seat next to me (didn’t fit in the tiny overhead)
and we were served sandwiches and hazelnut cream filled croissants on the ONE hour flight. Allow me to repeat…ONE hour flight…and we were fed.
At one point I heard, “Where are you from?”
It was the guy across the aisle from me, an overweight balding (what he tells me later) 42 year old. He’s from Georgia (“country, not state”) and was once a pilot in the Russian military. He was also one chatty cat.
After I told him where I was from (he specifically requested the state) he said, “Ahh. You have good basketball team.” I agreed but had to confess that I’m a Bulls fan. He pitied me. (Little did we know at that point that D. Rose would be out for the season. Again.)
As the flight started to encounter turbulence I looked out the window and the former pilot assured me “Nothing to be scared. Propeller more sensitive.” Yup, definitely reassuring.
We were wheels down in Athens and I proceeded to get a cab to my hotel.
The driver kept a laptop perched precariously upon his dashboard, streaming a live Greek sitcom. In the rain. Going 70.
The show he was watching starred the Greek Gene Wilder who was dating the Greek Kirsten Dunst. Figure that one out.
I woke up Friday morning and immediately headed up to the 7th floor roof of my hotel to see the view I had read about. And, it was pretty awesome.
But, like Vegas, everything looks much closer than it actually is. I learned that walking to the Acropolis.
The walk took me up hills, around bends, and up more hills that a little rehydrating was required so I stopped by a little stand at the entrance to the Acropolis and asked for a Coca-Cola Light.
“Orange juice. Lemonade. Healthy.”
I obliged. “Orange juice.”
The Acropolis is an outstanding site and one worth visiting. While many of the structures have been repeatedly restored over time, it’s still spectacular.
The Parthenon was undergoing some of that renovation but was still there, standing proudly on a bright November day.
Original sculptures and stone work from the Acropolis are housed in the Acropolis Museum down the hill.
Pictures there were sadly verboten. Sorry. But I can assure you that all items were totes old.
The coolest part was that they essentially recreated the Parthenon on the third floor, but just the stone reliefs from the top. So all those pictures and stories you remember of depictions ranging from Athena and Zeus to a dude taming a lion…all there.
And right next to that was a glass wall with a perfect view of the site itself to compare.
From there I headed east to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Both sit idly by as cabs and cars whiz by them.
Although you can pay for admission to the site and walk among the ruins, the pictures from the outside are just as good.
I scurried a bit north to the Greek Parliament building for the 4pm changing of the guards which included a lot of high leg kicking.
Dinner near my hotel included a Greek salad (in Greece!)
followed by the main course of Rustic sausage (that’s what the menu said) and whatever free dessert they brought out to me.
The owner and I chatted for a bit. It’s funny because folks were always glad to have visitors but also equally dismayed by how few days I had in their country.
“Two day? Not enough,” he declared.
He also told me about how he broke one of his daughters precious belongings.
“I need do something for my daughter. I try catch, and poof,” he said while dramatically recreating the scene in front of me.
From my ample watching of Full House I understand that Greeks shatter plates at weddings. So, what’s the big deal?
When I was sorting through money to pay the check the owner said, “Leave tomorrow!” “No, no. Sunday.” “Oh, I say, you leave tomorrow give me your Euro money!”
That guy was a hoot.
I got up to leave and he stopped me. “Anywhere you go, take care. Always.”
And with that, I called it a night, but not before taking in the evening view from my hotel roof.
The next morning, my last full day in Athens, started as the morning was closing into afternoon. I woke up and found that my dinner reservation for the evening was located atop Lycabettus Hill.
One can take the “stairs” up the hill. ORRRRR you can take a cable car for 7 Euros.
I took the “stairs.”
Kidding! I took the cable car.
But we’ll get to that in a bit.
First I decided to do a little of wandering to Plaka, a quiet fun little neighborhood with shops and cafes, for baklava
They all seemed to have their status with TripAdvisor.com displayed for all to see too.
And then I visited a modern day Olympic venue dating to the late 1800s
as well as the Presidential Residence.
From there it was a looooooooooooong walk up hill to get to the cable car..
At the small gift shop in the cable car waiting lobby I spotted some religious icons and one that looked very familiar.
“St. Nicholas,” I asked.
“St. George. Beautiful monastery on the hill. You should go.”
And I did.
The cable car wasn’t exactly what I expected. Rather than offer a scenic view on our way up it’s just a tunnel that takes about 3 minutes to travel up to the top. But, don’t worry, there is a little light show with random words flashing on the inside of the tunnel to entertain passengers.
The view, as you would expect, is amazing. You can see all of Athens, the dense residential areas, the forest below, and the Acropolis off in the distance (though not in this picture).
Two restaurants are on the hill and at the tippy top is the monastery. I stopped inside, took a few pictures,
and headed to my dinner reservation an hour early. Along with my lamb shank and potatoes (and potato soup that was delivered to the table unordered “for welcome”) I got this view (the Acropolis is the light below the leaves of the tree).
And that was it…my international adventure to countries #29 and #30.
The next morning I was on flying planes to London (where they will take Euros at Heathrow but pay your change back in pounds) and Chicago.
It was there, at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, that I spied a view I had never seen from the airport before.
While taking a picture a TSA agent came up and did the same.
I said to him, “I’ve been in this airport 100 times and never noticed this view.”
“I work at the checkpoint right behind us and never noticed this view.”
‘Merica. It’s good to be home.
Until next time…