Well, it’s been nearly four years since the last Journey without George. But here we are visiting Turkey and Greece, or as I call them – countries 29 & 30.
The journey began at the Indianapolis International Airport barely 12 hours after I arrived back from a weekend in Vegas. I missed the airport McDonalds so much I just had to come back the next morning!
Because what fun would the trip be without multiple connections (right?), I headed first to JFK to spend a few hours in the prestigious MasterCard Lounge. Yes, yes. It was (not) fancy. Many desks and chairs and even a copy of Where the Wild Things Are (the book. not the movie) are all there to entertain.
The flight from JFK to London’s Heathrow Airport was rather uneventful. I opted for the chicken over the lasagna. Pretty proud of that.
International flying planes are so much better equipped than the last journey. More entertainment options and each seat had an outlet. So much for frantically trying to charge my laptop in the MASTERCARD LOUNGE in New York.
Among the free movie options aboard the plane were, naturally, both movies I rented and downloaded to my iPad. That’s why planning ahead is totes overrated.
I did file a complaint though. Not because of the movie options but instead because I was greeted by this on my screen
and the person in front of me saw this.
Upon arrival at Heathrow we were all forced to walk to what seemed like Paris in distance to get to a bus for the 10 minute DRIVE to the other terminal. Along the way we were greeted by many shining and smiling faces of beefeaters urging us to visit the Tower of London.
Once I got thru the first passport security check I was randomly selected for a question!! There’s something about this happening to me in London. Happened in the train station in 2009. That experience lasted about 15 minutes and included the officer admitting he knew I posed no threat but was required to pick someone out of the crowd and I was the lucky winner.
The question posed to me this time was “Where are you headed?” I paused briefly. I don’t care what time zone you’re used to, 6am anywhere is too early for questions. “Istanbul,” I said.
“Fine then,” the agent said and I continued on. I chalk it up to her glancing at my passport and seeing “United States of America.” Allies and all, you know.
Lucky for me I had a nearly three hour layover which left plenty of time to enjoy the complimentary 45 minutes of WiFi offered.
I’ve never had the pleasure of connecting at Heathrow before but it was a lot like waiting for a train or bus at New York’s Port Authority. You stand and wait until the powers that be reveal your gate then rush, rush, rush to wait some more.
Really the only difference between the two is that Heathrow is a lot shinier and has more designer watches on sale. (I like to shop at the duty free shop…I like to shop at…)
But waiting afforded me the opportunity to cross paths with Angela Merkel’s doppelgänger.
British Airways provided travel from London to Istanbul.
Although there wasn’t a TV screen in the seat back in front of me I was able to see this much of Red 2.
The food on the flight was exactly what I asked Santa for…Cottage Pie with Peas! Not just WITH peas, mind you. Peas comprised a full 4 percent of the meal.
Thank you, Santa!
Seriously though, it was pretty good. 50 percent minced meat and 46 percent mashed potatoes has to be good though, right?
Upon arrival in Istanbul we were all quickly shuffled into the Pasaport Kontrol line only to get to the agents to be told we had to go back to the hidden away visa office to purchase our visa sticker.
At first I thought it was just me who missed the boat on this. Nope. Half my flight got the pleasure of going through the Pasaport Kontrol line twice.
Second time is the charm!
I bought me a ticket for the train and ventured into the city itself.
The train winds through the city’s streets giving passengers a pretty decent tour for a few lira. I saw quite a few of the sites on my list all from the comfort of the train.
Time to head back I guess.
With the help of some fine Turkish folks I found my hotel and checked in then headed to the Galata Bridge with spans the Golden Horn of Turkey.
Hundreds of men lined up along the bridge to fish for dinner,
their fishing lines draped over the bridge and hanging just feet from diners below. (Look close and you’ll see ’em)
Every so often you will see a fish flop by your head on its way up while enjoying dinner. Which for me was lamb kebobs at the Galata Altan Balik Restaurant.
Already late, I called it a night.
Wednesday morning brought a nice traditional Turkish breakfast at the hotel with pastries, cakes and what I’m certain were meats. Certain.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a real Turkish breakfast without Turkish coffee. Two cups. Woooooo!
I rounded up my electronic devices and decided in the interest of living it up to just wander the bustling streets of Istanbul en route the Blue Mosque.
There are tons of shops serving up chocolate and other treats.
Book stores. Tour guides. Starbucks.
And a bazillion ATMs.
Along the way I also came across this gem of a painting.
But then, glory behold, there it was. Shining. Glorious. Splendid.
The Golden Arches just a few hundred yards from the mosque itself.
Walking through the courtyard to the Blue Mosque included fending off the occasional inquiry, “You from California?” “Yes, but my surfboard was too big to carry on the plane.”
I didn’t really say that.
Standing in front of the Blue Mosque a gentleman came up to me and inquired as to my country of origin then offered me a “free” guide to the city. I begrudgingly obliged knowing where this was headed. I thanked him and started to walk towards the mosque.
“Excuse me, one minute.”
He flipped to the pages on the Blue Mosque. “See. Blue Mosque.” “Thank you.”
“Excuse me, one minute.”
He flipped to the page on the Hippodrome and the obelisk right behind us.
I walked away and waited…
“You have money?” Took long enough! I handed the guide back to him, said thank you, and headed to the entrance.
Upon ascending the steps of the mosque’s visitors entrance one is required to remove their shoes and place them in a plastic bag and carry them during your stay.
This is unlike in Dubai where we just put our shoes outside and hoped the world renowned shoeglar (that’s a shoe burglar) didn’t snatch them.
Once inside it’s amazing. A total of 21,000 blue tiles align the walls and comprise the domes. Hence the name Blue Mosque. Four pillars support the structure and are called elephants feet because of their resemblance to the mascot of the Grand Old Party.
There is a large staircase looking thing towards the front that is actually the pulpit used for sermons. To the right of that sits the grand chair.
Only so much of the mosque is open to visitors, but that’s alright. Just seeing the inside is pretty awesome. And sans shoes…very comfortable.
Once outside you can get better pictures of the full splendor of the building
and then walk directly across to the Hagia Sophia, seen in this artsy picture I took.
In the courtyard en route I came across the filming of a Turkish movie/music video. Poor guy and gal, about five hours later I ran into them again just a few hundred yards away doing a different dance in different costumes as the director yelled, “One! Two! Three! Four!”
I also saw Flute Man. (Copyrighted. Void where prohibited.)
Back to Sophia.
It too is outstanding. Whereas only the main floor of the mosque was accessible you can head up to the second floor of the Sophia to really take in all the history which itself is fascinating.
It was originally a Christian church but turned into a mosque after Istanbul was conquered.
Plenty of Christian mosaics remain on the walls such as this one of Christ
And this one of Empress Zoe who would change the man on the left whenever she got a new husband (three in total.)
Downstairs on the main floor two guys looked familiar. They were fellow passengers on yesterday’s London to Istanbul flight. I said hello and asked if it was in fact them and one of the guys jokingly said, “Yup. We are fellow ugly Americans.”
My new friends are from…wait for it…California! They were headed home from a mission trip in Africa and wanted to take in a few sites.
From there I searched for the Basilica Cistern but instead ended up walking right into the Topkapi Palace which wasn’t on my list until tomorrow. Oh well, I went anyway!
It’s the most expensive of the sites to see (40 lira) and for good reason.
The palace was first home to Sultan Mehmed II and remained such for successive sultans over the course of 400 years.
The grounds are full of courtyards and rooms filled with historical memorabilia. I would share a picture of some of the emeralds, rubies and gold, but alas, no pictures of the bling were allowed.
The best thing going for the grounds is the view overlooking the Bosphorus anyway.
By then it was time for a treat. Like Batman to his Batcave I beelined it to the nearest Kestane stand. (Don’t worry. They. Are. Everywhere.) for some fresh roasted chestnuts.
From there I was determined to locate the Cistern. You would be too if I told you it’s an underground POOL!
Ok, now that I got your attention, it’s not really a pool. It’s a cistern. But it’s massive.
There were so many fish swimming in it
I couldn’t help but wonder if many of those guys at the Galata Bridge were just in the wrong spot.
The star attraction though are not the fish but the lady you read about in school…Medusa. Two of the 336 columns that support the cistern are carved to look like she-who-shall-not-be-looked-at. (One is upside down and one is sideways)
Grateful I didn’t turn into stone, it was time for lunch. A small restaurant on my path to the Grand Bazaar won because it had free WiFi. Pathetic, right? Also it had the Turkish Kofte meatballs I’d been wanting to try.
Full of deliciousness I headed to the Grand Bazaar…