Friday, January 10, 2014


In October 2013, my crack traveling companion, Kit, and I decided to revisit Turkey with Overseas Adventure Travel, a company we've both traveled with about a dozen or so times. Previously, we'd visited Turkey, though not at the same time, with Bora Özkök on a somewhat different itinerary, and loved it, so it seemed like a good place to revisit. We had a terrific guide, Ulaş Eşiyok, a genius at skirting crowds and finding the offbeat and unique things that really make a trip special.

As usual on this blog, click any photo to enlarge it to see more detail and at the foot of each page, click "Older Posts" to keep going in the order we took the trip. Also, I've integrated scans of some of the slides from my 1990 trip into this, sometimes because they offer views that are hard to come by today, sometimes because they show places we did not revisit on this trip, and sometimes just for the hell of it.

We started in Istanbul, a favorite city of mine, which straddles Asia and Europe. Once Byzantium and then Constantinople, traces of all its incarnations still exist alongside all the accoutrements of a modern city. We stayed in a wonderful old hotel on the Sea of Marmaris, which you could almost glimpse through the archway:
If you know me, you know there have to be some interesting buildings right up front:

You will probably have heard about riots in Taksim Square last year, as a result of the government wanting to cut down a stand of trees to build yet-another mall. Here's what it looks like now. I just hope they will be able to prevail to keep the trees, as Istanbul is a city without many green oases.

After the Square, we took a streetcar down Istiklal Street, which has a lovely collection of Art Deco buildings that I discovered were impossible to photograph from a moving streetcar.

At the end of the streetcar tracks, we took a funicular down to the harbor.

At the end, along our walk to the harbor, we encountered a young man selling Turkish tobacco. He had a little machine that would roll a cigarette for you, complete with filter - quite ingenious.
Our walk brought us to the harbor right near the Galata Bridge. There's been a bridge here, spanning the Golden Horn (the inlet of the Bosphorus that divides Istanbul) since the 6th century. This is the fifth one, completed in 1994.

The Grand Bazaar & the Spice Bazaar

One of the oldest buildings in Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar, still selling everything your heart could desire, from jewelry to leather, textiles to ceramics...well, too much to catalog:

Compare the crowds today with 1990:

A beautiful tiled fountain in the Grand Bazaar:
I don't remember so many cats from my prior trip to Turkey, but there are plenty around today; these are the Grand Bazaar's:
I don't even know how I managed to get any photos of the Spice Bazaar this time around - I think there were at least two cruise ship's worth of people packed into it and we had great difficulty even getting into the building (built 1597-1664). Anyway, I doubt there's a spice or sweet on earth you can't get there:

The Bosphorus

Obligatory, when in Istanbul, is a cruise up the Bosphorus. We didn't have the best weather for this, but it's still an amazing waterway dividing Europe from Asia and studded with old palaces and forts. A major landmark is the 1348 Galata Tower.
In 1990, we climbed the tower for a view over the city, and below us were women washing carpets on a rooftop, underneath lines of laundry:

There's plenty to see along the Bosphorus, but my favorite things are the old wooden buildings sprinkled along the waterfront. Sadly, most are gone, as is the open space between buildings. This is some of the most expensive waterfront on earth now.
Here are a couple from 1990, now replaced by characterless buildings that could be anywhere:

Rumeli hisar is one of two forts built opposite each other to control the traffic along the Bosphorus. Built 1451-2 at the narrowest point on the strait, it has terrific views. These are photos from 1990, as we didn't visit the fort on this trip:

The Bosphorus - Dolmabache Palace

The big noise on the Bosphorus, however, is the totally-over-the-top Dolmabache Palace. We didn't visit on this trip, so you will have to be content with my 1990 photos, which have held up pretty well despite the passage of time, not always kind to film stock. Built 1943-56 by the 31st Ottoman sultan, it sports a variety of different European influences of the time and was home to six sultans, until the Caliphate was abolished when the modern nation of Turkey was established in 1924. It cost the equivalent of $1.4 billion to construct.

From the waterside:

Its mosque:

Dolmabache's gardens:

Inside, well, one hardly knows where to start. Let's begin with one of my favorites, the crystal staircase - yes, all those balustrades are crystal:
Hardly the only use of crystal in the palace, however:

The bath isn't half bad, either:

And there's plenty more to distract the eye:

Back on dry land...

Right near the Blue Mosque is the Hippodrome, the former circus built by Constantine on the sight of Byzantium's (much) earlier hippodrome. Incidentally, the bronze horses that adorn St. Mark's in Venice were plunder from this former racecourse. Today, it's a broad open plaza with plenty of strolling tourists. Its main feature is part of an obelisk which originally belonged to Thutmoses III (1490 B.C.), brought here from Karnak in 390 by Theodosius the Great. It's in damn fine condition for something nearly 3,500 years old, now perched on a marble base carved to the glory of Theodosius (first photo from 1990):

Another ornament of the Hippodrome is the Serpent Column, cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC and moved here by Constantine from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. You can see how much the ground level has changed since then.
 There's a lovely old building on one side the Hippodrome that I particularly admired - no idea what it is: