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My Very Cheap Home Exchange Holiday in TurkeyAuthor: LSKahn (More Trip Reviews by LSKahn)
Date of Trip: August 2011
14. Taksim Square. The great square near where all the upscale hotels are located. Istikal Caddesi begins there (main shopping street). Interesting to walk the side streets but the Square is largely uninteresting and a bus depot. The tram that goes to tunel begins there. I stayed at a small hotel, Hotel Sylvia for 80TL a night for two nights at the end of my stay when I got sick of commuting from Cevezli.
15. Bosphorus Cruises. I did both the short tourist cruise (about 1 1/2 hours) and the longer one that goes up towards the Black Sea. The commentary on the tourist cruise is terrible. You can't even hear it. The longer cruisewhich takes most of the dayis much better. I ate at the fish restaurant on the left as you exit at the last stop. Very nice relaxing day. I would put this high on my list simply because you are not marching around and sitting for the day. I did not hike up to the castle on the hill. I no longer feel compelled to hike up to anything at this point in my life.
16. Princes' Islands. I went to Kinili and Buyukada. Between the two, I liked the smaller island a lot better. Perhaps that was because I was with friends. Perhaps it was because I was sitting in a beach chair instead of checking off a list of must dos. Bukukada has been discovered by tour groups. At lunch time the ferries disgorge tons of tour groups on excursions from Istanbul. At that point (and having done the horse cart tour without the climb to the monastery), I left. Given that I was staying in Cevezli, I took the ferry from Bostanci and not the one from one of the docks on the European side. The ferries from Bostanci run all the time. No worries about that.
17. The Ayasofia Hamam. Yeah, I did this. It was great. It is a tourist hamam and probably the most expensive hamam in Turkey -- 100TL for the bath and the rub down. I liked it so much that I later went to another hamam in Edirne which cost half as much for the same thing. I am a big chicken about spas, but I loved the hamam experience and highly recommend it.
I took one excursion on the Turkish buses. I used Nilhufer. It was a great bus. The only negative in Edirne was getting confused in the old city for sometime (remember the streets without names?) before I could find the street with hotels. I stayed at the Hotel Tuna (very basic and cheap). I principally went to see the mosquewhich is regarded as the masterpiece of Turkey's major Ottoman architect Miramar Sinan. I was glad that I went but I was totally mosqued out by the end of the trip. I also went to the Museum of Health that is located out of town. The taxi driver knew how to find it and offered to return for me, but I had no idea how long I would be there. Tour groups have discovered this msueum but only Turkish tour groups. There are simply no large hotels in the area capable of handling bus groups. They are building one. The museum is very interesting and unusual. Ottoman medicine was light years away from what was being done in Western Europe at one time. They treated mental illness with musicwith different sorts of music believed appropriate to different illnesses. Some of the details of operations were gruesome. There was a lady demonstrating the art of paper marbling. I bought a scarf from her and watching the demonstration was interesting as well. I also bought a piece of paper with the sultan's tugra for 15TL that will cost me a lot more to frame.
All and all I enjoyed my trip even if Cevezli was not an ideal location for touring. I did get to know the shops in the town well -- especially the borek/pide guy. It is a relatively conservative area with lots of "covered" women -- both the headscarf/raincoat types and the full dress black garments. Because it was Ramazan, I was circumspect about eating on the street. Some of the retaurants were only open after the fast ended. There were iftar specials. The people would buy their food and then wait with it in front of them until the mosque made the announcement that it was OK to eat. Ramazan does have its challenges. One thing I detested were the Ramazan drums which some guy banged almost every night very loudly (and underneath my apartment) to remind people to get up and eat something before the fast began again. This was at 2:00am or 3:00am! I learned to close the window to the bedroom when I went to sleep (the house had cooled off by then) to avoid being awakened by the banging. On the other hand, I observed that rather than being a season of deprivation, Ramazan is a festive season of anticipation. The community anticipates the end of the fasting with the feast known in most of the Muslim world as Eid al Fitar but in Turkey as Bayram. Unfortunately, Ramazan ended as I left Turkey on August 30th and I did not get to see Bayram. When the fast ends in the evening, people eat huge festive meals. The streets become full after sundown with children asking for balloons, fireworks, etc. It was something to see and I have no regrets about visiting Turkey during Ramazan. One of the most wonderful things I observed was a community iftar. This occurs, I was told, in all the neighborhoods of Istanbul. The mosque sponsors it and gets a rich guy to pay for it all. I came home one night and there were tables all over the main street and probably a couple of thousand people ready to dig in but no one was eating. Their food boxes were in front of them and the were waitng for the signal to eat. When it came they dug in. They even invited me, but I thought it would have been inappropriate. I did take a lot of photos. The whole business was over and cleaned up in a couple of hours. It was almost a military movement as to how the streets were cleaned.
And, finally, I had NO stomach problems of any significance in Turkey. I also was fairly satisfied with the state of the toilets despite all the hoople. Yes, I did see a few of the other kind, but I avoided those. The toilets in the museums were mostly excellent. Turkey is a country that straddles both east and west as you all know. That means it is undergoing rapid development now. The US could learn from the investment in infrastructure. When the new Marmaray tunnel is built, it will be a lot easier to get from the Asian to the Europen side. It will change everything in Istanbul. Property values on the Asian side will increase and all the transportation routes will change. While I was there, moreover, some of the trains on the old train line I was taking in to Istanbul were changing. I even had air conditioned trains at times (much appreciated by all). At Hydrapassa everyone would scope out the trains for the air conditioned one and even take a later train to get one of those. There is also huge government investment in a high speed train between Istanbul and Ankara (Are you listening US Congress?). Turkey does have a lot of problems with many people scraping to get by. I don't suppose children sell tissues in the street for fun; I did wonder if all the tissue sellers went to school in the winter; I suspect that some don't. Trash collection could be better. For all the meticulous hosing down of the streets in front of shops, the trash is all over. I especially noticed it on the beach on the Princes' Islands. When you are trying to just make it through the day in hopes of a better one tomorrow, environmentalism is a luxury (and we don't always practice what we preach in the West).
And that about sums up my trip to Turkey.
Thanks for all the help in planning this adventure. I had challenges at times, but it was a very worthwhile experience. The final cost? The trip came in at about $4500 including airfare and souvenirs. Pretty good for 3 1/2 weeks. Home exchange enables you to travel farther for less -- one reason I love it.
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