After the London bombing we thought about not coming to Turkey. It does share a border with Iraq. We decided to go since we are only going to Istanbul which is on the other side (west) of the country.
The border crossing was very confusing. We got it wrong the first time and I finally just went to each desk asking if I needed to be there. In the order you are supposed to do it (each about 100 meters apart so you are never sure if it is the last):
-Go through greek customs- they stamped our passports since we didn't get them stamped when we arrived.
-Cross the bridges colored Greek then Turkish colors between Greece and Turkey with Army people from both sides making sure the other guys stay on their side. (Greece and Turkey are not to fond of each other.)
-1st booth checks passports and car registration to make sure you have everything.
-2nd booth (later called police booth) looks at passports and says I need to go to cash line.
-cash booth- get out of the car go into the building next to these booths, down the hall and buy a sticker for the passport ($20) this is the actual visa. This was the first time I used US dollars in a while and I am glad that Leslie and I both put a $100 in our money belts for emergencies.
-walk past your car back to police booth and have visa stamped.
-walk to booth 2 (called booth 2 for some reason.) past a different line of cars and show car insurance and get paperwork. They make sure insurance matches my passport and also stamp the visa and write the date.
-walk back to the desk in the middle of the line of cars. I think they called him the inspector. He looks over all paperwork, stamps all paperwork in triplicate and stamps and signs the visa. (with a special stamper kept in its own leather holster on his belt.)
-get back in the car and go to the next line of cars. This turns out to be the last booth, he looks over everything, stamps it again keeps some hands back some and we were free to go.
After taking an hour to figure out the process of how to make 400 meters make me realize how easy we have had it up till now crossing through all the European Union countries with the nod and wave we have crossed without even the need for a visa (you are kept track of by the hotels getting your passport number.)
Istanbul- the road atlas had the city in the back but no names on the roads or freeways and the map in our tourist guide was very detailed for the tourist area of the city. Istanbul is on both sides of the river that drains the black sea into the Mediterranean. Once we crossed the bridge over the river we knew where we were but we also ended up in Asia. We got lost and found ourselves in Asia. The funny part was they even had a message "welcome to Asia" when we got to the other side of the bridge.
Hagia Sofia-the biggest building in the world for 1000 years- christian church, turned Mosque, turned museum. It is weird to see the pictures of christ and mary right next to the large arabic medallions.
The blue mosque- this is the most famous mosque in Istanbul. It is just right across the square from Hagia Sofia so between the 2 there is just Minarets everywhere. It gets it name for all the blue tile it has inside. There are patterns of tile everywhere. This is the first time L. had different rules of dress than I did and she was to happy to take off the long sleeves when we were done because of the heat.
Basilica Cistern-these are the underground cisterns built during the late Roman empire. It is just interesting that its this giant area built with carved marble pillars and barrel vaults that’s only purpose was to be filled up with water and no one would see it. There is still about 6 inches of water on the bottom so you walk around on raised platforms and look at the fish that got in there somehow.
Grand Bazaar- 400 merchants selling stuff, a maze of tourists traps. It was interesting and its covered so while there is less sunlight it is more stuffy. When we were in Monaco L. found an English shelf in the bookstore. She bought "the Lion the witch and the wardrobe" since the movie is coming out soon. Since it was a short book we took turns reading it to each other. One of the main things in the book was Edmund’s desire for more Turkish delights. While at the bazaar we found some. (actually a lot, but I was still looking for it out of curiosity.) it tastes great (similar to the fruit jellies covered with powdered sugar, and the nut ones taste like sweet peanut butter.)
Salesmen- people ask you into their stalls here, we got that a little in greece but not really anywhere else in europe. Turkish carpet sales are a big money maker here and there are plenty of tricks to get you into a store. Most tourist groups I saw going into one at one time or other. Outside the blue mosque is the "carpet museum" that is more carpet stalls. We had an "english student" that wanted to be our tour guide through the blue mosque and then his "uncles" store. Don't get me wrong, they are very nice and there was a couple of times that they saw us looking at our map and gave us correct directions followed by an invitation into their shop. Probably the funniest thing that we were told to get us in a shop was after walking the gauntlet of the grand bazaar. A man gave the usual spiel to please come rest in his shop. L. gave a tired flat "no". I was walking behind her on the narrow sidewalk and the salesman quickly turned it around as he said to me "your wife breaks my heat I must have her, how many camels would you take for her? He smiled and said he wanted to make sure he was saying it joking then was polite to warn us about the train coming up behind us as I walked past.
People- people here are overtly friendly, even the salespeople. They are very happy to hear that we are American since tourism dropped so sharply after september 11th. (most would then rattle off cities they said they visited in the USA.)
Culture -Turkey & Istanbul are very much muslim. It has been interesting hearing the call to prayer at different times of the day and there mosques everywhere. (As we drove in we mistook 3 different large mosques as the blue mosque.) they also seem to really want to be a western country. From the type of advertising we have seen, and the adaptation of Italian, French and English words. They are still very eastern though in other things. We saw the future of camel racing as they introduced the new robot camel jockeys on TV. One cultural difference that the guide book and travel shows made to distinguish was that instead of saving money in unstable banks many people would build retirement houses slowly. We saw a lot of these unfinished houses in Greece too. Since we were driving in along the coast there were times that we saw whole sea-side communities of what looked like cement ghost towns with all the unfinished houses but it makes perfect sense to me.
Money- this is the first time that we had to deal with a wonkey exchange rate. $1 = 1.6 million Turkish lire. Its really weird pulling 50 million out of the ATM and it was amusing to see a "everything under a million" store.
Driving- while driving north into Bulgaria L. got freaked out almost running over a turtle. Almost all the roads we drove outside of Istanbul are being widened which makes for a lot of construction. I think that it is the IMF money at work putting people to work.