Istanbul. Intense. A city of 15 million in a country of 80 million. The largest urban agglomeration in Europe and the Middle East. Wealthy beyond measure in terms of history it is choked beyond comprehension in terms of automobiles. For the crew of Diomedea this was a layover on our way to meet our yacht in Fethiye so we took advantage of the interlude to explore a little.
Perhaps some of you dear readers have toured the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica cisterns, the Topkapi palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Markets, and the Bosphorus. For us it was an incredible trip back into a world of which we knew little, save the obvious strategic importance of the city on this, the crossroads of civilization.
The land that is modern Turkey is known to have been peopled from around 10,000 BCE. It has been variously colonised by Thracians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantine folk, Turks, Ottomans, and finally Turks again. Turkey became the nation it is today in October 1923. The man credited with this is Mustafa Kemal Pasha who became Ataturk (the Father of the Turks - a name bestowed by Parliament and its use forbidden to any other). He transformed the state from one of religious dominance to its modern secular democratic form. This required radical actions, one of which was the secularisation of the Hagia Sophia. This temple was initially a place of Christian worship under the Byzantine rulers but was lost to Christianity when the Turks invaded. The temple became a mosque and now is well adorned with minarets. It was turned into a museum by Ataturk in what must have been an audacious move opposed by those with vested interests. Interestingly, as you will see in the photos, there are tile frescoes of the Virgin Mary and Christ, right alongside calligraphy from the Koran. Christianity side by side with Islam. Quite amazing. Nowadays, there may be a rise in Islamism in the country so the stage is set for major political change. Turkey has a standing army of 500,000 and all males are required to do some form of national service.
Our experience of Istanbul was not always positive. Apart from the people pressure issues, many in the populace are very grasping. Touting and scams abound. At times we found it very oppressive that one could not even gaze for a nanosecond at a shop window before being harangued to enter and purchase goods. Tourist locations touts were just everywhere. Throw into this gypsy beggars, gangs of young kids hassling foreigners, forlorn Syrian families, Africans selling ghastly sunglasses, and local restaurants charging megabucks for everything. Putting aside all of these, the Blue Mosque is truly stunning as is the Hagia Sophia. However, I think the highlight was the visit to the Topkapi palace and in particular the harem, which was the private residence of the sultan-of-the-day, his family, and of course his various wives. The arabesque tiles are a wonder. Also in the palace is the treasury which contains bejewelled objects of incredible diversity. I might ask you, "What is the biggest diamond you have every seen up close?" Think for a moment because the treasury has one of 87 carats on display. OMG. Most intriguing of all was the display, for the believers, of Moses' Holy Staff, and a gold cast of the footprint of the prophet M. No sandals though.
As a finale we did an evening dinner cruise on the Bosphorus travelling up past the two stunningly huge suspension bridges before returning. The cruise featured traditional dancing as well as the main event, a remarkably agile belly dancer. The latter beguiled the menfolk who were soon stuffing lira into her brassiere. David had a quick dance with this eastern enchantress before sensibly returning to his chair.
18/05/2015, Germany, Spain
After Diomedea was loaded, we promptly booked an airfare and flew out to Europe via Singapore(!) the same day. It was something of a shock to land in cool and damp Germany but we no longer complain about cold after Thailand. Onto the autobahn for a bit of speed mania and hey presto we arrived in Andrea's old hometown of Sinzig to visit her family. A day trip was had to the city of Mainz to see the Gutenberg museum. We have both read the excellent historical novel "Gutenberg's Apprentice" which is mainly about the real life Peter Schoffer and we commend it to you. Anyway, the museum was poorly set out and in fact somewhat disappointing, given the enormity of its significance. However, we did inspect original Gutenberg bibles and many other interesting exhibits as well as watching a replica press at work. We met up with Andrea's sister and her younger brother.
Interestingly, Germany excels at cars and optical things but is hopeless when it comes to internet and mobile phone matters. It is always a battle to get connected in Germany typically taking hours or days of effort. We purchased Aldi sim cards (yes, from the supermarket chain).
Our stay was interrupted by a call from our son Angus who had suffered a workplace injury and so we took an unscheduled trip to the beautiful island of Mallorca to see him for a few days. It is our second trip to Angus' home and we have yet to see anything outside the town of Palma which itself is quite attractive. We dined well at night although way too early by Spanish standards naturally, and had afternoon tea at the Royal Palma Yacht Club (noice - got in by virtue of being a member of RSYS.) I used an Orange sim card and found it very expensive. Not recommended. We stayed at the Hesperia de Ciutat Palma hotel - excellent value but well up a hill. Signs are in three languages generally: Catalan, Spanish, English. The superyacht industry remains vast beyond comprehension in the port. We are planning to visit in our
non-superyacht Diomedea in due course. We flew back to Germany directly over the stunning Mont Blanc massif. Angus is recovering well now.
It was brunch and then cakes and coffee for afternoon tea on Mother's day before we left Sinzig for Frankfurt to meet Andrea's brother. Our flight out of the Eurozone and back into Islamic lands followed - more than half a dozen different airports in as many days. Yikes.
Here are the last lot of pictures from our Thailand sojourn.
Next up, Europe. CLICK HERE
08/05/2015, Supalai resort
"Iphone, Iphone, on the wand,
Who is the fairest in the land?"
This woman pouted and preened for a long selfie shoot. As did the woman in black and others. Very common in Asia. It was all about you, not the place.
Still some more to come but here are the last few weeks of our Thailand stay. CLICK HERE
Diomedea has been craned aboard the 9000 tonne Lena J this morning. The ship's crane with its massive spreader bar hung over us whilst the straps were made fast. Then everything went quickly and smoothly. In fact so smoothly that we did not realise that we had been lifted up to deck level. We then scampered onto the deck of Lena before downclimbing the monkey ladder down the side of the ship into a waiting RIB to be whisked back to Ao Po Marina. Now about to get on a flight to Europe. So long Asia. PIX HERE