|Poor kids were packed in the back seat like sardines during these road trips. I tried keeping Molly on the floor of the front passenger seat with me, but she was much happier in the back with the kids. Can't beat the love sitting on Paul's lap.|
Vincent and the kids needed visas going into Turkey, but fortunately Vincent was able to sort those out back in Sofia at a cost of €10 per visa instead of paying more at the border (which as of April 10, 2014 will no longer be possible).
Once we entered Turkey, the first city we came to was Edirne and Vincent made a detour to find a bank. Edirne was fairly big and contemporary with a number of mosques scattered throughout the city. After trying 4 ATMs, Vince got lucky with the 5th and we had Turkish lira in hand. It was a good thing because a few kilometers down the road, we came across the Turkish toll system which doesn't involve paying cash or buying a vignette; it requires buying a radio-frequency, readable, pre-paid HGS sticker that is placed on the back of the rear view mirror where each time one drives through a highway toll point, money is deducted off the pre-paid value of the HGS sticker. It's a slick system and Turkey almost gets full marks for it, except for the fact that the office to buy the sticker is situated on the side of the highway where cars leave Turkey, as opposed to logically placing it on the side of the road where cars are entering Turkey.
|Vincent crossing the highway after successfully securing an HGS toll card.|
|Looked ridiculous but it kind of worked. What we needed however were sports bandages that could handle the rain. By the time we stopped for the night, we'd lost half our impromptu seal.|
After loading the necessities out of the trunk for our one night, we set out to find something to eat. We ended up eating in a trendy cafe/restaurant and noticed we were getting a lot of attention. There were about 4 servers tending us over the course of the meal. The tip off that we were "special" customers occurred when we ordered our second round of sparkling water; the servers wanted to clear our first round glasses and give us clean glasses for the second round. I had never had that happen before. At the end of the meal, the manager shook Vincent's hand as we left the restaurant; seems we were their first customers from California.
|This was the smallest individual bottle of sparkling water we'd ever seen: 200 ml! Which made getting new glasses for a second bottle seem that much more over the top.|
After breakfast we loaded up the car and then I went out to see if I could find some stronger tape to help protect the sunroof seal or, at a minimum, some more band-aides.
|Packing the Prius may look a bit random but everything had it's place in order to close the trunk.|
After another 2 hour drive, we entered Istanbul which seemed surprisingly modern on the outer edges.
|There were lots of well-kept apartment complexes like these on the outskirts of Istanbul.|
|Welcome to Istanbul: That's the Sea of Marmara on the southern side of the highway. The Black Sea is about 25 km to the north of the highway.|
|I was struck by how pretty the flower beds were on the boulevards while entering the city.|
The apartment was extremely well situated such that we could walk to most of the major sights.
|We had a view of the Blue Mosque (and a whole lot of other buildings) from our apartment terrace.|
|We could also see the Sea of Marmara from our terrace (along with satellite dishes and laundry).|
|A snapshot of the restaurants on Çap Ariz Sokak around the corner from our apartment building.|
|We chose a table nicely situated in the sun.|
|The Arasta Bazaar has an amazing range of goods: Silk scarves, pashminas, exquisite ceramics, jewelry, handbags, clothing and much more.|
|We saw a wide range of chess sets. Given all the history we've studied this year, it would be hard not to walk away from one of these. Here's just a sample: Ottomans vs Crusaders and Roosevelt vs Hitler.|
|And of course, spices.|
|The main dome has 28 windows.|
|Sarah and I wouldn't win any style points for our head coverings, but the Scottish woolen scarves worked.|
|It is free of charge to visit the Blue Mosque. Upon entering, one can find pamphlets explaining Islam.|
|Walking across Sultanahmet Park towards the Hagia Sophia.|
|The Grand Bazaar is packed with so many fabulous goods and deals to be had, it'll make your head spin.|
|The Bazaar is apparently visited by 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily.|
|While we waited for our Turyol boat to arrive, we each had a fish (mackerel) sandwich prepared by this floating kitchen.|
|Leaving the port with a view of the Blue Mosque in the background.|
|Crossing over to "Asia".|
|Passing by the Istanbul Modern Museum which is located on the Asia side.|
|Dolmabahçe Palace: It served as the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1856 to 1922 (with the exception of a 22-year interval (1887–1909) when Yildiz Palace was used).|
|Dolmabahce Mosque: It was commissioned by queen mother Bezmiâlem Sultan who was the second consort to Sultan Mahmud II (1789 – 1839) and was mother of Sultan Abdulmecid I (1823 – 1861) of the Ottoman Empire. It was finally completed in 1855.|
|The terminus officially opened on November 3, 1890 and was one of the most famous examples of European Orientalism.|
|Sublime Porte (the "Great Gate") was built early in the 18th century during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecit. It gave access to the block of buildings in Istanbul that housed the principal state departments.|
|Fortified wall surrounding Gülhane Park.|
|Gülhane Park (Rosehouse Park), located adjacent to and on the grounds of the Topkapi Palace: There is a major project underway to rearrange the palace’s gardens to more closely resemble the way they were during the Ottoman period.|
|We walked by this restaurant to see women in the front window making giant ravioli. What a great advertisement! If it had been close to a meal time, we would have stopped in.|
|We saw delicious displays of baklava all over the city. Love the tiny "birds' nests".|
|We do however recommend getting the audioguides at Hagia Sophia. While there is some minimal information available that is translated into English, one won't get much out of seeing the Hagia Sophia without an audioguide or some sort of guidebook.|
|A 13th century mosaic panel depicting Christ (left) and John the Baptist. In this mosaic, the Virgin Mary (not shown) and John the Baptist are requesting Christ's intercession for humanity.|
|A 12th century mosaic panel of Emperor John II Komnenos (Emperor from 1118 to 1143) and his wife donating money to Hagia Sofia.|
|Beautiful marble fountain, used for ablutions, built in 1740 during the period of Sultan Mahmud I.|
|Vincent had to buy a couple of these. There would be no question who this chocolate belonged to.|
|Mechanical sun and moon calendars following designs created by Al-Buruni (973-1048).|
|Replica of a chandelier clock, originally designed by the astronomer Ali B Yunus (died 1009). Each of the 12 bottles was filled with enough oil to burn 1 hour, 2 hours, 3 hours and so on.|
|An "Entertainment Machine": This was reconstructed according to a book on automation by Al-Muradi (11th century).|
|The boys in front of the Gate of Salutation.|
|The harem wing was added at the end of the 16th century.|
|The court of the concubines and the Sultan's consorts.|
|A room from the apartments of the Queen Mother.|
|Hall with a Fountain: This is the vestibule where the princes and consorts of the Sultan waited before entering the Imperial Hall. The walls are faced with 17th-century Kutahya tiles.|
|Cupboard and shelves in the privy chamber (built in 1608) of Sultan Ahmed I. The cabinet doors are decorated with nacre and ivory.|
|One of the grand courtyards. Fragrant purple and pink hyacinths were beginning to bloom.|
|Another photo of the Palace gardens.|
|The Baghdad Kiosk is situated on the right section of the Marble Terrace. It was built in 1639 to commemorate the Baghdad campaign of Sultan Murat IV (1623 – 1640).|
|A view of the Endurun courtyard and Endurun Institution which functioned as the principal Ottoman establishment devoted to educating future candidates of bureaucratic and managerial positions.|
That evening we decided to eat at the Topoz Restaurant by our apartment where our apartment host guaranteed that we'd receive a special 20% off deal.
|We had a very good fish meal and enjoyed some lively musical entertainment so it was a good way to end the day.|
We decided to do something more kid-friendly and so aimed to go to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum which is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, in the suburb of Haskoy. The journey meant crossing the Bosphorous Strait. Vincent figured out how to get there via public transport which involved taking a street car to the port and then taking a ferry across to the museum. Unfortunately, the machines that sell tickets to the streetcar were not working and so we had to walk to the port which meant we took longer than expected and missed the ferry ride that only operates once per hour. We decided to have lunch and bought fish sandwiches again at the same kiosk where we ate on March 7th.
|The ferries are a nice way to travel (once one figures out their schedule). On board, a server will come to your seat and offer to bring you a coffee, tea or other refreshment.|
|To the left is a 1955 Messerschmitt Micro-Car. To the right is a Ford Anglia 105E Deluxe that was used in the movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.|
|Also on display is Kismet, a 10.5 metre sailboat in which Sadun Boro, his wife Oda and their cat Mico circumnavigated the globe, ending in 1965. They were the first Turkish citizens to do so.|
|Vincent and Sarah in a ship's bridge reconstructed from the 'John McKay' which was built in England in 1922. It was stocked with functioning equipment and communication devices.|
|We had a tour of the TCG Uluçalireis submarine. The TCG Uluçalireis was formerly a US submarine named the USS Thornback (SS-418) which was launched on July 7, 1944. The submarine was turned over to the Turkish Navy on July 1, 1971.|
The Whirling Dervish or Mevlevi Order have a unique way of practicing Islam. They are followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic jurist and theologian.The order was founded in Konya, a city in the central Anatolia region of Turkey. If one has never seen the Whirling Dervish, it is a must do when visiting Turkey.
During our milkshake pick-me-up, Vincent proposed that he and I visit the Cemberlitas Hamami turkish bath that evening for a spa treatment. The kids could stay at the apartment with extra computer time. It would be a win-win. I was sold.
After dropping off the kids, Vincent and I walked to the historical Cemberlitas Hamami turkish bath that was built by the renown Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan, in 1584. If one is to experience the Turkish bath in Istanbul, the Cemberlitas Hamami is often recommended. The building was commissioned by Nurbanu Sultan, wife of Selim II (Sultan of the Ottoman empire 1566 until his death in 1574) and mother of Murat III (Sultan of the Ottoman empire 1574 until his death in 1595). Vincent signed us each up for a traditional bath and 30 minute oil massage at a cost of €51 each. We each were handed a little package and were told the two treatments would take about 90 minutes. Having never been to a Turkish bath, I had no idea what the process was and was a bit lost. Since the majority of customers at this spa are tourists, my biggest recommendation for the management would be to put up signs with pictures (as they're dealing with customers with a range of languages) that depict the order in which guests visit the various stations. I found a locker and opened my package; it contained a pair of black underwear plus a cotton pouch for which I had no idea what use it had. I took off my clothes, put on the black panties and wrapped myself in a red and white cloth that was provided. I then went downstairs and into the massage waiting room. After standing there a few minutes and watching others I went into the bath chamber. It was a circular, domed room with huge marble sıcaklık (circular marble heat platform) in the center. There were women arranged on it like a pinwheel. About 8 or 9 women arranged around the center of the wheel and then about 14 women lying on the outer edges of the wheel who were being washed by women wearing black panties and black bras. The only difference between the customers and the working staff was the the staff were wearing bras. If one isn't comfortable hanging around with a lot of naked women, one is going to feel a bit uncomfortable initially. After a few mixed messages of where to get started, I eventually was directed to lie down in the center of the marble wheel for about 15 minutes. I put my red and white checkered cloth down and lay down looking at the domed ceiling; it was dotted with glass apertures which might be pretty in the day time, but we were here at night so they were black. I lay there watching the water drips fall and thinking to myself, "Am I enjoying this yet?" After 10 minutes or so, I was splashed with water so I looked up and a woman was signaling me to come over to her at the edge of the marble platform. I took my red and white towel and lay face down next to her. She then indicated she wanted that cotton pouch; oh, now I understood the purpose of the pouch. It was my personal scrubber. I had left it upstairs so she used some other cloth that all the other first-timers who don't have a clue share. So I got scrubbed down with the abrasive cloth on all sides, which was followed by mounds of bubbles being poured on me (which was the point where this started to get enjoyable) and then followed by less intense scrubbing. The treatment ended with the woman washing my hair (also really enjoyable) and having tubs of water poured over me to rinse off all the soap. I was then directed to the jacuzzi which really wasn't a jacuzzi but was a deep soaking tub which had a temperature of 36 degrees celcius, one degree below normal body temperature, which was probably deliberately set so no one sticks around too long. After about 5-10 minutes in the tub, I left the bath chamber and went back to the massage waiting room. I had about 6 women ahead of me so had to wait about 45 minutes to be called. My oil massage was just that, oily; it was like a light Swedish massage and was very pleasant. I took a shower afterwards, dried my hair and then met Vincent in the lobby. The whole process took just over 2 hours. Vincent bought me a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice which was a nice cap to the experience.
On Monday, March 10th we woke up to still more rain. I looked up the Museum Pass on-line to see if anything was open on a Monday to find that just the Chora Museum and the Yildiz Palace Museum were. Both were in far reaching places that required forms of public transport, taxi or car (which we didn't want to use) so in a sense we just "gave up" trying to force the Istanbul experience. I concluded that we needed to return one day to spend more time in Istanbul and see other parts of the country like Ephesus, Cappadocia, Konya and Side, plus perhaps Ankora and some of the popular coastal destinations. Turkey deserves some serious attention and our time here now was more or less the "teaser" to a bigger reach one day.
Vincent was anxious to get the Prius sunroof fixed so he looked up a car repair shop on the Istanbul's on-line version of the Yellow Pages to try and get it fixed. In order to do so, he typed out 4 or 5 key statements outlining what needed to be done and used Google Translate to translate them into Turkish. With translations in hand, he set out.
My "non-shopper" self, decided that Istanbul had too much to offer to ignore and so decided to go back to the Grand Bazaar for 90 minutes or so and price out things like scarves and ceramics to see if we could possibly leave with some sort of souvenir in hand. The kids were very happy to be left in the apartment and not dragged through the rain. I told them I'd be back around 13:00 and if Vincent hadn't arrived back by then, we'd go out and do something in the afternoon.
The thing about the Grand Bazaar, like most bazaars, is that there are no prices listed. You have to ask and the stall/storekeeper will give you a price, but that isn't the price you pay. The price you pay depends on your negotiating skills. I found that the longer I stayed in a kiosk the better the deal I'd get when I started to walk away. However, every vendor was different and had his (most always a man) threshold for how eager he was to sell.
|Hurray, we had front row seats to see the Whirling Dervish. They later had to wipe up the water left from our (and others') umbrellas so that the Dervish would spin without wiping out.|
|The entire Whirling Dervish performance or ceremony was about an hour long. It began with these five musicians playing for about 20 minutes.|
|The musicians left and then returned wearing these black cloaks and conical pressed woolen hats.|
|Five Sufi Dervishes (Semazens) then emerged and began the Sema, or worship ceremony.|
We were out of the apartment and on the road by 9:30. Our drive to Bulgaria was pretty straightforward with the exception of going through Bulgaria's border control. We were back in snow country and we got stuck in the snow trying to cross the actual border. Fortunately there wasn't any traffic so Vincent could back up the Prius and go through the truck route. Otherwise we would have had to empty our trunk and dig out the chains which, of course, were located underneath the floor of the trunk.
|A last snapshot of Istanbul's beautiful boulevards along the highway.|
After we got settled, we walked to the old town for dinner.
|Mussels with wine and cream plus a few rounds of Uno was a good way to end the day.|
|Nessebar's western fortress wall which was built in the early Byzantine period (5th-6th century): After the capturing of Nessebar by the Turks (1453), the fortress walls gradually lost their importance and fell into ruins.|
|At lunch, we found a perfect spot overlooking the Black Sea.|
|I tried the Bulgarian tarator soup. It's a cold cucumber and yogurt-based soup. It needed a bit of garlic and salt or something to jazz it up a bit.|
|Cantilevered rooms were typical of Ottoman architecture.|
|A small one-nave church built in the 13th century.|
|Directly across the Black Sea to the west is Sochi, Russia.|
|Remains of the Basilica "Virgin Merciful" built in the 6th century.|
|Window of the St Paraskeva Church that was constructed in the 13th century.|
|When jump-starting a hybrid one has to let the connected cables sit for 5 minutes before trying to start up the dead hybrid. That was the only difference from jump-starting a standard gas-powered car.|
When Vincent typed in Vargas in the GPS, it indicated that it would be a 90 minute drive to Vargas. As it was now 13:30, we paused and asked do we really want to spend 3 hours driving to visit an archeological museum? It was a quick, "No". So we decided to drive to Sunny Beach and see what all the fuss was about concerning this resort town.
We drove by masses of hotels and condos, spelling out thousands of rooms. Apparently, Sunny Beach is home to over 800 hotels with more than 300,000 beds, most of which were empty this time of year.
|Sunny Beach: The kids immediately found a minimal playground.|
|But quickly realized roughhousing would be more engaging.|
|There's a gradual slope into the water and it's a good spot for shell collecting.|
|The swing was so much better with Dad pushing.|
|We made one detour past this Pirates of Caribbean water park/hotel. It just captured the feeling of this resort area along the coast. I did have to wonder though, if the owners had approval from Disney?|
|Walking by the wooden windmill on the causeway to the Nessebar's old town.|
|Statue of Saint Nicholas.|
|There were lots of fishing boats just waiting for the season to begin.|
|And of course, we had to stop for refreshments, at another Flagman restaurant. Can't beat hot chocolate and french fries. And maybe something a little stronger for Dad.|
|Looking across at Sveti Vlas, another resort town along the Black Sea coastline.|