Friday, September 25, 2009


Having managed to grab a few minutes sleep in the Keşan bus station between buses, I arrived ın Çanakkale around noon and set out to explore the town which, as well as being the starting point for visits to Troy ans Gallipoli ıs a really lovely and relaxed coastal town ın its own right.

I chose to ıgnore the clearly over priced Troy tour offered by my hostel (60 Lira) and instead walked a few blocks away from the ferry port to the mini bus station where you can get a ride to the site for 4 Lira each way (it costs another 15 to get in and you really don't need a guided tour anyway as everything is excellently sign posted in English. Met a few fellow travellers, Jeff and Kip, on the bus who were also able to give me a tip on a cheaper Gallipoli tour for the next day.

When you arrive at Troy the very first thing you see is the replica Trojan horse built in 1975 and climbable so there are sure to be a couple tourists hanging out the window. Very cheesy but lots of fun to climb. The site itself is really large and many sections are in quite good condition considering that some sections are 5000 years old, and that the guy who discovered them did quite alot of damage in the process. The city was rebuilt several times over the centuries and there are some places where you can see the remains of all 7 or so layers at once. All up it makes for a really interesting visit

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Last day in Thessaloniki

Got off to a late start on Wednesday but eventually made it back up to the Byzantine walls to visit Yedikule, the fortress at the top which was converted to a prison for Thessaloniki's worst criminals in the 19th century. Sadly much of the area was closed off for restoration but you could get a good overview of the place from the guard tower and peer into the cells where the worst of the worst were kept.

Had a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants in front of the fort where we enjoyed a fabulous view of the town with our meal, then found our way to St Demetrius exactly 4 minutes after the Catacombs had closed for the day, sad. Then looked around Agia Sophia, also closed and found the nearby Catacombs of John the Baptist which, surprise, were closed but luckily the caretaker heard us talking and came and opened them up for us, yay! They were quite small but with a supply of holy water and several beautiful icons, it made for an interesting end to the trip.

Had a last coffee with Maggie and tooka relaxing stroll along the waterdront ın the evening and settled ın to wait for the long bus ride back to Turkey

Thessaloniki: the Romans do.

Having said goodbye to Maggie's family on Tuesday morning we got a ride back into town with one of her uncles who very kindly dropped us off at the Rotunda, another building which went through various incarnations as a church and mosque over the years. This one was part of the Roman buildings and had the reamins of some mosaics on the central dome and some really beautiful painitings behind the alter but much of it is under restoration so it should be really amazing when finished.

We then found the Turkish consulate so I could visit Ataturk's house which is a much more thorough museum than the one in Istanbul and includes the room where he was born and a library full of books about his life.

We then went to the main shopping street in the middle of which is the enormous Palace of Galerius, an archeological site dating to the same Roman period as the Galerius Arch and Rotunda. There were many mosaic and marble floors and the walls of the baths, bascilica, octagon and main hall to explore while the hippodrome and other sections remain buried beneath the surrounding shops and apartment buildings.

After yet another enormous lunch we found the excellent Byzantine museum which covers all aspects of life, death and religion in the Byzantine period and beyond with many beautiful religious artworks, tomb stones, tools, jewellery, pottery, masonry and coins. Really interesting. They sure know how to do history right in these parts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Village life

Having sufficiently recovered from my bus lag, Maggie and I jumped on yet another bus Sunday morning for the short trip to her family's village. Had a very relaxed day playing with her adorable god daughter, wandering around the tiny village and wishing I spoke Greek so I could do more than just smile at her family who are all really lovely. The village has a few streets, a small school and church, an old playground, a beautiful little cemetery and a memorial for the Pontian genocide, not to mention some amazing views of the surrounding hills and countryside.

Monday we hitched a ride into the nearby town of Veria where we had planned to see the Arxheological museum, forgetting of course that most museums close on mondays. Still it was a nice little town to wander around and we did find the very pretty Apostle Paul's Alter before heading to the bus station. Took a bus to the tiny mountain town of Vergina where we scored free admission to the royal tombs as the curator was a friend of Maggies cousin, woohoo!

The tomb was a large mound inside of which were the entrances to 4 very, very old tombs and a fabulous museum of the artefacts found inside the most important of them, that of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great! There were lots of silver plates and bowls, weapons and armour, intricately carved figurines, jewellery and all the other things you might need in the afterlife. The higlight was the gold boxes containing the remains of Phillip and one of his wives who was lucky enough to follow him onto the funeral pyre ans the beautiful wreaths of gold oak leaves he was buried with. Pretty amazing stuff.

Had a delicious birthday lunch at a restaurant owned by the same friend who let us into the tombs and then spent the afternoon wandering around the outskirts of the town looking for more ruins. The palace was closed but we did find an interesting Macedonian tomb and could see a bit of the Sanctuary of Eukleia and the Ancient theatre from the road and the countryside in itself was really beautiful so all up it was a fantastic way to spend a birthday.

Thessalonkiki day 1: Towers, Ruins and Walls

12 hours and 2 buses after leaving Taksim I awoke from a light doze on the bus to the predawn sight of white houses perched ona cliff above the water which told me I must be in Greece. Arrived in Thessaloniki bright and early on Saturday morning and was met by Maggie and her aunt at the bus station. After dropping my bags at the house and enjoying a strong Greek coffee, Maggie and I headed out to explore the town.

Started ont he waterfront where we found the town's most famous landmark, the White Tower whose bloody history and amazing views made it a great spot to visit. Inside is a cool museum onthe history of the town but there is no English. A little further along is a statue dedicated to Alexander the Great which we visited and then headed inland to find food. We soon learnt that ordering a main and an entree in Greece is not the best plan but luckily we were spared from finishing all our food when a sudden downpour drowned the last few zuchini balls or we may still have been there eating now.

Completely stuffed, we braved the rain and stumbled across the site of the Roman Forum' an enormous archeological dig site in the centre of the city which we were able to explore before visiting the beautiful St Demetrius church. Sadly the catacombs were closed but we will try again in a few days, and the rest of the church was pretty amazing with mosaics and relics aplenty.

Strolled around for a bit and recharged at a Starbucks (don't judge us!!) until it was close to sunset and then trekked up the hill past more Roman ruins; the Palace and Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda, to the ruins of the Byzantine walls and fort overlooking the town. Enjoyed a fabulous view of the sunset over the ocean and walked the whole way around the walls before deciding to call it a day so I could finally, finally get to sleep.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Gule gule lojman

Well dear lojman, looks like our time together is at an end. But don’t be sad, we’ll always have the memories; the ridiculous curfew and rules against guests, alcohol and fun, the 2 weeks of cold showers, having to compete with obnoxious kids to use the world’s slowest computers, the countless times spent sitting on the doorstep waiting for the key to be lowered in a bucket or for some complete stranger in the neighbourhood to come let me in because apparently anyone is allowed to have a key except for the people that actually live there, the filthy kitchen, the guy outside playing covers of the same damn songs every night, and of course, the lethal marble spiral staircase. Ah I sure will miss you.

Still, you had your redeeming qualities. You gave me somewhere free to stay for a few months and the location was fabulous. The bedrooms may have been sweltering through the summer but at least there was the terrace with the view of Sultanhamet (well a teensy bit of Sultanhamet anyway) to enjoy the cool evening breezes on, and I met some great people, especially these last few weeks after Chris, Matt and Taylor arrived. So let’s stay friends lojman. I’ll totally call you and we’ll have coffee or something. But for now at least, farewell.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Museum day

With the weather still switching between muggy and torrential downpours at random intervals’ I figured today was as good a time as any to finally get to a few of Istanbul’s indoor sights that I’d so far missed.
Started at the Military Museum which is enormous. Sadly a few of the halls were closed so I missed out on the battle tents which are meant to be worth a look, but I would probably still be there in a week if all the exhibits were open. Started in the Hall of Martyrs and strolled past the enormous chain that was used to close off the Golden Horn during sieges to the Conquest of Istanbul Hall. This was a huge painted backdrop showing the battle on the city walls where I was walking just a few weeks ago’ all the way across the Golden Horn to Galata Tower. In front of the painting (and occasionally connected to it) is a life size model of the battle field complete with soldiers in trenches, huge cannons, fallen soldiers riddled with arrows and one soldier fallen off his horse with his foot still in the stirrup (which was attatched to a painted horse in the mural). With a recording of battle sounds and the Mehter military marching band it was pretty impressive.
The next several halls were filled with increasingly elaborate swords, helmets and early firearms collected from various armies in Europe in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and more of those creepy mannequin displays that always seem to follow me around, the highlight here being the actual car that someone was assassinated in complete with bullet holes.
Upstairs was dedicated to more recent conflicts with displays on the World Wars, the War of Salvation, Korea and various local conflicts. There was a small section dedicated to Gallipoli which was interesting. Back downstairs was a huge collection of cannons, the instruments used by the Mehter (whose performance I decided not to stick around for because, impressive as it is, I already saw it when they turned up at Dolmahbace the same day as me) and a Turkish bath (with more mannequins lying around waiting for massages I assume, odd).
Found my way out of the museum and walked up to the other side of Osmanbey to the tiny Ataturk museum, one time home of the father of modern Turkey and now a small but interesting exhibition dedicated to him. After a lot of mime work with the woman guarding the door I eventually worked out to put on the always fun plastic shoe covers and headed in. No English captions unfortunately but most of the exhibition was photos and clothes so not too hard to work out what you were looking at. One particularly interesting piece was a set of dentures complete with gold teeth, fancy

Sunday, September 6, 2009

On the Waterfront

With a week of rain forecast from tomorrow I decided I better get a bit of aimless wandering ın while I had the chance. Set off bright and early (around noon) and walked down the hill to the waterfront at Kabataş and started walking towards Ortakoy.
I quickly realised that my plan to walk along the waterfront was not actually possible so had to settle for strolling along the road with the high walls of Dolmabahçe Palace on one side and the Wall of Ataturk on the other, a collection of photos of Ataturk hung beside the footpath the whole way to Ortakoy. Got back to the water briefly at Beşıktaş where there was the usual collection of tea drinkers and fisherman enjoying the sunshine, then back to the Ataturk photos until I finally hıt Ortakoy beneath one of the bridges connecting Europe and Asia.

Strolled through the markets there and looked at the beautıful waterfront mosque, then tried to work out if it was actually possible to walk across the bridge, but couldn't work out how to get up there so gave up and settled for fresh spinach gozleme instead. Started walking back towards Taksim when I stumbled across a huge park which, based on the high walls, fancy gates and spectacular views of the Bosphorus I'm assumıng was another playground for the sultans but not entırely sure, as usual, more research to be done. Had a nice stroll through there and eventually headed back home past an assortment of soccer fans all decked out ın green and white. I have decided my next goal is to go to a soccer game before I leave Istanbul, better hurry up!

Friday, September 4, 2009

City walls walk

Headed out early and walked to the Sirkeci train station which is where the Orient Express used to leave from. Boarded a very rattly old suburban train for a ride around to the Marmara sea. Got off at Yedikule and found the Seven Towers Fortress which is right near the start of the old Byzantine city walls. Spent a while exploring the fortress which is now an open air museum and was basically deserted excpet for the odd tourist like myself and a large dog sleeping under a tree.

The fortress is a bit run down these days and there was nothing of the museum in evidence but the it was also very spooky with lots of dark windıng staircases inside the towers and of course I love climbıng on old walls so I had a blast. The creepiest bit was when I was climbıng a staircase in a spot called the Bloody Well and it was completely dark so I had to use the orange flash light on my camera to see. It was like walkıng around in one of those ghost hunting documentaries and I kept accidentally takıng photos of my shoe but the fantastic view when I got to the top of the gate was well worth it.

After the fort I walked alongside the city walls (which are about 6km long and have largely been converted to sides for market gardens and the occassional gypsy settlement) until I eventually reached Edirnekapi where you could climb a very steep rock staircase to the top of another watch tower from which you could see all of Istanbul from Sultanhamet, right around the Golden Horn. When I got back to street level I was goıng to continue followıng the wall but a shoe shine guy ın the neighbourhood obviously decided I was lost and kept pointıng down the street on the left and I eventually took his advice and headed down there and found Chora Church which I had been meaning to visit at some point anyway but I hadn't known exactly were it was.

It is the most beautiful church ever. The walls and ceilıngs are covered in Christian mosaics. It has a similar history to the Aya Sophia in that when it was converted to a mosque the mosaics were all covered over but when they started to restore these ones they had improved the technique they used so they are now in better condition and there are alot more of them uncovered here than in Aya Sophia so its pretty incredible.

Nearly lost the walls in the suburbs for a bit but found another gate eventually and followed them down to the waterfront of the Golden Horn where they eventually got swallowed by the suburbs. Continued walkıng along the water and passed a white Bulgarian church whıch I only later realised was the one that is made of sheets of decorated metal, shipped over from Bulagria and assembled on the sıte. It didn't look like it was open when I passed it but I might have to do a bit of research and head back there for a closer look. Kept on walkıng along the water and eventually made my way across the old Galata brıdge and back up to Taksim