Thursday, September 30, 2010

Down to the Sea in Cars

Just down from our campground is a large boat ramp and an area with no guard rail. Sometime Tuesday morning someone managed to lose his/her car in the sea. As we were heading out for the day's sightseeing, we witnessed its recovery. Apparently no one was injured.

The police scuba diver has attached the cables and the car is
being gently lifted out

Attracting a small crowd and local TV

Steady as you go...

Look familiar, Rachel?

Meanwhile, other people use boats; fishing boats much
favored by the seagulls


The emperor Justinian built a huge underground cistern, in the 7th century, near the Hippodrome, to provide water to the city in times of siege. Over the centuries it was neglected, fell into disuse, and eventually was forgotten. Rediscovered, renovated, it is now a major sight, and an impressive one too.
The whole thing is 20-30 feet underground, now only partially flooded, with a 
boardwalk for visitors, attractively lighted; in area, about the size of two 
football fields

One of the columns; the whole thing was built using spare/
disused parts, so hardly any columns or capitals match

One of the two Medusa heads; capitals, one upside down...

The other, sideways

View of another part of the Cistern

Sultanahmet Scenes

Sunday we just walked around Sultanahmet a bit, looking for a laundry, free wifi, the Grand Bazaar, other sights... 

Actually, the laundry we found (4 lira/kilo, wash, dry, fold)
was not far from this scene

Making crepes the old-fashioned way

Christian churches are not the only ones with scaffolding

Always check guidebook before heading
out: we found the Grand Bazaar easily enough
but also found that it is closed on Sundays

Culturally-senstive McDonald's is always open, and, yes,
serves Turkish coffee

Instanbul is the EU's "cultural capital" for 2010 (although
Turkey is not yet a member of the EU) and is offering free
wifi at selected spots around town; this on the Hippodrome,
which is nowadays just a big mall area

Remains of the Million Arch, the point from
which all roads in the eastern empire were

The Egyptian obelisk, on the Hippodrome

The serpentine colum, originally much larger;
shows where the ground was back in Roman

Another ancient colum, this one plundered
of its original bronze facing

Back at our campground, youngsters learning how to fish

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Camping in Istanbul

Like Gaul, Istanbul is divided into three big parts: the old town and the new town, both on the European side; and the Asiatic town on the Asiatic side. Most of the historic/cultural sights are in the old town, some in the new; some on the Asiatic side. Everywhere you look, however, there is something worth looking at.

There are no campgrounds in or near Istanbul. We had read, however, that one of the parking lots on the south side of Sultanahmet (old town), off Kennedy Caddesi, served as a refuge for camping cars. This is not exactly like camping next to the Empire State Building in Manhattan; but close. We drove right on into Istanbul, the old town, Sultanahmet, managed to find Kennedy Caddesi (a long bouelvard on the southern perimeter of Sultanahmet), and then drove on to the last of the parking lots. These were all the directions we had. No name, no address, no GPS. Anyhow, sure enough, there were a couple dozen RVs there, as well as buses, maxitaxis, delivery trucks, regular cars, and everything else. With all the campers around, there is nonetheless a festive/holiday atmosphere, not just a parking lot, and the staff of the parking lot are cheerful and helpful. Vendors appear in the evening, selling fruit, breads, pastries, nuts, and the stuffed mussels the Turks appear to like so much. Very modest water and sewage facilities are on site. The cost is 25 Turkish lira per night, about $16. The location is pretty unbeatable: perhaps 100 feet from the old Constantinople sea-side city wall, four blocks from the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sofia, maybe 10 to the Grand Bazaar, etc. The tram stops about 6 blocks away and the light rail about 4 blocks. All that's outside the driver side windows currently. Outside the passenger side is the seawall, a small fisherman's cove, the Sea of Marmara, and Asiatic Istanbul. In back of us is a large public park on the waterfront. We are literally at the mouth (well, maybe the chin) of the Golden Horn, the river-like inlet that divides the old and new cities on the European side. Among the campers, there are a few independents like us--we met a Kiwi couple last night--but mostly guided caravans of RVs, Italian, Netherlands, and, today a couple dozen German RVs arrived. The caravans are on guided tours. They stay a few nights, then move on. We plan to stay a week or more. Probably more.

Lest anyone be misled, this is urban camping. There is road noise, parking lot noise, parking lot attendant noise, feral dogs and cats (larger, better fed dogs than in Romania; and many, many more cats), families and others strolling/playing/picknicking in the park, and, far from least, the five daily calls to prayer broadcast from the minarets of the dozen or so mosques in this square mile of old Istanbul. Most of the time, at our "campsite," you can only hear the Blue Mosque, but early in the AM or in the evening you can hear the whole cacophony. Dueling muezzin. By and large, however, it's no worse than other urban camping situations we've experienced, e.g., Oslo, Stockholm, Barcelona, San Sebastian; less the calls to prayer; and there could hardly be a better location for seeing Istanbul. And, hey, it's Istanbul!
The campground, as it were, is at 41 00' 05.35 N, and 28 58' 38.78" E

Packed in somewhat like sardines; you can see the city wall, and above it the minarets 
and dome of the Blue Mosque

Me by the mussel vendor stand; yes, I tried them, but prefer mine the old-fashioned 
unstuffed way

Looking out to the Sea of Marmara; my inner ship-spotter is enjoying this location

Many, many cruise ships

Lots of other interesting vessels too

City wall

Today's wedding pix, at the Best Western on Kennedy Caddesi, near us

Moon rise over Istanbul

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Into Turkey

We crossed over into Turkey at Malko Tarnovo. Customs/immigration both leaving Bulgaria and entering Turkey took a while, but amounted to nothing unreasonable. We had read that the Turkish often require you to buy additional auto insurance; but nothing was said. They looked us over, sold us the visas ($20 USD only), stamped our passports, and let us through. We have crossed many borders in the past two years, but this one had the most striking differences in geography...from the largely deciduous mountain forests of Bulgaria, over a hill, and immediately onto the semi-arid rolling hills of Thrace and Turkey.
Plenty of development in Turkey too; no apartment complex ever very far 
from a mosque...this near Kirklareli

Today's wedding procession photo

First Turkish shopping experience, at the Kipa in Kirklareli; pretty much like a 
European supermarche; except, no pork

In Kirklareli

So we drove on to Istanbul; this is on the out-skirts, 12-15 miles from the 
center; 15 million inhabitants

Central Istanbul (here in the Sultanahmet, old city) is a pedestrian's paradise; 
the traffic generally grid-locked on the smaller streets

Finally, on the Kennedy Caddesi, Sultanahmet, en route to our "campground," 
looking out onto the Sea of Marmares, a 4-master

Thracian Sanctuary in the Mountains

Next day, Saturday, we drove on from our beach campsite near Primorsko up into the mountains, to the border crossing into Turkey at Malko Tarnovo...stopping en route to see another Thracian sanctuary. The Thracians, don't you know, were close by the Dacians, in Romania, roughly contemporaneous with the Celts in the north and west, all conquered and assimilated by the Romans.

Mountain road target practice, just like
in Montana

The sanctuary is supposed to be a hill-side stone circle,
oriented to the summer solstice sunrise, with cup-marks
and other features; here, a "sacrificial basin"

This mushroom-shaped rock supposedly has cup-marks
and other features

Another basin? It was all heavily grown-over, conglomerate
rock; takes a more practiced interpetive eye than I have

So we drove on, bumpy, twisting roads, toward Turkey,
encountering three different Bulgarian road-block check-
points, all amused to see Americanskis

Camping on the Bulgarian Coast Near Burgas

Driving was relatively slow in Bulgaria. South of Burgas we stopped for fuel, then saw a sign for a Thracian sanctuary and thinking a) it might be interesting and b) maybe we could wild-camp there, we headed off in search of it, the road quickly degenerating into single lane, in a coastal forest...
We had already driven a couple of kms; the pavement petered
out about a mile from the site, and, owing to the lateness of the
day, we decided to leave this one for our next visit to Bulgaria

We translated this as "no camping"

But found another suitable, unsigned spot, right on the sea

A violent Black Sea at this particular place

Quite violent, although the wind was light

No swimming (my own translation)

You don't want to swim with these guys anyway

A curious blue-fin land-shark checks us out

Later, I drank a bottle of this, which I think
might have been Bulgarian beer