Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001

Update Log
Summary of the Trip
The Family Album
Day 1 - Departing
Day 2 - Amsterdam
Day 3 - Veldhoven
Day 4 - CttM Day One
Day 5 - CttM Day Two
Day 6 - The Holland Tour
Day 7 - Off to Istanbul
Day 8 - Seraglio Point
Day 9 - Bosphorous Tour
Day 10 - Exploring Sultanahmet
Day 11 - The City Walls
Day 12 - The Asian Side
Day 13 - Taking a Break
Day 14 - Leaving Turkey
Day 15 - A Day in Singapore
Day 16 - Arrival in Sydney
Day 17 - Exploring Sydney
Day 18 - ODDC Day One
Day 19 - ODDC Day Two
Day 20 - Toranga Zoo
Day 21 - Off to New Zealand
Day 22 - Road Trip to Tauranga
Day 23 - Tauranga to Taupo
Day 24 - Visiting Granny Stanton
Day 25 - Leaving Levin
Day 26 - Return to Auckland
Day 27 - The Trip Home

Sunday, May 20, 2001.

Clouds had been rolling in the night before, and around the time of the first muezzims call of the day early in the morning, a huge downpour soaked Istanbul. When we finally did get up, it was a dark and cloudy day, much cooler than it had been the previous few days. It seemed like a good day to stick close to home (so to speak) and just explore the immediate area around the hotel, known as Sultanahmet.

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The view from the hotel room window - looks like a dark and cloudy day in Istanbul.   The terrace where we had breakfast all week now closed... we're forced to eat indoors.

After breakfast, we headed out from the hotel and into Sultanahmet proper... into a tourist nightmare. Tour buses everywhere and thousands of tourists! Being Sunday, this is a prime tourism day - not just foreigners like us, but other Turks, and locals with children who get in free (good old Museum Week). Likely the previous day (Saturday) was like this too, but we missed it all being trapped in a tour bus. To avoid the crowds (and surrounding street vendors), we ducked into the Basilica Cistern.

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Stacy going down the stairs into the Basilica Cistern. Looking through the columns of the Cistern.

The Basilica Cistern is one of a number of underground caverns that provided water to the city in Byzantine times. It was a dark, fascinating exploration, especially when you realize that it was around 1,500 years old. It stretched more than a city block underground, so when we surfaced, it took us awhile to get our bearings again. We walked back up the road to the entrance of the cistern and then decided to wander through the Hippodrome... a place we'd visited the day of our arrival in Istanbul.

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Right beside the cistern is this pillar, which is all that remains of the Million Arch from the 4th century. The arch had signs indicating road distances to all the reaches of the Byzantine Empire at the time. Another look at the Domed Fountain, erected in honour of the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm in 1898.
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Past the fountain are some of the oldest monuments in Istanbul, the obelisks. A clear look at the Egyptian Oblelisk. Apparently this is only one third of the original obelisk in Luxor.
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A close up view of Constantine's Column. One of the reasons it is in such rough condition is apparently the Janissaries of Istanbul used to climb it to prove their bravery. Looking back from Constantine's Column to the Egyptian Column.

After our walk down the Hippodrome, laughing about our first day in Istanbul (and good old Zülküf, who we would meet again), we decided it was time to tackle the big ones - Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. We walked back along the length of the Hippodrome to Haghia Sophia, paid our entrance fees and went inside.

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Stacy sitting beside one of two huge vases in the corners of the Nave of Haghia Sophia.   Stacy on the gallery level of Haghia Sophia, you get an idea of the staggering size of this cathedral.

The Haghia Sophia was original built as a Christian cathedral, but the Ottomans converted it into a mosque. After exploring its interior, we decided to walk all the way around the outside, which was a very long way. Along the way we spied the wall of the Topkapi Palace, which is behind the Haghia Sophia. When we got round the front again, we crossed the street and headed into the Blue Mosque.

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Walking behind the Haghia Sophia, we spied the walls of Topkapi Palace between some townhomes.   In front of the Haghia Sophia again, you can see the crowds of tourists out on a Sunday, and the massive structure that is the Haghia Sophia. Behind us is the Blue Mosque.
Click to see a larger version...   Stacy correctly dressed for a visit to the Blue Mosque. The rules of the mosque require that both men and women have their elbows and knees covered and their shoes off when inside - the entire interior of the mosque is carpeted. In addition, women are expected to cover their heads with a scarf. The entrance way for visitors offers scarves and such so that under-equipped visitors can dress correctly... sadly, many tourists didn't bother. 

It actually took longer to get into the Blue Mosque than it did to look around. All of the smaller rooms are closed off to the public, only the main room, known as the prayer hall, is available for touring, and even then, only a small portion of it - low fencing blocks off the majority of the prayer room for those that wish to pray (makes sense, doesn't it). Personally, we both felt uncomfortable in the mosque - it is a place of Islamic faith, and we were certainly invaders. The other 500 or so tourists wandering around didn't help much either, so we didn't stay long, instead heading out for a walk around the streets before dinner.  

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A typical street in the Sultanahmet area, narrow, heavily parked, with new buildings, very old building and ruins, side by side.   Punch buggy! No returns!
Click to see a larger version...   After dinner we took a stroll through the terraces of the hotel and spied a huge number of seagulls flying over the Blue Mosque. Must have been bad weather out in the Mediterranean.

Tired from all the walking of the day, we had dinner in the hotel, swearing that it would be the last time this trip, that we would make the effort to find restaurants outside of the hotel from now on. As it turns out, it was the last time we ate dinner in the hotel. Over dinner we studied the guide book, trying to decide on our next tour. Just walking around was more fun than a "guided" tour anyway, so we decided that the next day we would head off the beaten path a bit and look at the old Byzantine city walls, along with some churches and other structures near the walls.