|Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001|
Tuesday, May 22, 2001.
We woke up around 7:30am this morning to a bit of a shock... the muezzins didn't wake us! Could it be that we are getting acclimated to Turkey?
Today was the day we're going to explore the Asian side on our own, without guides, just the Eyewitness book.
Getting to the Asian side meant taking a ferry, and riding the ferry cost money, and we were all out of Turkish lira. On the first day we had located an ATM machine, today when we went there, it said "Sorry, no money available." and gave the location of other ATM machines. We walked to the next ATM down the street and it wouldn't accept our card... and so the hunt for a working ATM was on, while wandering toward the ferries.
It took awhile to find the right ferry - Eminönü has half a dozen ferry terminals. We managed to leap aboard the ferry to Üsküdar moments before it left... not that we would have to wait long, the ferry runs every twenty minutes back and forth across the Bosphorus. To board the ferry you have to buy tokens... unfortunately, the ATM machines only give large bills (10,000,000 lira), and no one likes to take a big bill like that, especially for a one million lira fare. The ticket seller tried to explain that we should buy a round trip ticket, but we couldn't understand him, until finally he pushed four tokens at us, gave six million in changed and said "Come back." It all made sense then.
After a short wander around the ferry terminal, we struck out into Üsküdar proper... there are a number of moderately important mosque in the area, so we set about to locate them and visit. We had dressed correctly and were carrying the necessary additional items to be able to visit a mosque without causing offence - expecting that the locals on the Asian side would be less tolerant than the European side. The first mosque we found was the Iskele mosque. Also known as the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, it was built in 1548.
We never did find a way into the Iskele mosque - we were expecting that there would be a visitors entrance like at the Blue Mosque. A bit confused, we headed over to the Yeni Valide (New Mosque of the Sultan's Mother) mosque, built by Ahemet III between 1708 and 1710 to honour his mother, Gulnus Emetullah. Again, we walked around the mosque, looking for a separate entrance. This time we were sure there was only one, and it had a large sign giving instructions for visitors (all of the instructions we already knew about). We explored the courtyard briefly, and then headed inside.
There were a couple of men in the mosque, and while they were polite, it was obvious to us that we were invaders in their sacred place of worship. After we left the mosque, we agreed that this was the last time we would visit a mosque. The locals don't enjoy it, we didn't enjoy it, it wasn't a revelation for us, so why bother - mosques are beautiful inside, and that's as much as we need to know.
Skipping the third mosque (the Atik Valide Mosque) in the line, we headed down the seawall of Üsküdar, which would eventually lead us to Harem, where the next ferry terminal was. We had gotten used to the fact that the maps in the guidebook were of fairly large scale, and so the distances on them weren't all that great. The walk from Üsküdar to Harem took us about an hour, watching the comings and goings of the water way while we walked.
But before we really got going, we needed a visit to the local facilities - known throughout Istanbul as the WC. Along the seawall there were a number of public toilets, each charging 200,000 lira (about 15 cents) for a visit. This may seem like a bargain, but when you see what you get for your money, it feels like theft. The bathrooms smell terribly, and the toilets are manually operated - porcelain holes in the floor, and a cup of water being filled from a slowly running tap. To flush the toilet, just dump the cup of water into the porcelain bit of the floor - which you hopefully managed to aim for successfully.
When we arrived in Harem, we decided to do some more exploring. The Selimiye Barracks is near Harem, where Florence Nightingale polished her craft before setting up the concepts of modern nursing. We turned off the low road at the Harem ferry terminal and hiked up the hills toward the barracks. Unfortunately, the day we were trying to get to the barracks was obviously some important event. Roads were closed, guards armed with automatic rifles were everywhere, it didn't look like the sort of place a tourist would want to be.
We walked around the perimeter of the barracks at a distance of several blocks, ending up at a cafe. Since this was the Asian side, no one spoke English, and we had to use our handy Eyewitness Istanbul guide to pull out the phrases needed to get lunch, our bill and our change. By the time we'd finished our lunch, the event around the barracks was over, but all the gates were closed and locked. Doesn't look like they're too keen on visitors at the Selimiye Barracks anymore.
We finally found the ferry terminal, but it was for a car ferry only, and all the signs were in Turkish. We kept searching for the word "Eminönü", but didn't see it anywhere. Finally we went up to the ticket seller and tried to say Eminönü ("Eh-Mih-Nur-New")... the ticket seller barked back "Two million!" and pushed two tokens at us. Lo and behold, they were the same type of tokens we had bought for the round trip from Üsküdar. After a quick dig in the pocket we turned up one of the tokens, just to make sure it was the same. The ticket seller pull one token back and said "One million!" And we wandered off, having found the second token and not needing to buy anything.
The car ferry was much more comfortable than the regular passenger ferry, although Harem is really a long way from anything in particular, compared to Üsküdar. But all in all, the Asian side of Istanbul is an interesting and pleasant place to visit - a little more suburban.
Only a block away from the ferry but walking up a different street from the one we'd originally come down that morning, we stumbled across a train station - but not just any train station. This is the Istanbul Central Station, which was once the ending point of the famous Orient Express, which ran from Paris to Istanbul. Of course, most people think of China when they think of the Orient Express, but Turkey is as far east as the train ever went. But after spending time in Istanbul, you come to realize that this really is the beginning of the Orient - the gateway to the Middle East, anyway.
We hiked the rest of the way to the hotel and had a brief rest. With minimal energy for dinner but a strong desire not to eat in the hotel, we searched through the brochures in our room and turned up the name Orient House. The desk clerk highly recommended the place, so we made reservations. It was by far the most expensive meal we had in Istanbul, but it included transportation and everything. And it was certainly worth the price, one of the most remarkable restaurants and eating experiences we've ever been to.
Back so late, it was straight to bed (after dumping the pictures out of the camera, of course). Tomorrow was to be the last full day of our visit to Turkey, and we need to get more luggage to bear all the goodies we had bought.