A Travellerspoint blog

Istanbul Day 1

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May 1 - Istanbul

I woke up to the call to prayer at 5 am and could not get back to sleep. I was easily the first one down for breakfast which was served in a little courtyard. Mahmed has two young ladies working for him who brought me a typical Turkish breakfast with olives, cheese, tomatoes, yoghurt, cold cuts, dried fruit, pastries and choice of eggs. They gave me great service, even bringing me two additional lattes. I was also entertained by the resident cats.

Oh, my thumb felt great.


I went out at about 10. I walked through a bazaar just up the road, turned left and was at the Blue Mosque. There was a big line. There were hundreds of tourists everywhere. As I was looking around, I met my first carpet salesman. “I am not asking for money, just visit my store later.” He lead me to the door for worshippers to allow me to bypass the long line for tourists. I told him I should not be doing this. He just handed me the plastic bag for my shoes and pushed me into the mosque where I quickly became part of the crowd.

It was packed. There were renovations in progress, so most of the mosque was not accessible. I was not that impressed. I was happy that I had not waited to get in. I soon left and found my salesman/guide waiting.


Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

I walked towards Hagia Sophia with my salesman/guide still with me. I did not want to fight the crowds so kept walking with him and agreed to visit his store. When I got there another man gave me his sales spiel. I listened for a few minutes and left for the Grand Bazaar.

The Grand Bazaar was huge and very busy. I decided to sit down at a café. I bought a Turkish coffee and some sweets. This was first and probably my last time to drink Turkish coffee. I can only describe it as mud with sugar. I drank what I could and ate most of the sweets.


I decided to walk to the Galata bridge. When I walked out of the market, I found more market. I was not sure if it was still part of the bazaar, but the stores did not stop. They went on forever. So did the crowds, but these seemed to be more locals than tourists.


The ice cream vendors make their customers work.

I made it to the water.


I then decided to find the spice market. I walked towards the area where I believed that I would find it. I never did. Instead I was walking through more market. I was having fun but was totally lost. I had no idea what direction I was going. I decided to ask for directions. I stopped at a café, where one young woman spoke English well enough. She pointed me in the right direction to get back to Sultanahmet Square (and my hotel).

It was a long walk back. My feet were now hurting. I could feel blisters on both heels. I had walked for over 6 hours. Full disclosure, I bought new low-cut hiking shoes for this trip. They were the same model as the ones I bought for Madagascar. I have never had a big problem with blisters, so did not concern myself with how much walking I did in the shoes before leaving. Po asked me about it. I dismissed her concerns. I was punished for my sins. The punishment would continue for the next several days.

I finally made it back to the hotel, made a latte and sat on the patio. I talked to Po and then found a restaurant online. It had great trip advisor reviews and was just around the corner, so I did not have far to walk.

La Romantica

Everything at the restaurant was about trip advisor. “Please give us a great review”, was said again and again. The service was great. They gave me free tea and sweets, but the main course was not very good. It did not rate 5 stars.

I hobbled back to Sultanahmet Square after supper to take photos of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia at night. It was wonderful. There were crowds, but no big tour groups. Most people appeared to be locals. I was grabbed by another carpet salesman. He gave me some advice and once again I visited the salesroom. I was not too bothered by this. I could have emphatically blown him off, but instead found it a bit of fun to play along.

I went looking for tulips when I was in Amsterdam, but found these in Istanbul. My friendly carpet salesmen told me that tulips were taken from Turkey to Holland.



When I returned to the hotel Mehmed scolded me for my choice of restaurant. I told him that he should have been at the desk when I left. He said he would get me a good restaurant the next night. I asked him about a Bosporus cruise. Since I was unable to walk far, he suggested a tour which would give me door to door service. He said there were two options, an all-day tour or just the afternoon cruise. No decision was required until morning. Mehmed offered me some tea and some other advice. He said that I should not buy a carpet in Turkey, that they are all made in China. He suggested that I would find better carpets on my tour.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:55 Archived in Turkey Tagged istanbul sultanahmet Comments (2)

Amsterdam to Istanbul

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April 30 - Amsterdam to Istanbul Flight

This was the only flight on my trip where I had asked for a window seat so that I could be ready to take a photograph of Istanbul from the air. I arrived to find a lady in that seat who did not speak English. She acted as if she knew that she was in the wrong seat but also seemed to want to stay there, so I let her.

We later communicated a little by using the map on the entertainment system. She was from Istanbul. I pointed to Canada and allowed myself to still be living in Toronto since identifying Newfoundland proved too difficult.

The entertainment system worked a lot better on this flight. I watched most of First Man about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon. The plane was landing just as they were landing the lunar module. I guess that was appropriate, but that meant that I had to turn off my system before they finished and then took off again. Now I must wait to see how it turns out. Did they get off the moon? Maybe I can finish it on my next flight.

When we landed several passengers jumped up and started walking to the front of the plane. The flight attendants quickly chased them back to their seats.

We arrived at the brand-new Istanbul airport, which had been open for only a few weeks. I had worried that the opening would happening when I was travelling through and was relieved when the actual move for Turkish Airlines took place at the beginning of April. At night it seemed very quiet. It is also very big. It was a long way from the gate to immigration. There are some automated walkways, but you are still forced to do a lot of walking to get to immigration.

I had acquired my visa online. I only waited a couple of minutes before I handed over my passport and the visa printout. The nice lady looked it over and stamped my visa. She handed it back and I am sure, winked at me, which is not something that happens often (to me), and certainly not at immigration.

I had studied all my steps necessary to get to my hotel. I needed to get some Turkish Lira, buy myself an Istanbul Kart (good for the tram and buses), and find the new airport bus to go to Sultanahmet. There was a kiosk selling the Karts right beside the buses. I gave the man 50 lira to cover the kart itself, a round trip and have a little left over for possible rides on trams. The airport bus was 18 lira one way, about 3 dollars US. A taxi would cost at least $40 US.

We left a few minutes later. The buses are quite comfortable. The first part of the ride is down the new airport highway. Things only slowed down when we got close to Sultanahmet. We drove right past my hotel. Between that and my Google Earth study, I was quite sure about finding my hotel.

The bus stopped at Sultanahmet Square. I headed off, my suitcase rattling on the brick road. I got to the general area but realized that I had missed a turn. But I was not concerned. I was enjoying the search. I was walking the narrow streets of Istanbul with the call to prayer echoing around me. There were lots of people on the street. And I had my little suitcase, so it was not hard to walk around.

I turned the corner and saw a taxi stand/travel agency. I asked for directions and was directed up the hill. I saw the Sultanahmet Hotel and walked in. I was greeted at the door but was soon escorted (with the man carrying my bag for me) across the street to my actual hotel, the Sultan Mehmed Hotel.

I then learned that the hotel is named after the owner, Mehmed. He was there to give me a warm welcome and handed me a map and explained a bit about the area before sending me up to my room. I quickly realized that I had made a great choice for my hotel. Mehmed acts as though you are a friend visiting Istanbul, not just a customer.

I phoned Po. We switched to video so I could see Bella. I decided to go back downstairs to ask for some ice for my sore thumb. I had strained it a few weeks ago, at which time I treated it with ice and thought it was better. But sometime during my flights I had strained it again. Mehmed had no ice, but he sent one of his young lady helpers down the road to get some. I had a latte from their machine while I waited, not a great idea at that hour, but it tasted good. It was the first of many I would have over the next few days, all the others at more appropriate times. My ice arrived, and I returned to my room to apply it.

The outside photo was taken the next day. My room was reasonably spacious and comfortable.

Posted by Bob Brink 11:12 Archived in Turkey Comments (4)

The Reality of Posting from the Road

For anybody out there waiting for more posts, I must now admit that they are only going to happen after the trip. I have been keeping notes and taking many photographs, but we have been far too busy for me to do more than that. We leave our hotels early and often return only after a late supper.

We are now in Tajikistan after a having a wonderful time in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. We head off into the mountains today.

This has been a fantastic trip so far.

Posted by Bob Brink 20:14 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (1)


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Monday, April 29 - Amsterdam

My first indication that I was going to like Amsterdam was immigration. It was a breeze. I was through in a couple of minutes, which is such a far cry from Heathrow where it has always taken me an hour or two to get through. I exchanged some US dollars for Euros and found the Airport Express, Bus 397, right outside the terminal. I was at my hotel in less than 30 minutes. Two couples were checking out. They all had huge suitcases. One of the men commented on my little bag. There is no way that I would want to be hauling one of their big suitcases.


It was well before regular check in. A couple in front of me were given their room right away, so I was quite hopeful to get my room early as well. But I was not so lucky. The receptionist promised my room in an hour, which was still an hour before official check in time. I went around the corner for a latte and croissant.

My room was ready when I returned. I jumped into bed and then was woken up an hour later by housekeeping. It would have been nice to get in another 30 minutes, but the nap still helped to get me through the rest of the day.

I headed out for my 4:00 pm booking at the Van Gogh Museum. The art was amazing, but there were far too many people. There was a special exhibition of work by David Hockney. I really enjoyed it, both because the work was beautiful, but also because there were no crowds. I figured that less than 10% of the visitors were going to the exhibit.

Photographs were not allowed in the galleries so they give people a wall for selfies.

With more time I would have visited the Rijksmuseum next door.


I went back to the hotel to grab my sweatshirt as the evening was getting quite cool. It was very pleasant walking around the area, especially along the canals.


I worked my way back towards the hotel and found a nice pasta restaurant which appeared to be full of locals, where I enjoyed a seafood spaghetti with a couple of Heineken.

My first impression of Amsterdam is that it seems like it would be a wonderful place to live. The word that comes to mind is civilized. Even with the hustle of a big city, things are not that noisy. Cars do not race past. Traffic is a mixture of cars, electric trams and buses (so quiet), scooters, and bicycles.

Tuesday, April 30 - Amsterdam

There was a breakfast buffet available in the hotel, but I decided to go looking for some tulips in Vondelpark, which was just around the corner from my hotel. The weather was overcast, and the tulips were beyond their best before date.


I did find an interesting sculpture. I wished I had known the background when I was there but did some quick research afterwards. This is Mama Baranka – Mother Rock (1984) by Nelson Carrilho. As per Wikipedia - "The statue is a memorial for the 15-year old Antillian boy Kerwin Duinmeijer who was killed on August 20th, 1983 by a 16-year old skinhead with a tattoo saying "a 100% white" on his arm. He declared that the only motive for his deed was the colour of the skin of his victim." So sad, especially considering what is still happening in the world.


While I was walking, a man came up and asked where he could smoke. I told him that I had only arrived the day before. He went off to find someone else. Does that mean that people are not allowed to smoke in the park?

I returned to the same café as yesterday for their pancakes. They were good, but much smaller than I expected.

After checking out I had the short five minute walk to the bus stop. I was at the terminal within a half hour which had me really early, an hour too early to check in. I went off to find some coffee, ending up at good old Starbucks. Will we find them in Heaven? Or would that be Hell? I had an hour to kill so bought the big latte. Or should I say venti?

Shortly after an hour later I tried the machine again. It still did not like me, so I went to the desk, which was fast since there was no one in line. The lady wanted to tag my two carry on bags. I put my suitcase up and saw that it was almost 10 kg. She did seem to pay any attention. I later noticed that my boarding pass said that the maximum weight for carry on bags is 8 kg. So, I might not make it through my Turkish Air flights. I am not too worried. I have packed so that I can just hand it over to be checked. All my important things are in the pack.

I had a long wait at the gate. The plane did not arrive at the time we were supposed to be taking off. People started to line up. I dutifully got in line. They boarded business class and priority, then everyone else, no zones or rows.


Posted by Bob Brink 04:27 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

Departure - Central Asia Here I Come

Taking the Long Way to Amsterdam

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Sunday, April 28 – Departure Day
I have developed a few routines on my departure days. I need to get a photo of my two ladies on our morning walk. I do wish that Po would come along with me on my travels, but she is not that interested in the travel and is quite busy with her PhD work. It does save me some worry since Po is there to look after Bella.


The second routine is to stop at Shirley’s house on the way to the airport. Shirley is 95 years old. Either Shirley adopted us, or we adopted Shirley, but she has become our mother in Pouch Cove. She was quite worried when we went off to Madagascar in 2016. I think she is a bit more relaxed with my travels now. Po and others will keep her up to date.


I had been piling things beside my suitcase for several days, but of course I finished packing just before leaving for the airport. This is my first trip to do carry on only. On the Madagascar trip Po trained me to wash out my clothes on arrival at each hotel. I carried on with that routine last year, even though the washing was often done in campsites. I found that I ended up using only a handful of the things that I had in my suitcase. Friends commented that I was wearing the same t-shirt in all my photos, suggesting that it was not washed. But I did wash it in between!

I discussed my flight issues in my last post. I am still annoyed that I must fly backwards. It is so ironic considering that Newfoundland had a big role in early aviation. In June it will be 100 years since Alcock and Brown flew across the Atlantic to Ireland, the first non-stop transatlantic flight. Amelia Earhart flew out of Newfoundland in 1932, becoming the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic and the second person to accomplish this feat, after Charles Lindberg in 1927. The town of Gander was vitally important in the early days of aviation as the transatlantic flights had to stop there for refueling. But we cannot get a direct flight to London.

I arrived way too early for my flight. I was okay with that since I would rather be too early than be panicked if something goes wrong. My first security of the trip was quick since there was no one else going through, and they are always polite at our little airport.

I wondered how the flying with no checked bags would work with my international flight coming up. I knew that Air Canada would want to see my passport. I found out when I was called up to the gate. I guess Air Canada did not want to wait until I got to Toronto to find out if I had my passport.

My flight to Toronto was 3.5 hours on a small Embraer plane. A standard comment for any flight will be about the lack of room between seats. The entertainment system was not nearly as nice as on the cancelled Boeing Max 8. I tried to watch what seemed to be an interesting National Geographic documentary on the Okavango (shades of last year’s trip?). I kept pushing the wrong button when I tried to pause it, which kept it resetting. I ended up falling asleep which was a surprise since I never can fall asleep on a plane when I am trying to. I doubt that will happen overnight when I really need it.

I talked to the couple behind me as we were leaving the plane. They were also taking the Amsterdam flight and had been booked via London and then were caught up in the Max 8 cancellations. I imagine there were several of us on the plane.

I was originally going to meet some friends for coffee or lunch in Toronto, but they opted out of driving to the airport which was quite mean of them (just kidding, want to see if they are reading this). Not meeting them made the transfer easy. In other countries I have had to go through a security when changing planes but here I just had to walk through a door to international departures. That meant that I only had the one simple St. John’s security for today. I have many more securities to go.

I was not impressed with food options in international departures. The food court was dingy. There are lots of seats at each gate where you can sit at a counter and occupy yourself with your electronic device (and charge it). You use their iPads to order your overpriced food. Having had no lunch and not sure if or when I would get fed on the plane, I had some pasta. I have had worse.


For my standard comment for my Amsterdam plane, it was packed, and the lack of leg room was remarkable for an overnight flight. I might have to quit commenting on those things. It is the way of modern air travel.

I did luck out with my seatmates. They were a couple, Sandra and Jack, heading to Amsterdam to join a river cruise. Sandra and I have a lot in common, especially that neither of us sleep on planes and both of us like to talk, which we did a lot of. We talked about our dogs. They have a 7-pound dog. Ours weighs almost 70. They run a B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario called Victoria Gables. It sounded wonderful. We have our vacation rental property, called Bella's Blue House. They have high quality linens which are commercially laundered. I throw our Walmart sheets into the washer. I bet our view is better.

It made the night go quite fast. She also pointed out the error I was making with the entertainment system. (I kept pushing the stop button rather than pause.) I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, which was probably a stupid thing to do since it is full of great music and the sound was impossibly bad. I could barely hear the dialogue, so certainly could not appreciate the singing.

They served supper at 10:00 pm. I passed since I had eaten in the terminal. In the morning they only gave us a packaged cake. I thought we would get some of the rubbery eggs that I have always been served on planes. I was kind of looking forward to them, kind of a weird nostalgia thing.

Posted by Bob Brink 00:43 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

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