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Thursday, October 02, 2003

More Time in Istanbul
Istanbul, Turkey

We did not have access to much Internet connection in the old city (where we were staying). Other than a few minutes here and there using the hotel's reception PC and at our travel agency's PC, we didn't have a chance to really sit down and blog. Now we are in Taksim, the 'new city' where there's a high speed Internet cafe, yeah!

We're about to depart for our 13 day tour of Turkey (itinerary to follow). It's been a very relaxing time here in Istanbul, with our comfortable room at the hotel, friendly people everywhere, cooler weather and I suppose, we've just been feeling a bit lazy. Today is our official 3 month mark.. yikes! Where has all that time gone? One can say that we're now at the point where we're very comfortable being on the road, with no responsibilities of any kind to worry about. Hm, what are we going to do when we have to go back home and work? :)

Anyhow, let's talk more about Istanbul. Winston's writing about our football game experience right now, so I won't say too much about it other than we had a blast! I wish I could learn the Besiktas theme song; it's so catchy!! Before going to the game, we went to see the Aya Sopya. The place is quite incredible, though lonely planet did warn us about the 'permanent' scaffolding that covers half the dome inside the great space. At least we did see people working on the ceilings so I suppose there was a reason why this scaffolding has been there for over 10 years. There is much reconstruction work being done here. Interestingly, this place was originally built for the Christians, then converted into a mosque. During this conversion, many of the mosaics that were part of the original walls, were covered up by plaster to conceal the Christian pictures. So.. there has been a huge effort to restore some of these fine work.

Monday morning, we finalized our plans with our travel agent Taner, from Let's Go Travel, and then headed off to the ferry (one of the 4 on this side of the Golden Horn) to get tickets for the Bosphorus Cruise. We had a fair bit of time before the ferry departed, so we hung out at the port eating corn, a kebab sandwich and a fish sandwich, which was grilled on a boat! Yummy. It was fun to watch people going about doing their business.

Our cruise (which is just a boat ride) up the Bosphorus was quite nice, albeit very windy on the deck. The Bosphorus is a river that connects the Sea of Marmara (which goes out to the Mediterranean) to the Black Sea up north. It was interesting to see how many oil tankers travel up and down this river. The other significance of this river is that it separates Europe and Asia. Both coast lines were filled with beautiful houses and mansions. There is definitely a feeling of wealth here. We stopped off at a small village called Anadolu Kavagi, which is at the northern most end of the Asian sie up the river. There were many cats there and we fed them our leftover bread, and ended up having several felines napping at our feets.

Tuesday was a work day as Winston finished off the websites for Malta, and our presentation of the Companion Flag at an elementary school in Malta (check them out). It was nice to not have to feel that we had to be 'somewhere'. Did we say enough about the food here? EXCELLENT, and extremely tasty! We finally braved the expensive entrance fee and visited the Topkaki Palace yesterday. It is huge, and very impressive. The isn't much furnishings left, but the palace has been turned into a museum with displays of the 12,000 pieces of Japanese and Chinese porcelain, as well as armoury, dresses, and portraits. There was a huge line to see the 400-roomed Harem (where the Sultan and his wife and concubines stayed) so we gave it a pass. It was interesting to learn that as early as the 13th century, the Ottoman Sultans were fond of the Chinese porcelains, and spent much money to get them shipped all the way from China.

Last night, we watched a dance of the whirling derviches, which is a spiritual dance by a man. Wearing a skirt, with matching coloured top, and a hat, the dancer whirls around in circles until the end of each music. It was surprising that he did not appear quesy at all! The dance has 3 stages, and supposedly puts them into a trance with each stage. It was interesting. We watch the match between Besiktas and Chelsea (England) at the big screen in the bar of the Youth Hostel. Having been to a Besiktas game, I think we've become fans of this team. It was a huge defeat over Chelsea (2-0) considering the English team has been undefeated all season!

This morning we set off to collect our passports (we hoped that our visas were approved). Once again, luck was against us, and the consulate's office was CLOSED! Apparently it is Ghandhi's birthday, so they are closed in his honour. sigh... now we gotta wait till we get back on the 14th to get our passports, visas or not, since we leave for Frankfurt early the next morning. Who would have known that it would be this tricky getting a visa to India!

Well, we're off tonight at 7pm (coming up soon) to see the rest of the country. Our itinerary (arranged by Taner, at Let's Go, Tel: +90 212 516 95 66 E-mail:info@letsgo-turkey.com)

Oct 2 overnight bus to Pamukkale
Oct 3 Pamukkale tour, bus to Anthalya
Oct 4 Anthalya tour, bus to Fethiye
Oct 5 Fethiye tour
Oct 6 Bus to Selcuk
Oct 7 Free day - visit Ephesus
Oct 8 PMD tour (3 Roman cities) - over night bus to Cappadocia
Oct 9 - 11 Nemrut Tour
Oct 12 Cappadocia Tour
Oct 13 Cappadocia Tour, overnight bus back to Istanbul
Oct 14 arrive Istanbul, 7am. Staying at the Hotel Peninsula
Oct 15 6am flight to Frankfurt (early!)

Turkish Football Fans
Istanbul, Turkey

We did end up getting tickets to the Besiktas-Trabzonspor match, thanks to our good friend Hussein at the Peninsula Hotel in Istanbul. While it wasn't all that competitive (Besiktas demolished Trabzonspor 5-0), we had a fantastic time soaking in the atmosphere and getting caught up in the excitement.

We arrived at the stadium three hours early, which turned out to be a good thing, as the tickets were already sold out. Hussein helped us get tickets from a scalper, and we ended up paying 20 milyon Turkish lira (about $13) for an 18 milyon ticket... not too bad at all. For the next few hours, we hung out in the stands watching the stadium fill up... we couldn't believe how quickly the time went, there was so much going on.

The first thing that impressed us was the security. We've never seen so many police in one place at one time, ever. There were THOUSANDS of policemen on hand, and the stadium wasn't even one of the big ones. We counted over 30 full-size police busses parked outside the stadium. The security to get in was tighter than that at JFK Airport; we were both patted down twice, we had to go through x-ray machines, I was asked to relinquish the pen that I had in my pocket, and for some odd reason, the cap on our water bottle was removed (still can't really figure out why, maybe so it couldn't be thrown effectively?).

Once we were inside, we kept on seeing group after group of policemen walk in formation to various areas around the stadium. Many of them had full riot gear: helmets, shields and batons, while still some other policemen carried fire extinguishers with them. We chose seats on the aisle close to an exit, thinking that if things got ugly, we'd be able to make a quick exit. That turned out to be moot though, as the aisle somehow filled up with people who wanted to sit in a better position.

Practically every fan (pretty much all men, except for Jen and just a few ladies) was wearing some form of Besiktas colours, white, black, and red. The various team songs were being pumped out of the sound system, even before we arrived there. There were obviously several different songs and chants, and the crowd quickly got into the swing of things by chanting them out at the top of their lungs, well before the game even got started.

As the players came out on the field, the fans would chant some kind of call to specific team members, who then broke out of the warm-up group to trot towards the chanting crowd and acknowledge them. This happened in all corners of the stadium, so all the home team players got a good working of having to run around the stadium as their names were being called out.

Although Besiktas was clearly the dominant team, it was my first live football (soccer) match since seeing the Vancouver Whitecaps and Jen's first since seeing the 86'ers. The quality of play was pretty high; indeed, Besiktas defeated Chelsea 2-0 just last night (which caused great excitement in the streets of Istanbul by the way). The opposing team's fans were relegated to one end-zone, and while they were quite vocal for a relatively small group of people, as the lead grew throughout the game, they become more and more quiet, eventually leaving after the score reached 4-0.

Incidentally, around the seats where the visiting fans sat were two rows of steel bars that separated them from the rest of the stadium. Added to that was a barrier of policemen four seats across stretching from the ground to the top of the stadium, as well as a phalanx of policemen standing on the ground. If any Besiktas fan wanted to get to them, they'd be hard pressed to even reach that area... it seemed tighter than Checkpoint Charlie. Fortunately, things stayed under control, and although we saw a few people get ejected by the authorities, the crowd was pretty well-behaved. Phew.

Anyway, it was a fantastic sporting experience for us, and we now understand how seriously Turkish football fans take their sport. Even now, I have echos of the Besiktas song ringing through my head... US college football fans can't hold a candle to the 'fan-atacism' of the Turks!


2003-2004 Winston & Jennifer Yeung. All Rights Reserved.