Friday, 17 August 2012

Its Istanbul not Constantinople.

Lights on the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey
 The end of the holy month of Ramadan is here and we've taken advantage of the public holidays to have a much needed break out of Qatar.  So, we've arrived in Istanbul after a 4 hour flight from Doha on Qatar Airways. 

On arrival in Istanbul there is a list of nations requiring visa displayed on a board. New Zealanders don't require one so I joined the queue with the Turks and the sundries who who also need visas. The queue was long and snakelike, there was no air-con, several planefuls of passengers and only two immigration officers on duty.

As Aussies need a visa Colin first had to stand in a long queue at a separate window to purchase the entry visa which cost him an eye watering $60!  Then to add to the indignity once he got his visa, he then had to join the end of the huge queue that I was standing in, in order to have his visa stamped. Its not like Doha or the UAE where, if you're eligible to pick up a visa on entry, you queue, pay your money,  have your visa stamped into your passport and off you go.

By this time all the visa officers decided to have a tea break and the queue of several hundred people were served by only one officer. Fortunately this happened just after I got through so I trundled off to find the bag which, wouldn't you know it, was on the luggage belt at the furthest end of the hall but by the time I collected the bag and walked back to the immigration area, Colin was through.

We'd booked the hotel car to pick us up though taxis are plentiful right outside the door of the arrivals terminal.  We were quickly into the old part of the city with narrow, cobbled streets.  On the edge of the footpaths are short metal bollards to prevent cars mounting the footpath and parking there. 

We met our friends at the Hotel Raymond which is in the heart of the old area and within walking distance of all the main tourist sites.  While the rooms at the Raymond are small, they're spotlessly clean, have all mod-cons and after all, you're only there to sleep!   After dropping the bags we walked around the corner to a cafe called Faros and sat on their veranda, drinking coffee in public (very exciting after being in Doha) and watching the world go by. Many ladies wear hijab, many don't and only a few were wearing abayas.  The Turkish ladies who cover seem to favour square silk head scarves in every colour and pattern imaginable. The scarf is folded into a triangle and placed over the head, usually over an underscarf or bonnet, and the scarf is then pinned under the chin to hold it firm with the loose ends tucked under the collar or pinned.

We then walked to the tram which runs along the end of the road.  The trams come frequently and are a great way to get around town, avoiding the traffic.  We purchased the red tokens from the dispensing machine and rode it just one stop up the hill to the Blue Mosque.  We had a wonderful dinner at Rumelis restaurant sitting outdoors then walked over to the grounds of the Blue Mosque where many families were having iftar picnics.

Tomorrow's agenda is a return, after 34 years, to the Topkapi Palace.  Really looking forward to it.

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