September 19, 2012

Merhaba

I’m in Istanbul, in the second part of a two-week vacation with Linda. Last week we stayed almost completely in the old city, with our hotel being just 3 blocks from the Gülhane tram stop. This week we’re in the new part, on a hillside between Taksim Square and Kabataş. For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been as diligent about email and so on as I usually am while on vacation, and I’ve been completely unavailable for any except the most utterly urgent phone calls, of which there thankfully have not been any. But this evening, while Linda watches Muhteşem Yüzyıl in the other room, I’m in the mood to write a bit of travelogue, and post it in what among other things has become the most personal of my blogs.

Linda lived in Turkey for a while with her first husband, and speaks excellent Turkish. (In general, the Barlow women have an amazing talent for languages.)

If you’ve never been to Istanbul, it must be seen to be believed. From a hills and water standpoint, imagine 10 San Franciscos, but with many of the buildings being 500+ years old. The whole thing is wrapped around the Bosphorus, in which at any moment you can see 2-3 tankers, a whole lot of commuter ferries, and generally more ship traffic than I imagine can be found in any other similar expanse of water in the world (the Panama Canal area perhaps excepted). And there are plenty of places from which to get awesome views, most notably on the water itself. If you’re ever in Istanbul, seize every pretext you can find to be out on the water.

When it comes to great religious buildings, Istanbul may be my favorite city in the world, ahead of Rome, Paris, and even Kyoto. Reasons include:

The standard list of “must-see” sights in Istanbul would probably start with:

They’re all great, but I’d put ahead of them:

There also are several very nice tiled pavilions in Topkapi, but I’d put the Rüstem Pasha Mosque well ahead of any one of them.

Also on my mustn’t-miss list are:

Frankly, I like Hagia Sophia better from the outside than the inside, for beauty. It’s one of the world’s great feats of architectural engineering, unmatched in grandeur for about a millennium after it was built. But when the Muslims converted it from a church to a mosque (it’s now a secular museum, thanks to Ataturk), they covered up the art and made the whole interior rather plain. Also not on my can’t-miss list are the famous Covered and Egyptian/Spice Bazaars, although I really like the latter. More on those in a future post.

Istanbul traffic is a catastrophe, especially since streets are one lane wide and never point in the direction you wish to go at the moment. But fortunately, the absolutely-can’t-miss sights are all within walking distance of each other in the old city (i.e., the portion south of the Golden Horn inlet), and there’s a tram route looping around to help you out further. Also in that area is Eminönü, Istanbul’s busiest port area for boat departures. And if you do want to be driven around, distances are so short that, even though it’s slower than walking, it’s doable, and you do see extra stuff out the window as the vehicle creeps along.

A great Istanbul guide is very nice to have (but not required), and I have one to recommend: a freelancer named Tayfun Diker – pronounced like and with the same etymology as “typhoon” – whose Hotmail address is m+FirstName+LastName. Benefits of having a guide include:

Best of all, guides don’t have to be all that expensive; our hotel charged us 100 Euros for half a day with Tayfun, a van, and a driver – before tips — and perhaps if one contacted him directly one could do at least as well as that.

Not everybody can afford the time to spend a week or two in Istanbul. But if you can shoehorn even 2 days of Istanbul sightseeing into your schedule, I would highly recommend arranging to do so.

Comments

3 Responses to “Merhaba”

  1. Notes on Hadoop adoption | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on September 24th, 2012 9:20 pm

    [...] successfully resisted telephone consulting while on vacation, but I did do some by email. One was on the oft-recurring subject of Hadoop adoption. I think [...]

  2. Oops | DBMS 2 : DataBase Management System Services on September 27th, 2012 6:02 am

    [...] Istanbul sidewalks have a lot of knee/shin-height metal poles to separate streets and driveways from sidewalks. [...]

  3. Hadoop muistutuksia « Olipa kerran Bigdata on September 27th, 2012 12:47 pm

    [...] successfully resisted telephone consulting while on vacation, but I did do some by email. One was on the oft-recurring subject of Hadoop adoption. I think [...]

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