Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sunset over Istanbul

My last night in Istanbul was spent at a cocktail bar under the Galata Bridge. This spot was picked for the view, sunset over Istanbul. The drinks cost 17 ytl each. So a night here can seriously put a dent in your wallet but for 1 night, the price is worth it to unwind and just watch the ferries go by and soak up the last rays I will see for awhile.

Turkish Baths

I have to say, Alapan was definitely onto something in honours. A Turkish bath is absolutely divine. Roline and I trekked into Old Town and walked into a lesser known Hamami from the one in the Lonely Planet. We had the place to ourselves. After being told to strip, clothing is strictly a no no and given the most awesome towels, we were led into a steaming chamber and let to our own devices to drench ourselves in water and let our pores breath. Its very relaxing and hot. We were then led away into separate rooms where we had to lie on marble slabs and got a full body scrub, then soap massage. Following this you go back and steam again for a while before having an oil massage. I can honestly say that if I'd known it was that good I would have done it my first day, not my last.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Simple Things

There are a lot of things we take for granted at home. The fact that there are post offices nearby, that you can drive across a bridge without being fined.

I've discovered that there are 3 postboxes in Old Town and no one can tell about any other in Istanbul (and I mean the whole of Istanbul). Writing a postcard is not as simple as dropping in the postbox. I took a tram and had to ask for directions into the middle of the Grand Bazaar, then queue to hand in a postcard that they put in a pile for sending. I think I'd stick to email at this point. I hope my mother will appreciate my effort though and the IT guys at the Maths Inst in Oxford.

One of the oddest things about Istanbul is the commuter crowd. They commute to work long distances and its cheaper to take a car than ride public transport and park the car out of the dense village/town areas. If you live on the asian side, you drive across 1 of 2 bridges that span the Bosphorus and instead of a toll gate, you have a thing fitted to the car and you place credits on it which are deducted with each trip across. Cool system, unless you don't have one. At this point if you drive across, you get fined. The only weird part is that no one can tell european side people where to get one fitted. My flight out is on the asian side, so i'm going by taxis. My first holiday taxis trip. The person probably doesn't speak english so I can't even say 'Follow that car' for fun!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Old Town flavour

Roline and I ventured from Sariyer by ferry today into Kabatas. This 1 hour trip costs 6 ytl, but is logistically much easier than driving to the metro and then the funicular. From Kabatas there is a tram for 1.40 ytl which goes right into the heart of Old Town. We scoped out the various baths today and decided on our choice for tomorrow. One place wanted 79 ytl! and you had to queue to go in.

We proceeded to the Underground Cistern, a huge cavern held up by 336 columns that the Romans stored water in. This was forgotten during the Ottoman reign and rediscovered and subsequently refurbished recently. Walking in you have to mind the dripping water from the cracks in th ceiling and the slippery floor. The columns are light from below in low red lighting. Originally tours went through on boats with gas lamps, but now there are permanent walkways. At the end of the structure (2 soccer fields later approx) there are these 2 columns held up by Medusa heads. There are 2 theories as to why. Medusa was the symbol for persecution of the Christians and this was symbolic of the Christians fighting it. The more pragmatic argument is that the columns (used from old columns aorund the city) were too small and needed to be propped up and they just happened to be the right size.

After another whirlwind trip through the Grand Bazaar (i found the silver jewelery components shop this time) in which I still did not buy anything, we walked the back routes to the Spice Bazaar. I am now the proud owner of more earrings and some turkish delights. yum. We stopped for a trip lunch in an air-conditioned cafe. At 29C and humid we felt relieved. The Galata bridge provided an opportunity to watch the fishermen try their luck and a nice breeze.

Our last stop and probably the most memorable is the Galata Tower, a structure with a history almost as long as Istanbul's. The tower was used as a fire alert, a ship lookout, a slave house, an astronomy tower, a prison and now a tourist attraction with a nightclub at the very top. The most significant thing is the 360 degree view of Istanbul. I have a panorama but you'll notice where i made a mistake in the angles of the picture. Still fairly impressive given the number of touristy people trying to push me out of the way.

Bosphorus and magpie behaviour

The village I am staying in is very close to the Black Sea. We started Sunday with a stroll along the cliffs and between coves at 9am. The temperature was roughly 24 C. The day climbed to about 28/29C. The interesting thing about this place is seeing the number of ships lined up to get through the straits into the Bosphorus. Apparently on a windless day you can hear what the shipworkers are saying.

The Bosphorus is the strait that separates european Istanbul from asian Istanbul. The family and a neighbouring family did a day trip to Ortakoy (a seaside suburb) that has a jewelery market on Sundays. The market fills the side streets and ranges from tacky to truly beautiful. I also found a henna tattoo artist and am now the proud owner of a hand tattoo (temporarily).

The gang (all 14 of us) went on a 1 hour cruise of the Bosphorus which includes highlights from both sides of the strait. It is well worth the 6 ytl. One of the coolest things was these matching castles on either side of the strait. They previously had a chain linking them to patrol the strait and defend Istanbul.

Lunch was a chicken kebab (shwarma) from a street cafe under beach umbrellas. An excellent chance to soak up the local scene.

Following this we spent the afternoon (what was left of it lazing around. The plan is to continue doing the sights and generally walk around old town. If brave enough I'll venture into a turkish bath. I'm also told the nightlife here is excellent, so Roleni and I are scheming to go out to a nightclub on the Bosphorus for cocktails at sunset.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

From Blue to Gold

The second part of Old Town is the historical core. It contains the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. The area i'm staying in has a large contingent of foreigners, mostly because the international school is here. I ended up teaming up with a Dutch girl called Roline who is visiting her family. As we are the same age and have cousins who are all much younger than us, and believe anything over 20 yrs is old and crumbly, we have ventured forth in a campaign to see as much as possible in our short time here.

We started at the Blue Mosque and managed to time it to before prayer time and looked around. The interior is beautifully done in blue tiles of various designs. The place has a serenity about it that instantly calms you. I wish I understood the arabic all over the walls because its beautifully inscribed on the walls.

Next on the trip was the Hagia Sophia. It costs 10 ytl(approx R65) to get in including the upper galleries. The place was once a church that was taken over by the Ottomans in the 1400s and turned into a mosque. They whitewashed over the walls and when the government started renovations started in the 1940s they found all the original artwork and mosaics on the walls preserved under the white. Its large, very large, but undergoing renovation in the main chamber.

The last stop on this whirlwind day was the Topkapi Palace (10 ytl). The Harem is extra and we didn't have time to go round it as well. The council chambers and meeting rooms are overlaid in gold and is an ostentatious show. The palace continues on this vain throughout. Photography is not allowed in most rooms and there are guards who hover over you as you move through the holy items rooms. The view from the palace grounds however are spectacular, looking over both the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara.

Bizarre in the Bazaar

I spent friday wandering around the Old Town of Istanbul doing the shopping district. I started at the Grand Bazaar after some impressive views from the tram into town. The bazaar is sectioned into shopping subjects. If you want jewelery, hey are all in the same area. Carpets in another, books in a separate bazaar and pottery in another. I think this is a very guys mentality of getting in and getting out, but for me there are only so many jewelery shops I can see in a row, I ended up zigzagging through the place a few times just to get some variety.

I love the ceilings here. Anything public is painted in gorgeous patterns or tiled to create a visual feast. This is art that is useful. I spent about as much time looking at shops as looking at the ceilings.

I felt a little uncomfortable walking around the bazaar on my own. I kept getting followed around my shop attendants and asked if I'm single and if I want to go out somewhere one night with them. Its a little creepy. You'd think it would be nice for the ego, but its not really.

After the bazaar I went around the past a cemetery which housed high ranking officials, the tombstones are beautiful and depict a culture heavy respectful f the dead. The mausoleum attached to the cemetery had many tombs drapped in rich carpets and a chandelier. You had to cover remove your shoes and cover your head to go in, but since all the signs are in turkish, so I could not read who they people were.

The Suleyimaniye Mosque (Suleiman the Magnificent) is a partially closed for restoration. When I arrived it was prayer time which meant all visitors were banned from the prayer area. In Istanbul, the mosques are all open during the day barring the 5 times a day for prayer, which means 1 hour before and the 20-30 mins for prayer. The grounds they sit on were beautiful, something I have found typical of the city.

After the mosque I cut through the back streets to reach the Spice Bazaar. The streets are covered by massive flags bearing th colours of the winning soccer team, yellow and red. The streets are a hive of people, dogs, cars and wares making it hard to navigate without bumping into anyone. Once again whole streets are sectioned into fabric, electrical, kitchen, clothes.

It you get lost on the way to the spice bazaar. just follow the smell. You can smell it about 2/3 streets away. Its an array of shops that try welcome into the store with tea and ask you questions about where you are from. The attention is over the top and weird.

After this I headed across the Galata bridge and into Taksim. This is like going shopping down Long Street or some shopping street. Picked up a wonderful skirt with embroidery and bells.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Istanbul at a glance

I arrived in Istanbul on the Asian side. The plane flew over the most of the city before landing. Before coming to the city I had this view of a bustling city, set out over the a vast area. I discovered i was very wrong. The place houses roughly 15 million people, the equivalent of the Netherlands. The place is built in the towering apartment buildings on top of each other in every available space.

The drivers here are maniacs. Its like everyone is a CT taxi driver. The number of close calls is horrendous. They are setting up a full on public transport system, but it's in its infancy atm. They do however have a system similar to the oyster card, pity i can't read turkish to read the top up machines.

I have walked miles already and am set to walk some more. Wish me happy times!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

OWL & going green

I've spent the day in the University Club working. The university has a campus wide Oxford Wireless LAN (OWL) that you can access from most buildings and areas (including parts of the Uni Park). Its really interesting to further note the Oxford mindset of clearing up after yourself. I've commented in an earlier post that students do not clean after themselves after party nights. Same seems to go for lecturers and staff it seems. The place is a self-clear area, but it seems there are many who believe someone else will do it if left.

This rant comes after the concert in Hyde Park on Sunday. There were minimal bins in the concert area, but they were available. However people seemed to just leave all the left over beer bottles right where they finished them. I would hate to be a cleaner afterwards. It makes you wonder if all the British are brought up like that? Especially in a nation trying to be forward thinking and go green.

A last note on the green issue, shops have in the last month started pushing "enviro friendly" bags and making customers pay for plastic bags. Sound familiar? Apparently SA isn't as backwards as we thought. Anyone coming to the UK should note that enviro friendly bags are the new fashion accessory. Its like an instant good impression.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Counting Crows in Hyde Park

I bought a spare ticket off a friend of Carl's and went to O2 wireless in Hyde Park yesterday. There were 4 sound stages distributed around the park. Turns out that you could hear the main stage from anywhere including the other stages. Drowned out the other acts in some cases. The bands I ended up seeing were Magic Christians (they suck), Eddy Grant (its like an evening in Cool Runnings), Powderfinger (had never heard of them but the music is fairly decent), Bowling for Soup (v. cool), Amy Studt (shame she had a throat infection, couldn't sing properly), Ben Harper (legend), Royworld (weird), Goo Goo Dolls (my favourite, they were spectacular) and Counting Crows (they were decent in parts, but played a lot no one knew and they messed with Mr Jones).

Now i'm told that its not a summer concert without rain, well we had plenty. It came in large doses at regular intervals. Nothing like standing in an open arena soaking wet. I'll post some pictures later when I find batteries for my camera.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Drowning in Exeter

I am a drowned rat. Exeter is apparently very beautiful, I didn't see it though. All I saw was rain and clouds. I stayed at the Exeter YHA which is right on the river, I thought the walk into town along the river would be awesome, instead I took the bus. The cathedral is impressive and the number of crumbling remains of churches is considerable. I don't think I will be going back to Exeter again unless under duress.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Met Office

I boarded a train at 8.30 this morning for Exeter. What's in Exeter? The Met Office. The SAWS equivalent with more money. We got a taxi to the office, nice change to walking and trying to catch buses. The taxis wasn't allowed into the grounds until he identified the passengers. The Met Office is very tight with security. We were escorted to the bathroom!

The visit itself was mind-boggling. The place is huge. Has its own gym and cafeteria. Bruce gave a talk about ICA and stakeholder needs. Between all this I met a variety of researchers, all of which explained their research. I now have a massive task of trying to remember the content and go back to look it up when I have more time. Amongst this is: Land use change, snowpacks, perturbed physics, downscaling, ICA, DFID, fires in RCM, albedo from burning, vegetation feedbacks, splines, SOMs hierachies.

Culture at an affordable rate

Trafalgar Square played host to the summer sessions again on Thursday night. Don Carlos is Verdi's longest (I think) opera and is 5 acts. The music and signing was spectacular. The hosts pulled various people out of the audience for makeovers, which was amusing. The weather started off with pouring rain and ended with clear skies.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Residence woes

So I was officially homeless as of this morning. Turns out that the sublet agreement I had with the guy who's room I was staying in invalidated his lease agreement cause I'm not a Kellogg college student. So with one week to go, I am moving daily from b&b to b&b. Very frustrating, especially since its extra expenditure. For now I am in Rewley House (pronounced roar-ley). Its like a hotel. There are even chocolates on the pillow.

There is a rule somewhere that all students in residence have to pay for the entire year, regardless of whether their course involves fieldwork or they have a vac job. The rules state that one can sublet the room, but only to certain parties. Now I have to wonder how many people actually follow the rules because I have heard very bad stories of colleges not helping find people to stay in the rooms.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Learner punter

I have finally been punting in Oxford. I highly recommend it to any person who can get free punts from a college (its mighty expensive otherwise). I had a lesson on the fly teaching me and a few others to navigate the rivers (and trees). Sean learnt to duck out of the way of trees. We stopped for lunch in a field (or meadow...). Punting seems to take a lot longer than originally estimated. Started at noon and got back around 6pm. Very fun experience.