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Black Tie International Travel  1
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel-Bob Nicolaides- Turkey


Traveling Along… with Bob Nicolaides

Istanbul’s Ortuk Mosque

Istanbul’s Ortuk Mosque

Destinations For 2012



It is quite obvious in the ruins of Ephesus the writing on structures is plainly Hellenic, but Turk guides will say it’s Latin, at the directive of their government. Nevertheless, Hellenes will forever call Istanbul Constantinople. No matter how many centuries go by from the tragic 1920s, this ancient race of Hellenes will be reminded of what the man called Moustafa Kemal, who, buoyed by the support of a Henry Morgenthau, the American Jew representing the US as its Ambassador, embarked on modernizing his country, in the process changing the name of the Majestic city on the Sea of Marmara, from Constantinople to Istanbul. Of course, anyone who can grasp the meaning of the new name can snicker at Moustafa, agreeing on the shortcomings of his education for whether you call the city Constantinople or Istanbul, it still is its name in Greek. The answer lies in the fact that the latter name is nothing but an abbreviation of its original name, since Byzantines-and subsequent Hellenes that thrived-up to Kemal’s assumption of power amid the ruins of the Ottoman Empire-referred to Constantinoupolis or City of Constantine as Poli for short. Now a Turk may not call it Poli, since at that his country utilized the Arabic Alphabet, this alphabet lacking in vowels with the exception of the ‘a’ the ou, yi, representing the sounds ‘Alef’, ‘Wow’, and the ‘Yeh.’

So it stands to reason that they can only pronounce that word as Puli, but since there is no ‘P’ in the Arabic alphabet they used up to that point, they would use the ‘F’ as in Falasteen or Palestine-but they didn’t, opting to use a ‘B’ instead, which would phonetically make it Buli, or Bul. Now, since their predecessors in the crossroads of Asia and Europe-meaning the Byzantine Hellenes- often would indicate they were heading towards the Poli by saying ‘is tin (also ‘is tan’) Poli and since early Turkish (Arabic) alphabet lacked that reproduction, (which even then  I find less cumbersome than their present one crammed with ornaments used above and below the Latin letters to achieve the sounds they desire,) they decided on the ‘tan’ as opposed to the ‘tin’-more Spartan, you must admit- they finally settled on the word Is-Tan-Bul, which gave them the false comfort they had moved away from the despised-to them-language of the Greeks. Of course, it is only a false comfort!

However, if anything would tick me off, would be to have menus in the city’s restaurants written besides Turkish, in English, Russian, French, Italian, Dutch, Arabic with the  noticeable omission of their next door neighbor’s language, Greek.

Istanbul, having been the crossroads in trade between East and West in days that it was carried out overland or by sea, has recently become the crossroads for multi-racial traffic-tourists and otherwise-with a great number of them being Chinese, Korean or Japanese. I encountered an Australian lady at a small men’s clothing shop near the Hilton Greentree in the center of the old city on the European side, who asked me if the price tag on a certain suit was in Turkish Lire or Dollars. Dollars here are still in great demand as opposed to surrounding Balkan nations where the Euro is king despite its perils. As I found out, a popular guidebook and travel website, has allowed readers to chime in on where they want to go next year. And the winner by a landslide was Turkey with 51% of the vote among a list of 10 destinations as strange as this may sound, including Paris, Italy and Hawaii.

By the way, reportedly, many Russian tourists who visited Turkey in 2011, have complained about tout bus drivers having exceeded the maximum speed limit and not obeying traffic rules. Some twenty Russian tourists have been killed as a result and many more were injured in toad accidents involving tour buses. After returning to their homeland, most all called the Ministry of Culture & Tourism to complain about hardships during the trip to Turkey. The Ministry fired off a warning to the Turkish Association of Travel Agencies (TURSAB) notifying the agency on the bus drivers, which caused accidents, sometimes resulting in deaths, and informing them of the negativity Turkey created on Russian travelers.


Traffic jams too are commonplace here and extend beyond the traditional rush hour time. In the Fatih section of the city, on Ordu Cad (cad denoting a secondary road even though a tramway runs across it and where the Sultan Ahmet Camii (pronounced Jami, a mosque)as well as higher learning facilities  are located, is a prime example, where car traffic and tram traffic merge into one, creating monumental impasses. This, after all, is a commercial area, which runs across the length of the old walled city, as winds northeastern ward passing through Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar,) a short distance inland from Aghia Sophia, presently a museum.  Here one can find almost anything one can think of, in a colorful setting of banners, multicolored dresses and costumes, diamonds and jewelry, leather and onyx craft, and souvenirs galore, in short everything but a device for coffee that bears a Turkish name, for which they referred me to Antalia, in southwest Turkey.

Speaking as I did of Aghia Sophia, the Byzantine cathedral built originally by Constantine the Great and greatly expanded by subsequent emperor Justinian, is squeezed between the Sultan Ahmet Camii, most widely known as the Blue Mosque to the south, and Topkapi Sarayi, (Topkapi Palace) to the north, all by the water, facing the Asian side of the city across the sea of Marmara. East of these three monuments and facing the Golden Horn, known today as Halic, are lesser known mosques, such as Suleymaniyie and Fatih Camii.

There’s little distinction between the structures built by the Byzantines and the Ottoman Turks who conquered them. The dome is the main feature of all mosques, but isn’t the dome the focal point of every church built in the Byzantine style? Many of the early churches have been turned to mosques, which is also the original fate of Aghia Sophia (the Holy Wisdom church,) before international pressure forced the Turkish Government to turn it into a museum, after they erased some of their  Arabesque with which they had covered the precious iconography of the post-iconoclastic period. The only way one can tell if the mosque was preceded by a church is to look for the detail. The dome of a church is usually in the center of a cruciform, that is, on all four sides of it there are smaller domes in the form of a cross. Let us also remind the reader that had it not been for this remarkable and outstanding house of worship, the Russian hordes of that day would’ve gone the way of Catholicism. Having sent envoys to both the Vatican and Saint Sophia, the Russian leader decided to go with Orthodoxy when his representatives to the East described Saint Sophia as the ‘closest thing to heaven.’

Then again, this huge cathedral is associated with many events of Orthodoxy and Byzantine era Greece. For instance, it is a fact that when the colossal center doors made of heavy wood were opened for the first time at the church’s inauguration, Emperor Justinian stood between the exonarthex and the church’s interior  , himself awed at his accomplishment, uttering the words in Greek: “Nenikikasse Solomon”  (“Solomon, I beat you,”) a reference to Jerusalem’s Solomon Temple. When Byzantine forces beat back the enemies at its northern frontier, the victory was attributed to the Virgin Mary and the Akathistos Hymn vespers were established on five consecutive Fridays, with chants praising Christ’s mother with a central theme as the Hymermacho (Defender) chant. 

One item which has been destroyed over the years is the courtyard’s fountain with its famous inscription which could be read from both ends «ΝΙΨΟΝΑΝΟΜΗΜΑΤΑΜΗΜΟΝΑΝΟΨΙΝ,» which translated means “Rinse away transgressions, not only the face.”

Now one thing I do not wish you to think is that you can reach this and any other historic places with the greatest of ease. Lines are long and you must be prepared for a long wait. Whether it is Aghia Sophia, Topkapi, the Blue Mosque or any other monument, the wait is long but worth it. If you have been to Topkapi before, be ready for aa big surprise as everything on display has been shifted around. Particularly if you’re looking for the big diamond as it was featured in the namesake movie, expect to find it somewhere else, not that its new position is more prominent than its old nesting. But you’ll get a big thrill from ogling the extensive acreage involved in this Sultan’s Serayi (palace) with the secluded area of its Harem and the Eunuchs guarding his many wives concubines, away from the indiscreet eye.

The Palace’s kitchen itself occupies the entire length of the palace on the side closest to the water. In one indoor spot, a tree-like trunk has a deep and narrow hole, which is associated with a Sultan who once had a headache, and was healed by sticking his finger in that opening. Just like the opening where one can put his entire arm across the coliseum in Rome, visitors can try inserting their finger in this opening, hoping for as blessing and a cure from your headaches.

A pleasant surprise awaits you at the northern exit of the palace, where a garden undoubtedly belonging once to the palace has now been transformed to a continuous row of restaurants where you can dine in style and al fresco, served by native costume-clad women.

Believe what you wish from your guide, just make sure you don’t fall for the fib that Alexander the Great is buried somewhere in the complex underground system of the city. Don’t forget that in his day, Constantinople was a tiny village of no consequence named Vyzantion, (with a ‘V’) built by a Greek general called Vyzas, from where the name of the empire has derived.

Now if you crave for delicious fresh fish, call one of the spots in restaurant row across the Golden Horn (its Turkish name is Halic) over the Galata Bridge. The restaurants are located beneath a viaduct resembling a bridge flush to the water, from where a thousand fishing rods descend into the water in the hope of a fat catch. The problem for you though, is that your head is right on the firing line if you wish, meaning that as novice fishermen from above cast their lines, may instead atch your hair or clothing as opposed to fish. The trip and the risk however is worth it. The service in these little spots is great and the food even better. Even the view across, at the mouth of the Bosporus is gratifying with yachts, cruise ships and local tourist boats sailing back and forth creating huge waves and great scenery. The stage is set at night, when in the crisp, clear sky you can view from a distance the combined image of Aghia Sophia, Topkapi and Blue Mosque, lit up in shimmering colors.

Florya, a district west of Istanbul’s International airport is a residential one, but not as quite as one world expect it to be. Besides a park and a recreational center on the main drag, both named after Moustafa Kemal, there’s a plethora of restaurants and nightclubs, all of which are doing very well customer-wise. The strange thing however is that this is also where most of the automotive dealerships are located.

 You’ll pick the restaurant of your preference with great ease. The food is good adhering to the mid-eastern cuisine, most of which you’ll find in both Turkish and Greek kitchens, with some of the Arabic thrown in for good measure. One can visit a restaurant here for multiple purposes, not only for a meal. For instance, the waiter will not give you a dirty look if you sat at one of his tables and all you’re willing to order is a shai, the tea served here in abundance since it appears that Turkish coffee has gone out of style. For that same shai, you can get a set of backgammon to play with your friend who also ordered just a tamarind drink. Most popularly however, for those who will play backgammon, is to order what they call a Nargilee, widely called Hookah in Egypt and other mid-Easter nations. It is an upright sort of a bottle with a stem protruding on one side, where a pipe-like device is attached to its end. On the main body of the bottle which is filled with water there’s a holder circumventing its narrow neck, the holder filled with small pieces of charcoal. When a guest asks for this Nargilee, the waiter will go and select one from a long array resting on a shelf, and after thoroughly cleaning the holder part, will light up the charcoal. At this point it becomes a long-drawn procedure of making sure that the lit charcoal warms up the water, which delivers through the pipe-like apparatus a smoke, which the waiter tests as if he were the one to use it. It takes several attempts at fanning the charcoal as well as taking in the smoke, before the waiter can deliver it ready for use to the customer, after he’s had his mouth on it for a while. I guess the smoke cleanses any germs hanging around the lip piece.


The visit to Florya served a good purpose, since when arriving in Istanbul and looking for a cab to take me to the Hilton- which is one of several-but the Greentree being located centrally but in some distance from the arrival point, I had the misfortune of getting one of these folks lurking on the unsuspecting. The end result was that he asked-and received- €50 for the fare, when the total fare should have not exceeded 50 Turkish Lire. Now the total in Euros is roughly three times what it should’ve cost me, since the going rate for one Euro is three Lire,
(you get two lire for the dollar.)

 As I make my way towards Attaturk Airport (named after the same man I called earlier Moustafa) for my departure,  I am paying close attention to the signs ahead and above me. They read Attaturk Havalimani, Hava being the Turkish word for Air, but Limani denoting Port, in none other than Greek (from Limin-Limenos, colloquially Limani ) the language the Turkish Government loves to distance itself  from.  To say the least, I found it amusing.






Traveling Along… with Bob Nicolaides




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