Stewart Goes Walkies is pleased to have another contribution from our old friend, and rock climbing mentor, Allen Lai.
Allen has been mentioned in several of my climbing and camping adventures. You can see two of them here and here. Allen lives in Toronto, Canada. He was inspired by my efforts to walk a minimum of 5 kilometres a day and sent us a report on his efforts to do the same during a typical Canadian winter. After reading his report I vowed never to complain about the cold weather in Hong Kong ever again. You can see it here.
When the COVID 19 restrictions were eased Allen was fortunate to be able to travel to Turkey for a vacation. He has sent us this report and the attached photos. This is the first part of his report.
Allen’s first impressions
It’s been over two years since I have been able to travel, writes Allen. Now, as some travel restrictions have been lifted I seized the opportunity. Turkey was picked, not because it was on the top of my bucket list, but because it’s one of the very few countries that has no travel restrictions.
For two weeks, I travelled over 3000 km up and down the Anatolia peninsula. Totally in love with this ancient land and people, I learned a lot about the Ottoman Empire and Islamic culture.
Having been to other Middle East countries I expected Turkey to be just another dirty, polluted place. Men in their robes and sandals, women in their hijab or niqab. But what a surprise! The country is a mix of the very old and the very new. The city is a combination of modern and fusion. Roman ruins laid side by side with modern high-rises. The countryside is lined with farmlands and factories. Most impressive were the people. Over 90% are Muslim, they are polite, well educated and honest.
My first stop was at Istanbul airport. I wasn’t even aware of the Turkish Airline, which actually flies to more countries than Air Canada. The airport is huge and well designed. It’s the busiest airport in Europe and the second busiest in terms of international passengers in the world. On the tarmac, as far as one’s eyes can see, it’s all Turkish Airlines planes. Oh, as I was travelling business class, the service and food were unbelievable.
Imagine the chief preparing the in-flight meal right in front of me. And my unlimited supply of 15-year-old Glenfiddich single malt, served under candlelight.
Istanbul is a city sitting between Asia and Europe. Napoleon once said, if there is only one country in this world, the capital would have to be Istanbul. It controls the only exit from the Black Sea and it has been the prize capital since the days of Genghis Khan.
It has so much history. My first impression was how orderly the city is. The population is dense, yet, the streets are clean. People smoke freely, but I hardly find any cigarette butts, garbage, plastic bottles or environmental waste. I may sound very naive, but I found myself subconsciously comparing it with West Germany.
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque 1609, is a UNESCO site. It has been a statement of Ottoman power in Istanbul for over 400 years, making Ahmed’s desire a reality. Hand-painted blue tiles adorn the mosque’s interior walls, and at night the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s domes.
Hagia Sophia, is also a UNESCO site, built in the 6th century. This 1,500-year-old World Heritage monument has been the contested religious centre of both Christian and Muslim empires.
I have been to quite a number of churches in Europe, even this one lacks the gold decoration, wall-to-wall oil paintings and marble statues. Yet, its grand and its Byzantine architecture influenced the later medieval architecture throughout Europe and the Near East and became the primary progenitor of the Renaissance and Ottoman architectural traditions that followed its collapse. Quite an eye opener.
The Serefiye Cistern
The Spice Bazaar
The Dolmabache Palace
The Dolmabache Palace. I have been to the Palace of Versailles, Paris, the Winter Palace of St. Petersburg. I thought I had seen all the grace and glamour. Then comes the Dolmabache Palace in Istanbul. Decorated with 35 tons of gold and 40 tons of silver, full of precious oil paintings, exquisite handmade silk carpets, ingenious mahogany and sandalwood floors, beautiful crystals and staircases, four and a half tons of gorgeous crystal chandeliers, 285 rooms, 46 baths, 6 hammams (steam baths) and 68 toilets. It was the residence of the last six sultan emperors, and it is also a testimony to the glorious history of the Ottoman Empire. Especially the main hall. I don’t think any other ballroom can compare to its grandeur and glamour.
Bosphorus Strait Cruise
And of course, we took a cruise down the Bosphorus Strait in order to appreciate the historic buildings on both the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. Then we visited the 15th-century the old Topkapi Palace, Another UNESCO site, now a museum.
The Topkapi Palace
Stewart Goes Walkies is very grateful to have received this wonderful photo essay from Allen. Allen’s interest in the country’s culture and history is evident by his descriptions. We look forward to his next report in the series.
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