Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Istanbul — first days

It has been a long while since I've taken the time to write a blog post but I have excuses all ready to wheel out. Mapping Thailand for the OSM project literally takes all my time these days. It's surely the most addictive pastime I've ever had and those of you who know me also know that I have a tendency towards addiction. I can barely pull myself away from the computer to play tennis and, for me, that's quite something. I also have mapping projects ongoing in Alaska, the Adirondacks in New York State, and anywhere I travel. In fact, mapping has become a prime motivation for travel in itself. I used to motorcycle for the pure joy of spinning along the highway, leaning into the next turn, feeling the air rush by.... Now, I take my GPS and camera and record information that I will later incorporate into the huge Open Street Map database of the world. A three day ride in Thailand generally requires another 4 or 5 days of data entry after I get home. Nut thinks I'm crazy but I love the work and it gives me something to do that is both satisfying and meaningful.

Last week I was working on the coastline and other details near Anchorage. Below is a little montage of the work I did on Fire Island which is located just west of the Anchorage Airport. Smoothing the jaggies on the shoreline and adding woods and other details took about an hour or so. (About as much time as it took to make this animation LOL). OSM in Alaska needs a lot of TLC similar to this, but Alaska is so vast that the amount of work needed feels overwhelming at times.

Anyway, I'm in Istanbul at the moment, in a suburb called Beyoğlu, and I'm trying desperately not to notice mapping chores that need doing. It's enough already that I'm constantly mulling over tags, attributes and descriptions, traffic controls and geographic features in Thailand, but it's been tough to avoid making needed corrections here in Istanbul...

Well, we'll see.

I rented a small apartment through AirBnB before I got here to help ease my transition to a new and very different sort of city. The place that looked so nice in the photos turned out to be a mixed bag. It's smaller than I anticipated and funkier. The neighborhood too is, to put it politely, a bit down at the heels; it's a very poor urban neighborhood with lots of kids playing in the narrow streets all day long. Goddamn it, they sure yell a lot. I don't remember being that noisy when my buddies and I were playing touch football and hockey on the streets of Sloan back in the day but maybe we were and I just wasn't aware of it or don't remember it now. (N41.03669° E28.97658°)

Then later on their parents, friends and neighbors come out and spend most of the night yelling at one another. I haven't a clue about why they yell, or what they're yelling about because they are speaking Turkish. They don't sound drunk, but maybe they are. I dunno. The quietest time is between 6 and 9 am. For some reason, nobody is out at that time.

I've been walking everywhere. For various reasons I don't do that much walking in Thailand and I hate learning the intricacies of foreign public transportation systems so I reckon I might just as well walk. The famous Istiklal Avenue is quite close and is lined with shops and eateries. It's also jammed with people, natives and tourists. Many people would have trouble in the Turkish streets because literally everybody is puffing on fags. Even in breezier spots the smell of cigarette smoke is impossible to ignore or avoid.

Sunday strollers on Istiklal Avenue

The nicer tourist areas like Sultanahmet in the old city are only a mile or two away from here so yesterday I walked across the Galata Bridge (N41.020176°, E28.973184°) to see the Hagia Sophia. The famous Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are in that area too but the queues to get in to visit them were long so I decided to hit them on another day. Putting first things first however, I stopped to eat a fabulous lunch at the Dr. Cook Restaurant.

This tasty meal of lamb with almonds, mushrooms and olives cost about $10 
Here are a few shots of interior of the Hagia Sophia, an old Greek Orthodox cathedral built in 537 and turned into a museum in 1935. (N41.00883° E28.97949°) It's old and time worn and like many ancient structures I've visited is undergoing extensive renovation. It is an impressive structure. I included some photos of its exterior in my next post.

Ancient mosaic art - Hagia Sophia
Detail from above

These floors have been smoothed for 1500 years
The city is thick with bakeries selling baklava, pastries made from layers of thin phyllo dough filled with nuts, butter and honey, lots of honey. It's more than I can do to constantly avoid them. Naturally, I gave in and when I found myself near a well known shop, Karaköy Güllüoglu, I had to satisfy my curiosity about the amazing pastries within (N41.02559° E28.97998°). Baklava is so sweet I couldn't stand a steady diet of it  but it's awesome stuff nonetheless. Here's a shot of another pastry shop on Istklal. These delectable confections are filled with pistachios and butter and are literally dripping with honey.

I have another 6 days to spend looking around. I usually try to avoid touristy spots but I will definitely visit the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque, maybe even take a cruise on the Bosphorus. I read somewhere that the Grand Bazaar gets between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors per day. If that's not a tourist spot I don't know what is.

So I guess I'll be here in this little flat in Beyoğlu for the duration. It will work out fine in the end but I wish now I hadn't committed to staying here for my entire visit. I'm not a very adventurous traveler and like having my accommodations taken care of ahead of time. That usually works out well. Sometimes it doesn't.

I miss Thailand and my lovely partner but as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. That seems to be working for us anyway. We moved to a new place a few weeks ago. The apartment we left was cheap and had some nice features but it was very noisy, especially at night. Then a couple of months ago, as if to add insult to injury, several bar girls moved in upstairs. Their evening starts after work, oh say about 2 or 3 am. After slamming some doors and entertaining their boyfriends for 3 or 4 hours they will finally turn in at 5 or 6 in the morning. You might think concrete construction would be quieter than the wood-framed apartments we're used to. Not so. It sounded like they were bowling up there.

A friend called Nut right around the time they moved in and she told us about some new townhouses available for rent in her neighborhood of Nong Hoi. We took a look and jumped right in. The rent's higher but the place is pretty fine; brand new, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, huge kitchen, all tile floors, front and back covered areas and a side yard for Nut's birds and orchids. Very uptown. At less than $400/month it's still more affordable than anything comparable in the U.S.

Our new rental in Nong Hoi. Nut's in the side yard tending her orchids.