Monday, May 11, 2015


I'm in North Carolina now, surrounded by family and enjoying the fine spring weather. I'll be in Oregon next week and back in Alaska on the 23rd.

My journey involved a week-long stop in Istanbul. I'm always amazed when the complex arrangements I made to get from Bangkok to Istanbul, then to NC, to Oregon and finally to Alaska all work out with no hitches. Every year I think I should skip the European stop over but there's always some place I want to see or something else I want to do.
Before I get to Alaska I want to finish up writing about my time in Istanbul with a collection of photos from my walkabouts there. I had promised myself I would avoid working on OpenStreetMap while I was there but as has happened so many times before, after noticing how many features were missing or incorrectly mapped I just couldn't resist. I spent quite a few hours adding POIs and because I was on foot, I paid special attention to the pedestrian walkways. It's nice to have something to do wherever I find myself, but really? (I discuss my Istanbul mapping projects at the end of this post for those who are interested.)

The location of my AirBnB flat in the Beloglu neighborhood made for a longish walk to the Sultanahmet area. This is the old city within which reside the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and virtually all the other sights visitors come to see. I had been there when I visited the Hagia Sophia and had enjoyed the stroll over the Golden Horn on the big Galata Bridge. The only downside was the walk back. That's because Beloglu is on a small but significant hill. After I discovered the Tunel tram, a two-stop funicular train that runs up and down the hill, my jaunts became quite a bit easier.

The Basilica Cistern

My first stop was at this ancient water storage facility built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I around 534 AD. These days there's only enough water in it to give tourists a photo opp but it's a huge underground cistern capable of storing 21 million gallons of water and was a source of drinking water for Constantinople, Istanbul's ancient predecessor. Historical texts claim that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of the cistern. There is a famous upside-down Medusa head at the base of one of the 336 marble columns that support the roof of the chamber. The columns were recycled from the ruins of older buildings in other parts of the Roman Empire.

Medusa Head - shown upright
I got to the Blue Mosque on the following day. It is the only heavily traveled building I've been in that requires you to remove your shoes before entering. It's possibly also the only place of this size whose entire floor is covered with fine carpets. It was impressive.

Dome of the Blue Mosque (N41.00532° E28.97682°)
The ornate columns supporting the dome need to be seen with some sort of frame of reference in order to appreciate how massive they are.

Here in this place that is so holy to Muslims I found myself walking among people who embrace a religion that tolerates radical members who believe that any person not subscribing to their brand of theism should be killed. All religion is bad in my opinion because rather than teaching tolerance practitioners strive to marginalize or even eliminate those who disagree. I reckon the sort of passion that can erect a mosque like this one or a cathedral like Notre Dame can also drive people to kill one another. WWJD? Or if you're Muslim, WWMD?

Upon leaving the mosque and casting about for a cup of coffee I got these photos of the Hagia Sophia (N41.00883° E28.97949°) and people strolling in the nearby gardens.

Two views of the Hagia Sophia

There are a few other structures dating from earlier times scattered here and there that I thought worthy of a photo. Dating from 1728 at the time of the Ottoman Empire, the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III is one. The water came from a pool inside this ornate kiosk and was supplied to people through one of four facades, each of which has a drinking fountain.

I wandered around the area enjoying the old buildings for a while before turning homeward. One annoying part of these trips to the old city is the number of rug merchants that try to coax you into their shops. At first I was pleased to be meeting all these friendly people inviting me to share some coffee or tea with them. A fellow would approach me and say, Hello, where are you from? I'd reply, Alaska. Oh, I have  a brother (uncle, son) there. Where are you going? To have a cup of coffee and then visit the Basilica. Oh, don't bother, I will make you  some coffee. Really? Sure, come this way. My friend and I have a little shop over here. We sell these beautiful rugs, and jewelry.

Finally after the second or third of these "chance meetings" I caught on. What a dummy! I'm so eager to make friends that I couldn't see the pitch coming until it was too late. I started deflecting these touts by looking straight ahead and not breaking my stride until their pleas faded into the background.

On my next to last day in Istanbul I made the walk to the Grand Bazaar. It was pretty cool but markets only interest me in a small way — I seldom buy anything because I have no way to bring stuff back in my single suitcase and little interest in owning more "things" in the first place — and so I enjoyed the market for what else it was, a historical artifact. It has something like twenty entrance gates and contains about 60 small avenues or walkways, many of which are roofed over. Each avenue is lined with shops, there are approximately 5,000 shops inside, selling everything from carpets and silks, clothing, pottery, food and drink, housewares, to lamps and leather goods; jewelry and gold shops are plentiful as well. Wikipedia tells me it receives between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors every day. Luckily, on the day I went it wasn't heavily crowded.

An entrance to Kapalicarsi, the Grand Bazaar - Gate 1

Lamp shop - Grand Bazaar

I was getting hungry and when I left the market through Gate 20 immediately opposite was a sidewalk cafe offering a buffet of traditional Turkish food. The lunch at the Historical Subasi Restaurant (N41.01064° E28.96980°) was one of the best meals I had during my stay.

Again my walk home led over the huge multi-level Galata Bridge: 6 lanes of vehicular traffic, 2 commuter rail tracks with 20 foot wide pedestrian walkways on each side. And that's only the top layer. The lower level has walkways along both sides and those are lined with restaurants and night clubs.

Galata Bridge Restaurants (41.018735, 28.972467)

Galata Bridge- fishermen
(The man at left isn't baiting his hook. The fish he's grasping is his catch.)
The Golden Horn and the Attaturk Bridge
View north from the Galata Bridge
I was up early the next day, a Sunday, and saying goodbye to the little flat and to Beyoglu grabbed a $25 taxi ride to the airport for the long trip to North Carolina.

OSM Notes:

Despite my intention to concentrate on touring Istanbul and to keep my Open Street Map addiction under control I gave in early on and did quite a bit of mapping. Because I had rented an apartment for the entire 8 day stay and didn't want to pay out money to stay elsewhere I was sort of tied to the city. That left me with quite a bit of free time and free time means mapping. If I had done it another way, and in hindsight wished I had, I might've have taken some guided tours, or journeyed to the countryside. Instead, I filled my spare time with mapping the areas I walked through.

The biggest effort was in adding and enhanced the footways on both ends of the large Galata Bridge complex. When I started my Istanbul walks there was only one pedestrian tunnel showing at either end of the bridge, no way connecting to the tram stops, few footways and no tagging for wheelchair access. Nor were the Tunel tram stations easy to find. The screenshot below shows the northern end of the bridge and the numerous tunnels and walkways that have been added to the area.
Galata Bridge - northern terminus - 
I also added many shops and other details along Istiklal Avenue. The Bing imagery there is not very good and to make matters worse is not aligned well with reality — there is an offset that must be applied to bring it into line . In addition, the tall buildings exerted a deleterious effect on the accuracy of my GPS tracks. They wandered all over the place.

Screenshot from JOSM - GPS at Main Entrance to the mall
To get some idea of the magnitude of the error I suspected was present, I recorded the average coordinates of a point at the main entrance of the Demiroren mall on Istiklal Avenue. My Garmin GPS has the capability to take many samples and average them over a period of time, in this case ten minutes. That averaged point deviated significantly from the apparent location of the entrance as you can see in the above screenshot. But the Bing imagery is so skewed that if one was to reposition the Bing layer using that offset, all the streets and other features in the entire area would need to be moved to reflect the change. This would cause many of those streets to appear as if they were going right through buildings. In the end, I left it everything as it was and tried to place my POIs as well as possible.

In Closing:

The other day as I was driving back to my daughter's after a few days down in Clemson with my old college buddy Terry, I turned on my iPhone and ran Google Maps alongside of my Garmin GPS. It was an interesting comparison that led to some disturbing questions. Considering the amount of work I do on OSM and all the potential I see for crowd-sourced mapping, Google with its immense financial resources has developed a navigation product that will be difficult to supplant. What's not to like about an app that runs on an ordinary smartphone that talks to you with a sweet voice, displays the passing countryside in three flavors; just roads, roads and terrain, roads and satellite imagery, or all of the above with traffic reporting thrown in for good measure? It makes me think I shouldn't be spending so much time adding land cover, lakes, ponds, forests and marshes to my favorite regions on OSM. I mean, won't OSM be able to display satellite imagery at some point in the future just as GM does now thereby making my hard work redundant or even, perish the thought, superfluous?