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Orient Express To Istanbul

July 22, 2007

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We got snuggled into our large and brand new sleeping cabin as our train chugged towards Istanbul from Ankara. Our soul traveling gang adds another new method of travel on our round the world trip with our first train sleeping cabin! We were quite impressed and so very grateful that we did not have to take the night bus again and try to sit up and sleep.

Normally the busses are the best way to travel distances in Turkey and it is what most of the people take because it is a great system that is more luxurious than most countries. In fact,we did take another bus from Cappadocia to Ankara the capital. We enjoyed that two hour ride and met some nice people, especially the lady behind us who was fond of Mozart and another little girl. Later we saw that she was met by her young grandson. We did not speak each others language, but we communicated just fine and the girls joined her from their seats behind and in front of her.

I was warned not to take any trains in Turkey - except this one. It makes the travel time slightly longer by train, but is absolutely worth it to get a good night sleep in a prone position under new sheets and covers in a private space. It was really pretty similar to a new ferry cabin which we are quite used to now, only much cheaper. There is a bathroom and shower and beds that fold down and can also be used as chairs. The chugging and swaying is a slightly different rhythm and Mozart was sad to skip the attractive dining car, but sleep was our priority, so we went straight to bed.

I do not know what the original Orient Express looked like, but this one certainly suited us just fine and we enjoyed the adventure! I woke up early and watched the sun rise over a beach area as we drew closer to what was once Constantinople as Mozart and DaVinci slept.

Istanbul is a very beautiful city somewhat similar to San Francisco or Barcelona at first glance since it is a sunshiny busy port. It is a huge, sprawling city of fourteen million people. Home to three mighty empires in the past, I was surprised to find it to be such a familiar and inviting modern European city. Some how the name Istanbul conjures up exotic imagery, and that is there if one hunts it down, but it was more like Rome or Paris than the Moroccan cities we visited.

We arrived just in time to take the ferry with a bunch of commuters heading off to their days work. The train arrives on the Asian side and Sultanhamet (the heart of the Old Istanbul where we stayed) is on the European side. Istanbul has the unique and envied  position, as a city that straddles Asia and Europe. What bountiful geography, cultural and history home school lessons and discussions we will have on this “field trip” location!

Taking the ferry might be old hat to the affluent commuters, but watching them order their Turkish tea that is hand delivered to each and taking in the awesome beauty of this unique ride was thrilling for us. One could not help but conjure up images of Jason and the Argonauts, Constantine the Great, Mehmet the Conquerer and Suleyman the Magnificent as we floated in their history filled wake.

It is amazing to be able to go back and forth so quickly between two continents, so much easier than when Jason and the Argonauts sailed through in search of the Golden Fleece! It is the only place in the world that one can be transported from one continent to another in fifteen minutes on a ferry (for the grand sum of a euro).

We stayed at a cute but modest budget hotel in the beautiful Old Sultanahmet section very near
the very expensive Four Seasons Hotel and extremely close to all the major sites. The Hanedan (www.hanedanhotel.com) was pretty and clean, but the stairs were definitely a minus and the first night was very loud due to a birthday party next door. Watch out for the Ionian room or those that face in
that direction as I had picked this one because friends said it was very quiet.

The best part was the terrace on top where breakfast was served with spectacular views and there was wifi connection as well. The Ayasofya looked almost close enough to touch and the nearby sea and sea breezes were very nurturing. Mozart loved the names of the rooms and wanted to stay in the “Troy” room, but we left before it was available.

The Sultanhamet is where most tourists stay and it is a very charming area and we were off in a quiet corner. They say that the Four Seasons was made from the actual prison where “Midnight Express” (which the Turks hate and has many inaccuracies) was suppose to have taken place and political prisoners incarcerated, but you would never know it today as it is a five star hotel.

We enjoyed just walking around this captivating area of Istanbul. We spotted a few of those Van cats with one blue eye and one yellow eye that we had heard about that are native to Van, Turkey. We also liked the Ottoman dressed men who sold cherry juice much like the water men in Marrakech. Yes, it is hokey and touristy, but really fun stuff for a kid and a chance to see some native dress.

We did not drink the cherry juice just to be careful, but DaVinci did error on lemonade at the Grand Bazaar for Mozart as we were much more lax in Turkey than we were in Morocco because it looks a lot cleaner. Sure enough, both Mozart and DaVinci got sick in Turkey and Mozart woke suddenly at two in the morning and vomited half thru one of our nights in Istanbul, although she was fine in the morning. Her groggy parents did get some medicine easily at a pharmacy the next day, but she did not seem to need it much thankfully.

“Static” in his “quick and dirty” guide to Turkey on Bootsnall (www.bootsnall.com) suggested “Doy Doy” restaurant and I have read other high praise. We were happy to get it as yummy food delivered to our air conditioned room after a long hot day of walking and touring. As a family we tend to like to do lunches out and adore dinner “room service” if we can get it as it is easier to get a young child to bed on time for early touring (due to the heat.)

Thanks to Static, Justine and lots of people there and elsewhere, I got lots of good help in planning things. “Whereforart”, a new lawyer who went to Turkey in May, went out of her way to help me and Murat and others on Fodors forums also helped. Thanks again!

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