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Doreen's Turkey diary

Aya Sofya AKA Sancta Sophia AKA Hagia Sofia

September 22, 2000

Iíve never felt more like a guest in a foreign country than I do in Turkey. The people are extremely helpful, friendly and kind, even to a couple of loonies who wear binoculars all the time and stare at Laughing Doves every 15 minutes. Iím not too sure why, but (knock on wood) everything is very easy in Istanbul. The only exception, and the one thatís driving us mad, is the difficulty in connecting to the internet. Hopefully weíll be able to e-mail and update more often once we figure out how to actually get online.

Weíve spent our first four nights at the Otel Turkmen. Itís located just outside the tourist district, in the old city and I canít say enough about how much I love that area. Even though weíre just five minutes away from the famous mosques, the narrow maze-like streets are filled with locals working and playing among the aging and less popular ruins. The hotel itself is cheap and cheerful, with a slightly unkempt feel to it. It may not be for everyone but it definitely worked for us. Actually, it worked so well weíre returning to the hotel on Saturday and are going to spend more time in Istanbul than we originally planned. After talking to a fellow birder, we are now changing our itinerary and are not going to visit the Black Sea coast - apparently itís very difficult to bird that area without a team of trained ornithologists. Now weíre planning to stay around Istanbul and then head to Izmir.

Although we havenít seen many of the tourist sites in Istanbul, one that we did see - and adored - was the Aya Sofya. Simply amazing! The history alone is mind boggling, but the fact that it existed almost two thousand years ago, first as a church and then as a mosque, is incredible. Weíve also been walking from one end of the old city to the other and, aside from a couple of steep hills, the walks are very pleasurable.

The biggest thrill for us has been the migration of birds over the Bosphorus. On Sunday we went to Camlica Park on the Asian side of Istanbul, and stood for hours (pretty much the whole day) with fellow birders and watched various species of bird rise above the city and swirl around the strait on their way south for the winter.

After Istanbul we traveled to Uludag, a mountain resort near Bursa, and then to Bandirma, a non-descript seaside town. Birding in both places turned out to be quite successful for us and some day we may put a book together: Birding by Mass Transit - not recommended for the die-hard twitcher.

Tomorrow we return to Istanbul via the Bandirma ferry. On Sunday weíll go back to Camlica Park to view the hawk migration, and hope other birders are around to shout out what birds weíre looking at.

October 3, 2000

Here we are in a tiny Turkish Mediterranean town, hundreds of miles away from anywhere we originally planned to visit. Funny how that happens. Last week we returned to Istanbul and to the cozy, familiar Otel Turkmen. The hotel, either because they were happy to have us back or because their busy season was over, treated us to a complimentary bump-up to a better room. It was slightly larger than our previous room and had a balcony with a splendid view of the Sea of Marmara. The weather, which had been hot and humid, changed to cold and rainy which unfortunately put a slight damper on our birding plans. We did manage to salvage a few good days at Camlica Park during the week and witnessed an astounding number of Lesser Spotted Eagles flying over - fourteen thousand in one afternoon, but hey, whoís counting? Well, actually a few people really are. Then we ask them how many birds weíve just seen.

Last weekend we hooked up with a fellow birder and went to central Anatolia. Kari is an expert birder who is very familiar with all the local birding hot-spots. He kindly drove us from one place to another, constantly identifying all the birds for us. On Saturday we racked up a total of eighteen new species and all of our thanks go to Kari since, without his knowledge and transportation, it would not have been possible. This was our best day yet and Iím sure a difficult one to top.

On Kariís recommendation we decided not to return to Istanbul, but to continue down to the Goksu Delta on the Southern coast of Turkey. Our first overnight stop was in a town called Konya. I wasnít a big fan of this place, and not just because itís strictly Muslim and a cold beer is harder to find than a Catholic cathedral. The problem was that we arrived pretty late in a place we were clueless about. We spent too much money on a taxi to take us to the center of town, whereas we should have just hopped on a dolmus (mini van) from the bus station. Also, everything in the center was closing as we were trying to get our wits together. It didnít help that we were starving and exhausted after birding for 12 hours and then being on a bus for another 3 1/2 hours after that. Anyway, the next day we moved on rather quickly, and happily arrived in Tasucu sometime in the afternoon. Tasucu is best known as the ferry connection to Cyprus. It gets the thumbs down from Lonely Planet, but once again I would beg to differ. This small town, not too developed yet, is right on the Mediterranean with lovely views of the sea and the mountains.

October 7, 2000

Istanbul - I canít believe Iím still in Istanbul. (Just couldnít wait until Saigon for that quote). Two issues that we havenít mentioned yet, and which may be of some interest to someone, are the budget and vegetarianism. We started our trip with a vague idea that we shouldnít spend more than $90 per day in most countries, excluding Australia and New Zealand. This figure takes into account that we are going to be spending some time in pretty pricey wildlife resorts which is why it may sound a bit high. Right now, our average in Turkey is around $75 per day, but it could be done comfortably on about $60 per day. The additional money was spent on taxi cab rides to get us to the more remote birding areas. We avoided spending money in cafes and bars or on specifically touristy things like Turkish night clubs and Turkish baths. We also havenít spent any money on souvenirs, which works out fine because we have absolutely no space to spare in our backpacks.

Vegetarian meals on the whole were pretty easy to find. Even the meatiest of restaurants had side dishes of vegetables. The one important point that we always had to double-check was that sometimes chicken and fish werenít considered meat by the waiters.


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