The "Dam, The Danube and TheDardanelles One trip, three places, six cities

HI. Following my little trip to India last year I am now spending a few days away a bit closer to home and definitely with a different flavour. A few of you enjoyed the last travelogue, a few of you looked at the pictures only and a few of your ignored the whole lot. Few I would imagine read through to the end, so the good news is, this is shorter at only eleven days so if you fancy tagging along please do so.

Anyway I reckon i got about at least as many followers as Kurupt FM, innit. :-)

Anyway first stop Amsterdam. And my last stop too on the round trip. Fairplay. I would imagine the majority of you will have taken the short trip over the channel, for a stag or hen or whatever, a lot of Brits do The "Dam. The real question is how many of you really remember it. There is a chunk of my mates on here especially who will vaguely recall going, but have no idea how they got back, what they got up to, nor what that persistent rash was for weeks after. Anyway I am gonna look round and see if I can find a few new bits to bring light to.

After 24 hours there, I am off to Istanbul, somewhere I have long wanted to go and surely one of the most fabulous and historic places in the world. Think Rome had a few dramas. Minor scuffles. Think Athens was where it all went on. A library. Compared to Istanbul.

So I shall look forward to bestriding the Bosphorous for 6 days or so, bringing Byzantine to life, Constantinople to conscious and Istanbul as it now called in its third incarnation (4th actually - it was for a while called 'New Rome)" firmly into focus both historically and as it is today. Then a few days in Budapest and finally 3 days back in Amsterdam before the short flight home to Spain.

For anyone that takes an interest thank you. For those that don't give a stuff, thank you. And for those who wanna punch me in the throat, thank you too.

I love you all.

Day 1 - 29 Mar - Alicante to Amsterdam

Looks like I have been on the funny fags already and only just landed....

Great flight over and easy through the airport. I have every flight boarding pass, every visa and every Air BnB ticket all downloaded into my apple 'Wallet" a single app that takes every, single, stress there is out of flying and accommodation as we used to know it. So a stroll through at both ends and quick hop on a tram to the harbour to find the 1908 sailboat I am staying on for the night. Find it no hassle, the harbour is wicked and the boat almost as charming as the youngish adventurer of an owner, Wamme, a top bloke, with a lust for life and a love of sailing, who alternates between hosting and running sailing trips under full mast.

Note: The title picture of this blog is the boat in full sailing kit.

I bunk in, charge up the gadgets and set off for a wander at around 7pm. First stop Red light district, which was fairly quiet and mostly populated with young giggling couples, the real nights shenanigans yet to settle in. However in that half hour or so, I must have finally grown extremely handsome 'cos I had a tonne of girls wink and blow kisses at me, amongst other things. The Blanche good looks have finally surfaced from under the grey craggy features that normally inhabit my visage.

That done Wamme had recommended a top place to eat something out of the ordinary and well, well off the beaten track. Sold.

Walking left from Amsterdam Central and following the waters edge I pass some outstanding restaurants in the harbour really spectacular. But he told me to skip them and just keep walking until I was in almost darkness at the waters edge.

Now thats what I call I Chinese, on the waters edge.

Just wow....but walked past this too to find......

Hannekes Boom - Amsterdams best kept secret

The bottom of the three, by far the less glamourous was absolutely rocking. It was kind of hipster place, a great guitarist in the corner, and just a wicked feel, you know like you get in a post ski bar in The Alps or a mid climb open fire hostel as you're trekking. Loved it, made some new mates, had the best steak and when replete headed back to my luxury yacht!!! A good night well spent, and earlier in the evening between these things I had searched out a group of like minded people and ended up speaking at the meeting for a half hour, which was incredible and met some real proper people.

Day 2 30/3 - Amsterdam to Ataturk

Not one for missing out, I had wanted to cover a few bits off today before getting the midday train back to Schipol, so I was up and off the boat at 5.30, had my luggage stowed at Amsterdam Central station by half six (they have a terrific leave and collect locker system there if ever you are passing through and wanna dump your gear while you muck around the city unencumbererd), and headed to the Museum district.

Obligatory pose outside Rijksmuseum

Complete knob that I am, posh and all that, I adore Rembrandt as my second favourite artist (after Rubens who painted women of a more 'rotund' nature hence the term Rubenesque though not the reason I revere him). But Rembrandt to me is the cream of the Dutch crop, (though Wamme the Dutchman boat owner said he was Hollands most boring painter). Anyway Rijksmusuem it was, did the important floors on 2, then 1, and spent an hour and a half enjoying Holland's best. Great building, some awesome works, and, and......and anyway I'll bore the pants off you even more so will leave it there.

Rembrandt et al

I hadn't mentioned I have a couple of co-travellers and old long term friends who are joining me at parts en route, one in Istanbul and another upon my return to Holland next Friday. So in light of this and not being sure on their own tastes in trudging round museums I wanted to knock the Musuem quarter off especially, in the first day here, so at the end of next week we can meet up and properly chill.....canals and clubs and cafes and all that to follow in part two. Culture likely to be at a minimum (is my hope)...

I had a spare ten minutes, they were impressed with my physique so took a quick bronze mould.

So with the clock ticking to midday and my check in time, I reckoned I had about 50 minutes to squeeze in part two if I ran a bit, so being the man of culture I am I managed to take in everything major at the other great place here...

Van Gogh, complete nut job but helluva painter. Much smaller museum but packed and great if you like sunflowers.

So,an easy ride back to Schipol, (the tram and train system in Amsterdam is as uncomplicated as it gets), and off to Turkey. Flew Atlas who were good, the hostesses all apperently models and the food and drinks all free so that was nice.

Touchdown at Ataturk

Until that is, arrival at passport control at Ataturk. What a joke. I had a pre loaded e-visa and hand luggage only so expected to skip through and be at my hotel 7-ish. But the queue at passsport control was a horror show. Now I have collected my luggage from a disused underground car park at Nairobi airport (being asked to bribe them just to get our cases handed over if I faintly recall), but nothing compared to this. It's a nice airport don't get me wrong. And the normal metal cattle grid queuing system you see everywhere. But each 'row' was 100 metres long. That's a long way before getting to the end and walking back past the same faces for another 100 metres.

And there were 12 rows. Full to the brim.

An hour and a half in already

That's a lap short of a mile queuing just to get your passport stamped. So that's two and a half hours I'll never get back. Heh ho. I made it I guess

One thing I hate, abhor and revile is taxi drivers at foreign airports. See a tourist and they rip the arse out of you. Saw it all over India, in fact anywhere I have been. So I refuse to do it now. Having done my home work I had pre bought an Istanbul equivalent Oyster card, jumped on the metro for a couple of stops, google mapped some very dodgy backstreets and found my hotel, 15 minutes max from the airport with zero issue. Basic, but clean and close which for a few hours is all I wanted pending my weekend co-traveller turning up tomorrow.

Asked the hotel porter where I might go to eat he said there are 6 restaurants in the next street . "Great" I said. But he then smiled and added the caveat that everyone one of them was a kebab house.......lol. Anyway it was bloody good.

Still awake, 5.35am here so a solid 24 hours up and a lot done. No point sleeping now. Today is gonna be awesome.........nn x

Ps exactly as I sign off at 5.40, the call to prayer has just started across the city, over loudspeakers.

Istanbul awakes.....

Day 3 - 31 Mar - Istanbul

I wake so early that in fact I never got to sleep which often happens when I travel. So I am up and roaming the back streets off the back streets where I had stayed just for the night. English is certainly not as widely spoken here as in Amsterdam where everyone is fluent, so striking up conversations is hard. But I chat outside and smoke some cigarettes with the young hotel manager. His English is good and he had done a degree in hotel studies etc. But I quickly find my way of striking up conversations in Turkish. It is easy. I simply point at him and say "Fenerbache" or "Galatasaray" (the two fierce rivals teams in Istanbul - think Barca / Real Madrid) and I am soon in animated conversation in the universal language that is Football.

Me new mate Umut and I

Phone charges crippled me on my last trip so as I did in Amsterdam I find a TECHNIK shop and arrange data and call sims for my phones and iPad. The young lad in the store, Afad, speaks not a word of English let alone faux cockney (which is what I seem to have acquired over the years), so we conduct the conversation by sitting side by side and taking turns to type into Google translate. It is effective and we have a pleasant half hour conversation by keyboard and my internet etc is sorted for the next 5 days here. Another job done.

Jo, my half Turkish flying travelling partner and friend of 30 years or so is landing at around One pm so I do some bits and bobs and then go to the airport, find a cafe and expect a 3 hour wait for her to clear customs. I must have landed on a bad day as she is through in an hour and its great to see her.

She is here for the weekend as may fly on to see her parents in Cyprus, one off whom is currently rather poorly, so suits all parties and I am really pleased for the company for a couple of days of my adventure. I know we will have a laugh and her knowledge of the language (and what to eat) is a real boon too.

Old Mates in a strange land.

So as explained before it would be easy to get a taxi from the airport to the old town where I have booked what likes a wicked apartment, bang centre of where you wanna be. It sleeps 4 in comort, is a whole flat, has a sauna and steam room on the premises and looks over the Bosphorous, all boxes ticked for me. And the cost is about twenty quid each a night, which again shows you do your research you can get these amazing places fof next to nothing.

But as previously mentioned airport taxis ain't my thing so we take the metro toward Sultnahamet, get off, get a tram to within five minutes, then walk down a steep hill toward the coast and find our place. It is simply beautiful. The greeting could not have been warmer and our host "Errol Flynn' is funny as you like and gives us coffee and we talk for an hour or so. And work out a rough itinerary for the next two and a bit days. I say rough 'cos I cant be doin with all that planning - I need to know generally bits I wanna cover off, and then go get lost and see what I find. The weekend is plenty to do this.

Home for a few days. Our man Errol.

Having gone 40 hours straight without sleep I am not in the mood for anything too frantic for the evening so Errol advises us there is a restaurant that sits under the bridge that crosses the vast expanse of the Bosphorous, a fish restaurant, so we book. The restaurant provides a free taxi to come get us, we are met on the bridge by the restaurant owner and he takes us down along the amazing promenade. From our window seat we can see two sides of western Istanbul and look across at Asia too. It is stunning at night.

And the food. Oh my goodness. Istanbul was founded by Thracians about 1000 yrs + bc and settled by the Greeks in about BC 600, and they set up here as this narrow stretch of water that runs down from the Black Sea to the sea of Marmara and the Med beyond. This meant it was a one way channel for fish migrating throughout the year from the cold north to the warm south, so, put a net across the stretch and fish were in abundance like no where else. It is also the transport lane from eastern to western worlds so early shipping traders had little option but to sail down it, providing ludicrous tolls for whomever owned Istanbul at whatever stage. And it was Greek owned for around 300 odd years before the Roman Empire started expanding and decided they wanted a piece of the action, naming it Byzantine once they had sacked and taken it from the Greeks a couple of hundred bc . War after war was fought as nations and empires fought for control of this little stretch of water, and eventually in about 330 AD King Constantine took complete charge and renamed it Constantinople. More Ottoman invasions and ownership, then the Christian crusaders had a short victory and tenure of about 60 years in the 13th century until finally the Ottomans imposed total Muslim rule in 1453.

Thus the emerging Ottoman Empire who went on to control most of the ancient world, much as the Greeks and the Romans had done before them, and have by far the biggest stamp on the city of Istanbul. But it has various stages been Greek, with all their gods, Roman with theirs and where Roman Empire was actually run for a while, and many other things. Layer upon layer of history is here and often revealed, if you look hard enough.

The Muslim Ottomans came and ruled thereafter up until the First World War when after the demise of the whole empire, Ataturk, 'king of the turks' decided to modernise the city, ban all Sultanates and rulers and gave the city back to the people decreeing it a republic. He is hugely revered here is and largely responsible for the city of Istanbul being brought into modern times as it now is.

Politics are always going to play a part in a city at the single point in the world where east meets west and this is borne out buy the current struggles and conflicts present to this day.

But it has such a flux of influences, Greek, Roman, Christian, Muslim all having at one stage called this place home. In the early years the Asian side also held great cities from where Istanbul was constantly attacked. This place has been under siege for nearly three and a half thousand years such is its import, linking as Far East as to Japan to as far west as the US.

So there we go.

So I started that monlogue on fish and so back to our dinner. And it was amazing. Pictures might do this a bit more justice.

An adjacent Mosque whose name escapes me

The deep blackness for the Bosporous

Table seat across the waters

This little lot was brought to the table for our delectation

We chose a whole 1.5 kilo Sea Bass, and cooked baked in salt as is my preference. Good choice as it turned out.

The Bosporous ferry passes.

Somewhere between a prawn and a lobster started us off

The owner was a top notch bloke, a Turkish couple behind us got engaged and the live duo where good though the music wasn't anything MC Grinder woulda picked. But fitting.

And then the main turned up. Now my mother does this dish and I have cooked it 3 or 4 times myself, a whole fish baked in salt, but here the approach and delivery was slightly different. It was worth the entry fee alone and I have never experienced such expertise with fish, (by a bloke called a fish surgeon) as here. It was pretty wow and the whole restaurant I could see wished they has picked what we had.

Moby Dick, plated

Much to my and the adjoining diners amusement, the whole thing is suddenly set ablaze and a little bonfire is started in our corner of the restaurant. The fish had been baked in salt in the oven for 40 minutes, another layer of salt and egg wash is then added and it is finished off guy fawkes style by the restaurant manager and his fellow arsonists.

Had worse dinners.......

The fish was then expertly released from its salt prison, cracked off with a hammer and expertly deboned, and we enjoy a wonderful meal, and an unforgetttable view. We pay (a bit London price-ish but reasonable and worth every TL) and are escorted back atop the bridge where our restaurant car service was waiting and which transports us the 15 mins or so back to ┬┤home┬┤. A sensational dinner, a great end to the day and having just eaten about a kilo of the freshest bass I have ever tasted, I immediately flop exhausted to bed to get pretty much my first sleep in close to 50 hours. I sleep well.......

Day 4 - 1 Mar - Sultanahmet and The Old City

Again I am up early having passed out the night before and go sit on the roof terrace for a smoke and a bit of catching up on the news etc, I have coffee and at 7-ish wander the local backstreets, still mostly asleep and shuttered. But I find a delicious bakery, and despite having consumed a whale last night, am hungry, my appetite re awakened after skimping on food the previous two days as I had been at a fairly frenetic pace, in Amsterdam especially. I buy all sorts of pastries and goodies and sweets (and a box of Turkish delight of course), along with some authentic coffee.

Me and something phallic nicked from Egypt by the Turks

The Blue Mosque

Jo Jo, whose Turkish for 'nah mate' escapes us the frequent though polite requests from would be guides and flying carpet salesmen etc

Decent tile work

And struck lucky with the weather....18 degrees or so

So the Blue Mosque done, its is impressive as you would expect, but none more so than the inside of St Peters or Sacre Coeur or the like. But indeed beautiful.

Opposite and up the street a bit is the slightly smaller Hagia Sofia. This had an accessible gallery level where you could perhaps gain a better aspect of the Mosque from on high. The Arabic writings everywhere I find extremely beautiful.

We meet the occasional hawkers who are about as unpushy as anywhere I have encountered. Mostly I end up talking to them in Turkish ie "Fenerbache, Galatasary?' now even adding "Besiktas?' To my repertoire. With each and all of the soft salesmen I meet I come away having had a laugh and a chat with them, sharing cigarettes and football stories (mine mainly involving Les Ferdinand a QPR legend who played out here)'. Rather than pushing sellers away as in India, I really enjoyed engaging in the conversations, not once even remotely buying anything but all in such humour that it became a fun part of the day for me much to the waiting Jo's dismay.

Haggard bloke in front of Hagia Sofia
Stunning caligraphy
An early Christian example still evident in a Mosque indicative of the different uses of the same buildings
Different signs denote people, this the prophet Mohammed I think
or its this one...

So that was the two main mosques covered off, at a leisurely pace and we decided to go see a bit of Roman genius before stopping for a kebab which I had my sights firmly set on. So a bit of a quick dip underground for the old Basikica Cistern, better described below than I can so The Cistern was......

So there, 1500 year old reservoirs built right under the city. What did the Romans ever do for us........
A phantom at the opera
Medusa
Though a little 'Oops upside your head ...'
And the architect and his boys clearly been down the pub lunchtime before finishing this one off....
End of part 1

So whilst I love the format of these adobe blogs, I am only up to lunchtime on day four, a third of the way through my trip, and it gets tiresome scrolling down for updates or pictures for those that are following. So I will sign off here and start a fresh page tomorrow, starting after lunch and amongst the most incredible of places I have visited anywhere, the Topkapi Palace.

If you have reached this far I hope you have enjoyed at least some of it and will join me in part two

Rich x

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.