Coming home

Well the trip is finished. What a trip it was! Considering I had very little planned, it was incredibly smooth with pretty good weather. Really I had no idea what I was going to do when I landed in Istanbul, aside that I wanted to check out the Mediterranean coast. I didn't think Syria would allow me to cross its border and thought that my trip would have been spent entirely in Turkey.

Out of the countries I've visited on this trip, I'd have to say Turkey was my favorite. Maybe it's because I spent the most time here. The highlight of my trip would be Petra, with Palmyra as a close second. Ephasus, Perge & Heirapolis were also incredible. In terms of cities, Istanbul was my favorite. Though some cities may have had more interesting history or better bargains, Istanbul is the best all around. Jerusalem would be second followed by Damascus. There were a number of small towns I fell in love with too, like Selcuk and Hama.

I had some reservations about going to the Middle East, but I'm so glad I did. It's not as scary of a place as most people think and it has so much to offer in history, food and culture. A lot of people I've met have made me feel so welcome and safe, after just minutes of talking with them. I've made a lot of friends along the way, many who are the reason this trip has been so smooth. This is definitely a place where I would come back to some day.


Across the Golden Horn

Nusretiye Camil (Mosque)Today I walked east of Sultanahmet, past the main tourist area of Istanbul, across the Golden Horn. It was quite nice. I got to see streets and neighborhoods of Turkey where the shop owners didn't speak any English, didn't try to sell me carpets and most items actually had price tags.

My first stop was the Galata Tower, a 700 year old structure that provides a really beautiful view of the surrounding area. All the major attractions can be seen from its balconies. Unfortunately most of it has been turned into a restaurant.

Leaving the tower I headed toward a church -- or so I thought. I got pretty lost and ended up walking along the Bosporus, which divides Europe and Asia. It was great as I still came across many interesting sights. My favorite was the Nusretiye Camil, in photo top left. At first I wasn't sure how to get a good photo of it, from the street it's obstructed by wires and trees. Looking around I saw a little wall that I figured I could climb up and get just enough clearance. It turned out to be a perfect view, though the people walking by gave me strange looks.

I stopped by a nice little park where I paid five Turkish lira to shoot balloons with a pellet gun, when I noticed a guy taking photos of me. Turns out he's from the U.S. and he thought I was shooting a real gun. We had a laugh about it and a nice long conversation about travels and such before going different ways.

Erdem looking professionalBy the time I started heading back to my hotel, it was getting late in the day. I decided to visit the Grand Bazaar, to do some shopping and say goodbye to a friend. That's him to the right. His name is Erdem (or Edi) and he's a very friendly 23 year old shop owner in the bazaar. He had a girlfriend from Bosnia and knew a few words in Serbian, so right away we had a fun conversation. It's always nice to meet people like him, because as a tourist most people try to rip you off. Before I'd buy anything, I'd go to his shop to ask him what a good price for it would be.

Tomorrow I won't be doing much. I may go check out a nearby aqueduct and then probably come back to the hotel to sleep. My flight is very early (5:30 am) with a six hour wait in Frankfurt. I'll try to get rested for the journey home.

A fountain in Sultanahmet:

The Misir Carsis (spice market):

St. Anthony Church:

Istiklal Caddesi, a fun street where young Turks seem to hang out:

Pigeon feeding at the Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque:

View from the Galata Tower, Sultanahmet is in the distance:

Galata Tower:

Fishing along the Galata Koprusu:


Sultanahmet Area

Topkapi Palace It was a good day in Istanbul. I took out the city map and circled a bunch of sights I wanted to see that I didn't get to see the first time I was here. I tried to make a plan of attack, as I knew I wouldn't be able to do it all in one day. I'll be here until my flight leaves on December 7, so I should have enough time to see quite a bit.

The first place I went to today is the Basilica Cistern. It's an underground chamber built by the Romans to collect water. It's a tranquil place that still collects and contains water. A walkway is built through it and drops can be heard falling down from the ceiling. The highlight of this chamber are two columns that have Medusa's head as the base. One of the heads is turned on its side and the other upside down. Archeologists haven't been able to figure out the reason behind this. Medusa heads were often put on structures to ward off evil.

Medusa headMy second stop, which took up most of my day, was the Topkapi Palace. It was closed when I was here the last time. I didn't realize that it would take up so much of my time, it's a pretty big place. There's a ton of chambers and to see and most of them are set up in a museum style, showing off the many of the sultan's artifacts and the Ottoman empire's spoils of war.

Part of the palace includes the harem chambers. These are pretty exquisite. Incredible decorations on the walls, baths in every chamber, fireplaces, couches, etc. The harem was used not only by the sultan's concubines but also by the sultan mother and the eunuchs. Its chambers were by far the most decorated of the palace and a separate admission was required to go inside.

By the time I was done with the palace, I had just enough time to get something to eat and visit the Grand Bazaar to get some ideas for gifts. If anyone would like anything from Turkey, let me know in the comments below.

Basilica Cistern:

Harem chambers in the Topkapi Palace:

Sultan's chamber in the Harem:

A display of how the concubines would have dressed:

Concubine chamber:

Topkapi Palace courtyards:

Me on the palace balcony, overlooking the Bosphorus:

A sweets shop in Istanbul:


Same shot of the Blue Mosque as during my last visit, but in different light:

Sun setting over the Blue Mosque:


Back in Istanbul!

I just had the longest day! I went to the Tel Aviv airport to catch a flight to Istanbul and I went quite early thinking that it might take a while through security. My assumption was correct. I guess I look super suspicious because after they took out all my things and thoroughly went through my backpack, they took me to a back room where they just about strip searched me. They padded me down from head to toe. I'm guessing part of it is because my travel through Syria and the other part is because I'm traveling alone.

In addition to the long security process, my plane was delayed for an hour. The gate was changed and I spent most of the day at the Ben Gurion airport. I tried to talk to whoever spoke English to make the time pass by.

At about 10:00 pm I finally arrived to the Sultanahmet area of Istanbul, where I began my trip. I'm not sure what I'll do with the two days I have left, I may just spend them relaxing in Istanbul. Though I have no photos today, I'll be sure to get some more tomorrow. There are still sights in Istanbul I have yet to visit.


Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Along Tel Aviv beachesAh, it's been a pretty lazy day in comparison to the rest of my vacation. I started off by buying a whole bunch of tasty pastries and eating them as I beachcombed for fancy seashells. Didn't find a lot, but how can I complain about walking along a beach in beautiful sunny weather, listening to the waves crash.

I walked over to Jaffa which is pretty much a Tel Aviv neighborhood. It has a very interesting history. It's repeatedly mentioned in the bible and it has inspired many stories and paintings. Unfortunately little remains of its ancient structures and artifacts have all been relocated to museums. The information centre is built over some housing remains and in a garden there are some excavations of Egyptian fortification walls thought to have been built by built by Pharaoh Ttutmose III.

Streets of JaffaWalking back to Tel Aviv, I passed through the Yemenite quarter. It's a nice little neighborhood with small houses and an interesting market. Spices, fruits, meats and popular brand rip offs are the main sell. I took a couple of pictures and continued on.

On the way to my hotel I got pretty lost. The maps in the guidebook are pretty tiny and often leave out names of streets. It wasn't so bad though, I got to see many of Tel Aviv's neighborhoods and finding my way back was pretty easy, I just asked people to point me to the Mediterranean.

Tel Aviv from Jaffa:

St. Peter's Monastery:


Yemenite market:


Tel Aviv

Jaffa in the distanceI had a bit of an adventure going to Tel Aviv from Akko. I took my first train in the middle east and it wasn't as simple (or maybe it's just me) as I thought it would be. I thought the train would be a direct one, it's on the same railway, but the train I got on wasn't going to Tel Aviv. I realized that after asking some passengers, and got off in Haifa to transfer to the correct train. In my hurry to get off, I forgot my guidebook along with my train ticket on the train.

There were to issues with that. The most obvious was that I don't know my way around Israel and without the guidebook getting around is a lot more difficult. The not so obvious issue was that getting out of a train station requires a ticket. The gates open only after you put the your ticket through.

Self portrait on the beachAt the Tel Aviv train station, I sought out the station security and explained to them what happened. To my surprise they were extremely helpful and even arranged for someone in Haifa to get my guidebook and bring it to me in Tel Aviv, at no charge. I was blown away by the service. Within an hour I had both my ticket and my guidebook and I continued on to the city centre.

There's no historical sights in Tel Aviv. It's a very modern city right on the Mediterranean coast. The beaches are clean, the weather is great and the water looks quite inviting. Directly south of Tel Aviv is a town called Jaffa. It has some historical sights, but nothing compared to the places I've been to so far. Still, I'll make the best of my time here and explore it and Tel Aviv tomorrow.

Tel Aviv on the horizon:

Fishing near Jaffa port:

An off centre photo of me by a lady who seemed to have trouble lining up the horizon:

Jaffa from Tel Aviv:

Kite surfing on Tel Aviv's beaches at sunset:


Looking for Acre

View of the Mediterranean from the city wallsThe history here is quite impressive. This place has been an important harbour since the Roman times. Remains of old columns can be found scattered around the town. Julius Caesar made an appearance here in 48 B.C. The Crusaders made this their capital after the fall of Jerusalem. Richard the Lionheart took the city during the third crusade. Marco Polo passed through on the way to the Orient and the city walls still bare the scars of Napoleon Bonaparte's artillery, when he tried to conquer it 1799.

Unfortunately, Akko is barely hanging on to its magnificent history. It doesn't seem to be a matter of money. Funding is evident by the size and state of the art tourist information centre built right in the middle of the citadel. It seems a matter of priorities. The Ottoman clocktowerThe city seems more concerned about first impressions than it does about preservation. There seems to be ongoing restoration and excavation, but what has been restored seems to be lacking maintenance and governance. Pathways seem to disappear into weeds, signs are missing or destroyed and restaurants and souvenir shops are built right on top or around the ruins. In fact, getting out of the citadel, the main attraction, people are forced to exit out of a souvenir shop. It's a shame.

Though this put a bit of a damper on my experience in Akko, I'm still quite glad I came here. I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and a great walk through the many tiny streets and passageways of the old city. At sunset I climbed up on the ramparts and watched the sun go down over the harbour.

Tomorrow I'll catch a train to Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest and most modern city; often confused as the capital.

Akko in the morning:
The only camel in the city, strangely wandering around a church yard:
Coastal walls:
Al Jazzar Mosque:
Crusader halls, recently excavated:

Templar tunnels under the city:
Old Turkish bathhouse (hammam) now a tourist sight:
Sunset over Akko:
Last photo in Akko:


Akko (Acre)

Finally I got to see the Dome of the Rock. I'm happy that I made the effort to, it's quite stunning. Even with tourists about, the mosque is quite big and people are but specs in the background. I made my way around it looking for the best light and took a number of photos. Satisfied, I returned to the hotel, packed my things and boarded the bus to Akko.

Getting to Akko wasn't as simple as most of my destinations have been. Most places on my list have been fairly popular and the bus routes have been direct. Akko it seems is visited less frequently. I had to take a bus to Haifa's southern bus station, transfer to a local bus which took me to the northern bus station and finally board a bus for Akko.

The experience was rewarding. On the way to Haifa I met Daniel, who was born in Montreal but moved to Israel as a child. We had a great conversation regarding Jewish beliefs, religions, the conflict in the area, etc. I said goodbye to him at the first bus station and on my way to the second I met a guy from Ethiopia. He told me his name but I couldn't say it, let alone write it out. He was also nice to talk with and helped me find the bus to Akko. On the way to Akko I met a German girl, Sara, who has been volunteering in Jerusalem for ten months. She told me about her experiences and it was interesting to hear how she felt about Germany's past and the Holocaust. This is one of the benefits of traveling alone, it's easy to talk to and meet people.

I didn't get a lot of time to explore Akko. It's a pretty small place and it reminds me a lot of Daman, a place I visited in India. I walked around the harbour and took some photos as the sun was going down, then I spent quite a while walking about trying to find an internet cafe. As this place is not that touristy, it was quite the task. Everyone I asked told me there isn't one in this area, but I found a coffee place that lets you use their computers if you buy a drink.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem:

Akko harbour:

Akko lighthouse: