Back to Japan: Osaka

Another adventure begins with boxing up our two bicycles and heading to the airport. Bicycles and airplanes, however, are a headache. I found a decent price to Narita from İstanbul and figured I could add the Antalya-İstanbul leg later. Nope. It was going to cost hundreds of dollars (US$700? or was it US$900?) to fly with our bikes to İstanbul. I had never seen such pricey flights for that route before.

Buses, however, were reasonable — less than US$100 for two people with bicycles, including a taxi in Antalya, an overpriced porter in Esenler (where we transferred), and even some meals. I had never taken a bus from Antalya to the İstanbul airport before. Turned out to be easy.

That overnight bus ride was followed by an overnight flight to Narita via an early morning layover in Ulaanbataar where I was able to stretch out and sleep a bit. I’ve never been to Mongolia. Here’s what it looks like taking off in the morning at the beginning of November.

The only bit of Mongolia I've seen -- from the air leaving Ulaanbataar airport by bryandkeith on flickr

On the Japan end our only business in Tokyo was to drop off the bikes at the hotel where we’d be staying three weeks later. Our goal was to get to Kyoto to meet my Dad. That meant another overnight journey (!) — a bus from Tokyo to Osaka.

Dropping our luggage in Tokyo was easy (as was the Narita to Tokyo bus):

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North Macedonia: Ohrid and Skopje

We left our heroes on a cold morning trying to hitchhike from Florina to Bitola. Turned out to be quite easy. We got our first ride before even leaving the town of Florina. A student took us to the university at the edge of the populated area. From there we walked for perhaps over an hour before a friendly local gave us a ride all the way to Bitola. He spoke both Greek and Macedonian, but no English or Turkish.

It isn’t all that crazy to expect Turkish out here. There are Turkish-speaking villages just over the border in North Macedonia, and in fact the Macedonian border guard spoke Turkish. Crossing the border was so easy we didn’t even have to get out of the car!

We were dropped at the bus station in Bitola, and immediately a bus was leaving for Ohrid. The next one was about seven hours later so we left Bitola right away even though we had wanted to see the Atatürk exhibit at the local museum. At Atatürk’s birth house in Thessaloniki we had learned that he attended a military academy in Bitola (aka Manastır), something I hadn’t realized on my first visit to Bitola.

Our original plan after Thessaloniki was to go to Kavala and hop on ferries to İzmir (Çeşme?). Bektaş somehow learned that one-way tickets from Skopje to Antalya were going for 70 euro. Heck, that’s less than we’d be spending on ferries, and isn’t Oliver staying in Ohrid now? We could visit him as well! Turns out the flight tickets were only 60 euro, and Oliver said, yes, come visit. He was waiting at the Ohrid bus station for us.

I visited North Macedonia only 18 months earlier for the first time and went to both Ohrid and Skopje. Somehow I’ll try to make this blog a little different from that one. I might fail, however, so you can stop here if you’re tired of picturesque Ohrid photos.

IMG_20231016_154339 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Greek Macedonia: Kavala and Thessaloniki

Another (short) visit to Greece — my 4th. It was the first time Ferda or I had visited the Macedonian part of Greece, the east-west strip stretching from Albania to Turkey, bordering (North) Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Our first stop was Kavala. We arrived after dark:

IMG_20231011_203351 by bryandkeith on flickr

It looks like this during the day:

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European Turkey: Edirne and Uzunköprü

For years I’ve wanted to go to Edirne to see Mimar Sinan’s crowning achievement, the pinnacle of Ottoman architecture — Selimiye Camii. Ferda and I were already in İstanbul, and it looks so close on the map. However, with inconvenient bus stations in both in İstanbul and Edirne, it took us most of the day to travel between these two cities. (It didn’t help that we got a late start, hadn’t bought a ticket ahead of time, and the first two departures were full.)

IMG_20231009_175814 by bryandkeith on flickr

Additionally, oops! Yes, that’s Selimiye Mosque, one of Turkey’s few UNESCO sites, closed for a four-year restoration project. I’m sure I could have figured that out ahead of time with a little research.

There’s a small section inside that is still open to visitors, but you can’t see the courtyard or the huge domed prayer hall, both supposedly impressive. Approximately 1000 years after Hagia Sophia, the Ottomans finally made a higher dome!

Here’s what visitors can see during the restoration:

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İstanbul again: a new library, some old mosques, finally a Bosporus tour

My cousin and his wife scheduled a layover of a few days in İstanbul on their way to visit family in Tbilisi. Ferda and I planned an itinerary for the four of us — some classic tourist sites and also stuff we had never seen before.

Ferda and I flew into Sabiha Gökçen and did a little sightseeing between the airport and our hotel in Haseki (aka Yusufpaşa?, not far from Aksaray). The highlight was this stained glass window at the Armenian Surp Takavor Church in Kadıköy.

IMG_20231005_122809 by bryandkeith on flickr

If I understood correctly, all the churches in that window are still standing in Turkey. Anyone know which ones they are?

The main chapel of the church was closed. We have to go back on a Sunday for a service.

Of course we got one of the classic İstanbul views from the ferry between Kadıköy and Eminönü:

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