Anyhoo, I joined Andrea in Istanbul - in Europe - for my first orienteering experience and we squeezed in a little sightseeing, too. We flew in Friday night, stayed in a fantastic hotel, very posh with a lovely breakfast, and quite close to the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque; orienteered Saturday and took a little boat ride Saturday night; orienteered Sunday morning and did some touristy stuff Sunday afternoon, and flew home Sunday night. This is the orienteering event we participated in; we only did days 4 and 5. http://www.ist5days.com/default.asp?lang=eng
First, orienteering. Consult Wikipedia for a professional description, or read my own haphazard description here. This really is a sport for nerds: it's a race, but the course isn't set. You have a compass and a map and a list of points - "controls" - you have to get to in order. How far you run and how long the race takes depends entirely on the path you choose for yourself. The race might include dozens of participants, but you're not all on the course at the same time; three or four people start at a time, in intervals spaced perhaps a minute to five minutes apart. You start out with your compass and acquire a clue sheet - the list of your controls in order, with symbols indicating geographic features to help you find your controls. When the clock starts for your little group, you run forward and grab the map for your division (gender & age), then you orient yourself to the map and figure out where your first control is and how you plan to get to it. While you're running. I hadn't realized that part. I had a basic understanding of the sport, and I can use a map and compass, but this was nothing like I thought it would be. Fortunately, I didn't register myself as a participant - I was Andrea's shadow for this event. She tried to get me to do some navigating, but I chickened out. I'll tell you, I'm quite in awe of her mad map skillz.
The first day of orienteering was in the Belgrad Forest, here: http://goo.gl/maps/lRTaL
We left around 0830 to be bused to the site, which was some sort of national park. The assembly area - a couple of kilometers from the race start point - had a festival air, with a Red Bull Humvee providing modern music, a couple of vendors selling gear, a hut with snacks, and naked bottoms. This was a multinational event, and there were people everywhere, many more than I was expecting. They set themselves up by club or family group at various picnic tables in the woods, and we were treated to the sight of a number of them changing their clothes before or after running.
During the race itself, we ran thru the woods, generally choosing an "as the crow flies" path - a straight line from point a to point b. The photos here are official photos from the race site.
Look at this lovely, innocuous forest. You can't even see murder vines running thru the leaf litter.
Kids participate, too. The orange and white thing is a control, and the widget on the boy's finger plugs into an electronic reader atop the control.
I was so happy to see the finish line, even knowing it was a 2 km walk to the assembly point (and bathroom).
The forest looked beautiful and easy to run thru. It lied. It was an evil, evil forest, full of vines as thick as my thumb and armed with inch-long thorns. Notice the runners in the pictures above? They have long pants or gaiters to protect their legs. Not Andrea and me. We started like this:
And ended up like this:
We showered and snoozed Saturday afternoon, then joined other orienteers for a "party boat ride" on the Bosphorus. That is to say, we circled round and round the same area on the water, drinking cheap wine and eating boring sandwiches. We did meet an interesting Finnish fellow who played his harmonica while we waited to cast off, and there was dancing on the bottom deck. The dancing was interesting to watch; the music was a mix of modern Western party-type music and Turkish music - I've no idea whether it was traditional or modern. There was one song all the Turkish women knew all the moves to, it was quite lively and fun; and a particular song all the Turkish guys - young and old alike - strutted to.
Sunday was the day I was really looking forward to. We got to run thru the Grand Bazaar like heroines in a James Bond flick - sprinting down the wide aisles, dashing into narrow passageways, and charging up and down stairs in search of controls. Unfortunately, the Grand Bazaar was closed, so we couldn't go crashing thru stands, knocking over fezzes and indignant chickens. We had 30 controls, and we finished in 28 minutes. There was one section that was a little artificial maze with maybe ten controls. At one point, I just refused to do any more stairs - hey, I wasn't even registered!
I stood in a small courtyard and watched Andrea and five or so other people running up and down stairs and in and out of doorways like characters in a Warner Bros cartoon. Wish I had a camera with me! Here are some photos from Andrea's camera and from the official site:
Random guy running. He's wearing a headlamp. I was a little worried about the instruction to bring headlamps, but we didn't really need them.
We finished our trip to Istanbul with a visit to the Topkapi Palace (we picked up a geocache in the Palace's Gulhane Garden), followed by the Blue Mosque. The Palace was quite interesting; there was a whole little building for the sultan's turbans. I liked that hat room; see if you can pick it out from the pictures below. Lots of history there, and it was such a beautiful place.
This was my first time in a mosque; the building was extraordinary. We were required to place our shoes in plastic baggies and carry them around the mosque, and we ladies had to cover our hair with either our own scarf or one provided by the site. The mosque was full of both tourists and worshippers; I felt like I was intruding.
I've put a bunch of pictures below; before you get to them, here are two little vignettes:
1. The streetcar from the hotel to the airport - with our suitcases - was insanely crowded. Like viral Japanese subway video crowded. We didn't think we'd be able to get off at our stop, but a group of college-age guys behind us also needed off at the same stop, and they just shoved like...guys in a viral Japanese subway video. The doors kept trying to close, and door alarms kept going off, and finally Andrea and I and these guys popped off the streetcar and onto the platform like a cork from a champagne bottle. It was a horrible experience. I'll pay good money not to ever do that again.
2. While waiting for the subway/metro to the airport (after the streetcar incident), we literally saw the blind leading the blind. No joke. I'm putting my camera away in my backpack and not paying attention and Andrea grabs my arm as a little old man with a blind cane, arm-in-arm with a little old lady with a blind cane, stumbles over my suitcase. The pair of them toddled across the platform and nearly off the other side. I was too astonished to retrieve my camera, and it felt like a rude thing to do, anyway. A couple of bewildered-looking guys took each of them by the arm and helped them onto the escalator. Afraid to know what happened to them at the top; I had trouble navigating the area, and I've got all my faculties.
Random street corner with interesting architecture. I liked the juxtaposition of Western and Eastern architecture and art throughout Istanbul; truly a cultural crossroad.
Armed guard. Not sure what he and his compadres were guarding, but they looked quite serious, and weren't at all moved by the adorable puppies frolicking at their feet.
This building had something to do with circumcision. A nice enough building, but it's purpose seems a little off.
I love what they do with black and white pebbles around here and in Rhodes. Must take forever to pave the streets like this. (This was just one small section; Rhodes had a lot of it)
Inside the Blue Mosque. Very difficult for the average person to get a decent photo showing the majesty, scale, intricacy and beauty of the building.
This blog brought to you by Dave Matthews Band and a funny smell in the apartment.